Pastor to Pastor: How Do You Deal With People Leaving the Church?

I’ve never hidden my heart for pastors.  I think part of it is the fact that I am currently in pastoral ministry. But what drives the other side is, when I was a broken and frustrated pastor, others lent their ear and freely gave their insight and wisdom.  So, in essence, how in the world could I ever hold back anything that God has given me?  

Freely received; freely given.  Thine is the Kingdom.

Weekly, calls come in from pastors wanting to talk about a variety of subjects. I welcome calls like that. Why? I want to learn and grow and I think conversations with fellow co-laborers is a great avenue to let “iron sharpen iron.” I feel every interaction I have with a fellow minister is a growing opportunity for both of us to grow. One of the subjects that inevitably comes up is the struggle that comes when people leave the church.

I’m not necessarily talking about people abandoning their faith (whole other blog).  I’m talking about that moment when people decide to stop attending the church you pastor and attend somewhere else because your church community isn’t a fit for them.  It’s a moment that can suck to deal with. I love people and I wish everyone could find their fit at Kfirst.  But I realize that isn’t realistic.

Seven years ago, a very good friend told me that, minimally, 30% of the people who voted you (wanted you) in as the pastor would depart and go somewhere else.  Some because you would never be who they thought you were (expectations both realistic and unrealistic). Some left because of too much change, not enough change, or they didn’t see the change they wanted to see (see expectations). Some departed because their hearts were too connected to previous leadership (styles and approach).  Still, some left because of offense and frustration. 

Pastors, if there’s anything I can implore of you during congregation transitions, it’s this: Reflect Jesus to people when they come to your church; reflect Jesus if people leave your church. 

What do you do? As a pastor, how do you approach people leaving because they didn’t find a “fit” at your church? It’s as simple as 1,2, 3.

  1. Bless them. If they’re courageous enough to leave in an honorable way AND let you know, you need to push past any hurt or frustration and do, what I think, is the most honorable thing to do: bless them. 
    • Offer prayer over them. Bless their search for a church community. Speak blessing over their home.
    • Offer to help them find a church. It’s rare people take me up on that, but my heart has to be for the Kingdom more than my church or denomination.
  2. Speak well of them. Shut your mouth. Shut down the gossip (if any) about them. Let the words of your mouth and the meditation of our heart be honorable to the Lord. Just because they left your church community doesn’t mean they departed the Kingdom of God.
    • “Pastor, did you know ______ left the church?” “Yep.  We talked and had prayer.”
    • “Pastor, I heard ________ left because of _________.” “Well, first, I chose to believe the best of _________. Second, stop talking about it. Third, tell the people you’re hearing this from to stop talking about it. That’s between _______ and God and we can’t run our church community by gossip and assumption.”
  3. Respond well to them. I see people in the mall, neighborhood, social media, etc. that have left Kfirst. Them being here doesn’t decide if I like them personally or not. For some, Kfirst wasn’t the “fit” for them and that’s okay. I’ve developed some great friendships with people in the community that didn’t find their “fit” at our church. That’s fine.  That happens and it’s not necessarily a bad thing.   Don’t respond to people in a crappy way just because they don’t attend any more (I wish I didn’t have to type that).  Grow up and treat people with respect and kindness. 

Here’s some final thoughts to lend to you: 

  • Be merciful. I believe mercy is best illustrated as “velvet steel.” If someone encounter’s you, they experience the velvet (kindness, honor, respect).  Yet, the steel prevents you from being a doormat. Know who you are in your identity in Christ.
  • If I offended someone, I’ll be the first to ask for forgiveness regardless of whether I feel they’re justified in their offense. 
    • It could have been a complete misunderstanding, but regardless, I offended and I should initiate asking for forgiveness. 
  • If someone is offended, they should be the one to initiate a connection.  If I know about it (sometimes someone is hacked off and never tells me), I’ll try to connect.  But he/she needs to take responsibility and step up to Matthew 18 the situation. 
  • Anyone telling me “God is leading me away” will always get a reply, “I’m gonna respect what you have personally heard from God.”
    • Who am I to argue with what God is speaking if they’re not going into a place of sin. (A reminder: Leaving your church isn’t a sin.)
  • I don’t play politics. “If I do _________, will you stay?” When someone is departing from your church community, negotiating doesn’t fix anything.  It only pacifies the situation.
  • If someone has experiencing hurt and/or offense, my goal isn’t to “keep” them, but help them into healing. 
    • If they stay, I want them healthy.
    • If they still leave, I want them leaving healthy.
  • If someone disagrees and wants to leave, I just ask that we agree to disagree. I just believe that we can embrace Jesus, not necessarily see eye-to-eye on every detail in life, and STILL be cordial with each other. 
  • I don’t do exit interviews. That has been a place for me to get annihilated while empowering someone with the hammer to do it all the while, they get to leave and I’m left picking up the pieces. 
  • Don’t tolerate sinful practices. Gossip, slander, and bitterness are not Kingdom attributes.

Again, reflect Jesus to people when they come to your church; reflect Jesus if people leave your church. Perhaps if we (the pastors) will do a better job reflecting Christ during these situations, the parishioners will have the example to follow. 

My prayer over you is that God would help give abundant wisdom (James 1) of you as you traverse through this amazing opportunity to lead a local church community. I speak God’s blessing over you in handling both when people come AND when they leave. Remember,  with people, resources, strategy, wisdom, let your heart and your leadership reflect: 

Freely received; freely given.  Thine is the Kingdom.

Love you pastors.  I believe in you. You are a tremendous gift to the Kingdom. 

 

Thanks for letting me ramble…

Confronting the Diva Pastor: 6 Thoughts for Pastors

A few weeks ago, I began this blog while sitting on a plane trying to make sense of something burning upon my heart. This blog is that attempt to explain a burden that I cannot let go of. After the 18 years of pastoral ministry, one thought continues to repeating come to my mind: This isn’t about me.

It’s the constant reminder to me as Sunday morning’s message develops and blossoms. It’s there as I sit and look over my message calendar to plan out future series…

This isn’t about me.

The reminder is there through every meeting. I think of it when I write down every dream. When strategies are planned; when plans are implemented…

This isn’t about me.

When I sit with a couple of drowning in hopelessness, while I hold the hand of someone in the ICU, when I read a note written in absolute anger and frustration…

This isn’t about me.

It is these four words that sedate the “diva” inside all of us. It’s the flesh part of me that wants to make whatever I’ve become or whatever I’m doing and let it point back to me. It’s that part of my pride that craves a spotlight and leave my mark.

It’s not that I don’t want to be affective…
It’s not that I don’t want to succeed at being the best steward of the opportunities God gives me…
It’s not that don’t want to transform the world around me…

…but I want my heart to stay in one place. And that place is this: This isn’t about me.

This place to live in, as a pastor, doesn’t stop me in endeavoring to build a church, ministry, or life. It doesn’t stop me from desiring more for me, my family, and the congregation I serve. But it keeps my heart in check and makes sure my attitude stays in a place of humility. It brings passion to my life to do everything with excellence because what I do will reflect Jesus. And what I do, I want to make sure it honors him.

I just wanted to share with you 6 thoughts to keep in mind to make sure ministry stays all about Jesus.

1 – The church isn’t here to build your brand. My mind goes to a quote from the movie Miracle. Herb Brookes, looks at the 1980 Team USA Hockey Team and says to the, “The name on the front of the jersey is a whole lot more important that the name on the back of the jersey.” The church is the Bride of Christ and Jesus is the head. You are not. The church isn’t here to make you famous. We are here to make Jesus famous. Our brand is the Kingdom and we must be about Kingdom business.

2 – Value history but build for the future. Tradition is meant to be a baton and not an anchor. But appreciate what’s been handed to you. But note: Appreciation is a subjective thing. There’ll be people who will mistaken your intentions for lacking honor because it’s not in the form/fashion they desire. That’s okay. We make judgment calls on whether or not we feel someone or something is appreciated based upon our interpretation. Value the pastors you have followed. Honor those who have served and volunteered through blood, sweat, and tears to build the ministry you now are a part of. BUT…valuing and honoring doesn’t mean you stay there. You must move forward. It’s the only way to honor Christ above humanity.

3 – Offense cannot be outsourced. You will never make everyone happy.  You cannot make every happy.  But dealing with people issues must be done biblically and not through some other unhealthy means. Sometimes that means dealing with people in a manner that doesn’t feel good but is the right way to deal with them. If there are issues with you, then you need to deal with them. In the same light, if people have issues with others, help them to facilitate healthy conflict resolution instead of solving it on your own.

4 – I must build beyond me. I must leave the church healthier than when I found it.  Sometimes that means confronting and dealing with unhealthy mindsets (which can lose you people). Other times it’s laying down superfluous activities that develop zero fruit (again…can lose you people). Healthy churches have a Christ-centered focus to build His Kingdom. I understand that, around year 7, the congregation can resemble the personality of the pastor, but that personality should point toward a passionate life of serving Jesus.

5 – I cannot live off people’s complements or I will die by their criticisms. Like any pastor (or human for that matter), I need encouragement.  But there is a human tendency is to feed off of the feelings of complements so much that we look to them solely for sustenance. We begin to live off of “likes” and “retweets.” We thrive off of notes and cards.  And when they don’t arrive at the rate we want (or at all), then we question our calling, effectiveness, or timing of our tenure.  Anything outside of Jesus as the center of our lives is idolatry. I wonder if we (pastors) have learned to serve the praise of people rather than the Jesus we should be praising.

6 – Bless people when they leave. My mentor helped me understand that people leaving can be a good thing for you AND them.  You may not be a fit for people as a pastor (and vise versa). That’s okay. Speak grace over them. Encourage them.  Help them find a new church. Remember: We are building His Kingdom and not our empire. Bless people who are leaving your congregation and shut your mouth about them.  Don’t complain about gossip in the church if that’s what you are doing too.

In all reality, I will make mistakes in my methods. I’ll fail at communicating properly what is burning inside of me.

But one thing you will not mistake: My heart.

I want to build something that will outlast me. I want to build something that will resemble Jesus. I want patterns and traditions that will propel the church forward into a passionate pursuit of Christ in the mission of making disciples of all nations.

And it’s this mindset that fights off the “Diva Pastor” in all of us that is all too consumed in self promotion and gratification. The “Diva” begins and ends with self.   That’s why we pastors, cannot go there.

Lord, help us to stay humble and true to you. Help us to see ourselves as servants to you and co-laborers with other pastors (inside and outside our denomination). Let everything we say and do, point people to Jesus.  When we are wrong, help us to walk with contrite spirits. When we are successful, help us to keep the crowns at your feet. Give us wisdom to guide.  Give us the resolve to lead our church communities according to where your Spirit leads and not about what people prefer.  Let us see traditions as batons and not anchors.  Let culture be a language we use to convey Jesus and not an excuse to ignore your commands. Refresh us.  Baptize us in your glory. We need you…every hour we need you.

You’re Kingdom come; your will be done. Amen

Humble yourselves before the Lord, and he will lift you up in honor. James 4:10

Thanks for letting me ramble…

 

 

2 Minute Devo: “Godly Grief” 2 Corinthians 7:2-12

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October is our journey through the 2 minute series called “Resurrecting Repentance”.  It’s as simple as viewing the vlog and reading the passage for the day.  Today’s passage is 2 Corinthians 7:2-12:

2 Corinthians 7:2-12

2 Make room in your hearts[a] for us. We have wronged no one, we have corrupted no one, we have taken advantage of no one. 3 I do not say this to condemn you, for I said before that you are in our hearts, to die together and to live together. 4 I am acting with great boldness toward you; I have great pride in you; I am filled with comfort. In all our affliction, I am overflowing with joy.

5 For even when we came into Macedonia, our bodies had no rest, but we were afflicted at every turn—fighting without and fear within. 6 But God, who comforts the downcast, comforted us by the coming of Titus, 7 and not only by his coming but also by the comfort with which he was comforted by you, as he told us of your longing, your mourning, your zeal for me, so that I rejoiced still more. 8 For even if I made you grieve with my letter, I do not regret it—though I did regret it, for I see that that letter grieved you, though only for a while. 9 As it is, I rejoice, not because you were grieved, but because you were grieved into repenting. For you felt a godly grief, so that you suffered no loss through us.

10 For godly grief produces a repentance that leads to salvation without regret, whereas worldly grief produces death. 11 For see what earnestness this godly grief has produced in you, but also what eagerness to clear yourselves, what indignation, what fear, what longing, what zeal, what punishment! At every point you have proved yourselves innocent in the matter. 12 So although I wrote to you, it was not for the sake of the one who did the wrong, nor for the sake of the one who suffered the wrong, but in order that your earnestness for us might be revealed to you in the sight of God.