“It’s my church home. I will never go anywhere else!” I smile when I read those words on our church’s Facebook page, but I know differently. Nobody stays forever. In fact, I’m pretty sure the only person not eventually leaving is my wife.
People come, and people go often for all the wrong reasons.
- They grow bored with your teaching. “I’m not getting fed any longer.”
- You’re not new and exciting anymore. “We feel called to support a new pastor in town.”
- They don’t like the music. “We don’t do my favorite songs enough and the music is too loud.”
- They’re struggling relationally. “I’m having some issues with Bob and feel it’s best to just move on.”
- It seems like you’re all about numbers and reaching new people. “What about me?”
Of course, there are a hundred other reasons given, but they always boil down to one: they don’t love you anymore or at least not as much as they used to. Let’s face it, people rarely leave what they truly love.
They don’t leave a dream job that they love.
They don’t leave a spouse whom they love.
They don’t leave a church that they love.
It just doesn’t happen. We do what we want to do because we want to and because of our affections.
Sadly, when it comes to matters of the heart, we humans are a fickle lot (and I include me in that we). Driven by emotions, we tend to make a lot of our decisions based on the way we feel rather than on what’s best for others or for God’s kingdom.
I’ve been pastoring for nearly thirty-five years. I’ve been a church planter, a staff pastor, and the senior pastor of both small and large churches. My point is, I’ve heard thousands of people show up at church and say, “Best church-evah!” Until it’s not.
And the rejection used to shred my soul.
So how do you handle this reality of human fickleness?
- Accept it. By that I mean embrace the truth that some things will never change. People are people. The history of mankind attests to the often erratic and self-centered nature of humans. We say one thing and do another. We make promises and break them as soon as they’re inconvenient. On this side of eternity, even the greatest saint walks with a limp. I’m not cynical, but I am a realist. Everybody’s leaving; even your most faithful member will eventually die. So stop fighting what you cannot control. You’ll sleep better.
- Get over it. Rather than fixate on the ones who leave, focus on the thousands in your community who have no relationship with Christ or His Church. I know it hurts when you’ve poured your life into a person, and they leave. I know your shepherd heart cares deeply for the sheep, and you worry when they wander. However, while you’re bleeding out over shifting saints or wandering warriors, tens of thousands in your area are destined for a Christ-less eternity unless you reach them soon. The harvest is still ripe, and we still have a job to do.
- Learn from it. They might be leaving for all the wrong reasons, but that doesn’t mean that there’s nothing wrong. Don’t go navel-gazing-crazy, but don’t get stubborn either. Maybe there’s a grain of truth in their parting shot, and you need to hear it. Filter-out the ugliness of any departing words often spoken in anger, and ask, “Is there something I need to see here?” By the way, there’s always something you can learn.
For years, I read a passage in John 2:23-25 (NIV) and it baffled me. John wrote about Jesus, “Now while he was in Jerusalem at the Passover Festival, many people saw the signs he was performing and believed in his name. But Jesus would not entrust himself to them, for he knew all people. He did not need any testimony about mankind, for he knew what was in each person.”
People got excited about Jesus the miracle-worker. They wondered if He might be the Promised One. Jesus loved them, but He knew the nature of man. He would not entrust Himself to people. He knew what people are made of and the character of humanity.
Jesus wasn’t cynical; He had realistic expectations, and His call was not dependent on our applause.
Love and serve people. Teach, challenge, inspire and correct your church with a hopeful heart. But when they leave, stay the course. Adjust your expectations, and entrust your heart to the One who promised never to leave or forsake you.