How to Deal with Painful Post-Exit Encounters


Please Wuv MeIt doesn’t matter what size your church is or how big your city is—running into people who used to go to your church can be tough.

Like a gazillion other Americans, I’ve recently spent a lot more time in the local mall than usual. I went to shop for my dear wife one Saturday before Christmas. As you can imagine, the mall was jammed full of people doing their last minute shopping in a not-so-merry mood.

It’s not rare for me to run into folks from our church, but my walk through the mall on that particular day was painful. In the span of about an hour, I encountered five people who once thought I was awesome but now think I am awful. They were all former members of the church I pastor.

Some of the former attendees were cordial, a couple ignored me, and one gave me the look of death. There was no doubt in my mind how this man felt about me, and it cut me to the bone.

I wish I could tell you that I’m secure, confident, and treat difficult experiences with ex- members with ease. The truth, however, is there’s always at least a little sting with rejection and often a painful blow to my soul.

Years ago, I learned this simple truth: People come and people go. Unfortunately, they sometimes come for the wrong reasons (e.g. they got mad at their former pastor), and they often go for the wrong reasons (they’re mad at me).

I understand the reality of church-hopping and the all too prevalent consumerist mentality in the American church, but that doesn’t make it any easier to deal with. I still hurt every time someone leaves. Especially when they leave cursing my name on their way out the door.

So how do you handle those potentially painful encounters with the sheep that now bite?

1. Take the bites with grace.

Certainly, there have been many times when I wanted to bite back! I’m smart enough, biblically-literate enough, and self-righteous enough to blast someone for their foolishness. Giving them an earful would not be difficult. Giving them grace is. And grace is always better.

Being right is never more important than being relational. Blessing those who curse us is what we are called to as Christ-followers and leaders. (Romans 12:14; 1 Peter 3:9)

2. Forgive like your joy depends on it.

We all know the value and importance of forgiveness. We are to forgive as we have been forgiven. This is a no-brainer. That being said, I still frequently find myself struggling through the steps of forgiveness after agonizing encounters with someone who has wounded me.

No matter how mature I think I am in Christ, it seems like this is a lesson I keep learning: We can become bitter or better, and better truly is better, so it’s best to let it go.

3. Stay focused on the good rather than the bad and the ugly.

Because I’m a pastor, I care for people. I pray for them more than they know. I remember dedicating their kids, and I know exactly where they sit in every church service. So when they depart, I feel it because I’ve invested a part of my life into their lives. That’s why it hurts when they leave—a part of me is leaving too.

While complaining to God about some recent hurtful departures, the Lord whispered to my heart, “Focus on the many who are with you rather than the few who are not.”

Every Sunday I have the honor of serving about a thousand adults. Why do I let the unkindness of a few outweigh the blessing of the many?

Perspective is everything. We can look in despair at what we have lost or gaze in awe at all that God has given to us. I’m choosing to be humbled by and thankful for the many who still call me pastor.

4. Resolve to grow through rejection.

Let’s face it, sometimes people leave because we blew it. Maybe we didn’t care for them adequately. Maybe we didn’t lead them like Jesus. Maybe they expected something we couldn’t deliver. There actually might be some legitimate reasons for their departure from our ranks. We can go through the sting of that reality or grow through it.

I’m not suggesting we walk around in a self-induced funk over our imperfections. I’ve never been perfect, and on this side of eternity, I never will be. I’ve also never been a pastor who pretended to have it all together, so getting depressed over my inadequacies is just stupider than Jupiter.

Therefore, maybe then the wise thing is to simply acknowledge my many opportunities for growth. Perhaps, when someone leaves and I run into them elsewhere, I could see those post-exit encounters as a reminder that I’ve still got a ways to grow. And it’s okay.

The next time you’re in the mall, at the gas station or post office and you run into them—smile and guard your heart with grace.

Remember, you are loved, and so are they.

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Kurt Bubna About Kurt Bubna

Kurt W. Bubna published his first book, Epic Grace ~ Chronicles of a Recovering Idiot, with Tyndale Momentum in 2013. He is an active blogger, itinerant speaker, regular radio and television personality, and the Sr. Pastor of a large and community-focused church in Spokane Valley, Washington. He and his wife, Laura, have been married for nearly forty years and have four grown children and four grandchildren. For more information, please visit

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  • Junissa

    Our spiritual maturity must come out during these times. I left my church 5 months ago, after taking 6 weeks to reflect on whether I should leave and to listen to God’s direction. I felt like (knew) I was not growing or serving. Within those 6 weeks no one reached out to me in any form. Since it was not my intention to leave, I had to go church shopping. I eventually found an assembly that provided opportunities to serve, bear fruit and show Christ’s love. One of the first messages I heard at my new church was ‘Go get the wanderer’. I was shocked at how little attention we pay to our in-house wanderers.
    We really ought to exercise grace over hurt feelings when persons leave. Last week I sought out my ‘old’ pastor to share with him why I left and we had an effective discussion. It still concerns me that no one cared enough to ask why I was ‘missing’ from church. However, since I firmly believe that we are all bound for the same place, that is, our citizenship is in heaven, I see no reason for resentment and a build-up of bad blood. Perhaps, Pastor Kurt, you can initiate a discussion with those sheep who now growl at you. The Good Shepherd went after that 100th, wayward, rebellious, biting sheep.

    • Kurt Bubna

      Dear Junissa,
      Thank you for you insights and honesty. And I agree, too often we pastors miss it here. Sometimes we are unsure about what to do, sometimes we are unaware (especially in a larger church), and sometimes we are unwise in our response/reaction to a person’s departure. Please forgive us/me and know that many of us still do have the heart of a shepherd willing to leave the 99 for the sake of the one.

      Still growing,

  • Pingback: How to Deal with Painful Post-Exit Encounters | Pastor Leaders

  • Michael Wright

    As if it needs to be said… I never left Eastpoint because of problems I had with other people. Yeah I got frustrated because I was going through an insane amount of stress but if I directed any of that at you, I apologize because you had nothing to do with it. What simply came about was that I was sick and tired of botching everyone else’s effectiveness in ministry. And when it was pointed out that I didn’t have the chops for it, I felt like I’d lost everything, not because you guys said it but because I knew it to be true. I left because there was simply no point in keeping up any pretense that I ever belonged to God to begin with.

    • Kurt Bubna

      I love and miss you, Michael. And for the record, you are His my friend. Hope to talk soon…

  • John Forbes

    Great Article Kurt — tangible tools for others — thanks for sharing!

    • Kurt Bubna

      Thank you, John!

  • David Beirne

    This is especially true at funerals. A church member dies and ex-members come to pay respects. We often see one couple at funerals that will literally turn their back on us.

    • Kurt Bubna

      Thank you for sharing a bit of your story, David. I feel your pain brother!

  • Jaimie Bowman

    This is so good, Kurt. It’s also interesting being a pastor’s wife and running into people who hate your husband. Lots of awkward conversations, avoidant eyes, and just plain ignoring going on. Sometimes I just want to slap people. ;)

    • Kurt Bubna

      Yup, my wife actually gets out and about more than I do and runs into more folks. It takes a special grace to be a pastors wife. Praying for you, Jaimie!

  • Toni Birdsong

    I love blog posts that talk about the things that NO ONE wants to talk about. This is a great post. Gonna send to a few of my pastor friends. It really is about the bigger picture and trusting God. Thanks for a great post.

    • Kurt Bubna

      Thank you, Toni. I really appreciate your kinds words. Glad it blessed you!

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