As a pastorís wife, there are lots of important lessons Iíve learned over the years. They are all notable and life changing. But perhaps one of the most significant lessons Iíve learned is how to handle it when someone you have cared for leaves your church.
This is truly the worst part of the whole thingówhen people whoíve attended your church for a certain period of time move on to another place. Sometimes their choice to move on is totally legitimate, like moving to a new town because of a job promotion or to be closer to family in another state. But what about the times when an individual or family leaves because they have it in for you personally?
I have walked this road more than once, and I must say that it hurts on an intimate level. The longer theyíve been with you, the harder it is when they go. The absolute worst is when they canít leave without causing a commotion, and try to take others with them. Why isnít it enough for them to withdraw alone? Must they snatch the innocent around them, inoculate them with poison and drag them to a destination not chosen by God?
So what do you do when someone leaves you? Even if youíre not a pastor or leader within the church, you will still feel the ripples when someone within your Body of Christ chooses to leave because of offense. Remember, we need those around us in our church as much as they need usówe are supposed to be mutually dependent upon one another (see Romans 12:5). When someone goes and itís not ordained by God, it leaves a vacant place in your church and everyone suffers even if it isnít apparent right away.
When this happens in your church, you must place the matter into the hands of God and pray sincerely for those who have left. Not only are you personally feeling the loss, but those around you are as well. Stay strong in the face of those who say itís a blow too big for your church to handle.
I well remember when a family left our little church not too long ago, and they took others along with them. Because we were a small congregation, their absence was easily noticeable. I felt within myself that this loss might be too much for us to recover from. I was personally a little broken hearted over it because I blamed myself for their leaving (my struggle with perfectionism wasnít improved over the matter). I donít know for certain that others were as hurt as I was, but their departure couldnít be ignored. After all, they were a family involved on almost every level of the ministry. The husband had even made promises to stand with my husband through thick and thin, and to be his armor bearer, or right hand man. Did he forget that he had uttered those sacred words? Did he think it a light thing to gain the trust of his pastor? This I do not know, for only God knows his heart.
The worst part was that this family managed to convince other precious saints that they should follow. I cringe when I ponder all the destinies that are hindered because of that decision or perhaps thwarted altogether. Only the Lord realizes the consequences for sure.
I had to understand this: their choice to go did not make our gifts or calling any less valid in the Kingdom of God (see Romans 11:29). My husband and I could not allow their decision to sink us or to cause us to doubt the dreams God had planted in our hearts. We had to press forward, knowing that Godís promises were still true for us. Our ship was sailing onward with or without themówe wouldíve preferred that they sail with us, but were forced to navigate onward regardless.
At the same time, I thought it wise to firmly evaluate myself in regard to what happened. I examined myself and my ministry on a personal level, and decided that I definitely had some flaws that needed addressing. I had experienced times of difficulty in my relationship with a couple of the women who left, but always tried to sincerely work through them and apologized when needed. Perhaps it wasnít enough.
Sticking it Out
Within our church, I like to convey the idea of staying connected even through offenses or hard times; after all, we are a family. Family members canít just disconnect every time thereís a disagreementóthey must work through it together. The same must be true in the church. Believers canít have the mindset that theyíll just leave if the going gets too tough, or they become disappointed. I can tell you that things will inevitably get tough, and there will be disappointments. We must know within ourselves that if God has planted us in a place, we stay until He removes us.
In a perfect world, this is how every believer would operate. As you may have already guessed, we do not live in that perfect world where every believer is mature and strongly adheres to Godís written Word and principles. I understand that Iím not perfect either, but I strive to do the will of God.
In our home church (the place that sent us out), there were many times that we felt like leaving or claimed that we werenít being fed. (Isnít that a great line? ďMy family and I arenít being fed here.Ē If Iíve heard that complaint once, Iíve heard it a million times.) Regardless, my husband and I stayed planted because we believed that God had called us to be a solid link in that Body of Christ. Iím so grateful to the Lord that we didnít leave all the times the thought crossed our minds! I believe we were saved from many woes because of our firm stance to be planted where God wanted us. To the best of our ability, we served our pastor with our whole hearts, and didnít turn on him even if we questioned a decision or two. We had made a commitment to the will of God, and I strongly encourage you to do the same thing.
When we did leave, we did so under the blessing of our pastor, and only after we had been prayed over by the elders and released to pioneer a new work that God was ordaining. We fasted and prayed, and thought it a serious matter to leave our home church to do something new. We didnít take the matter lightly.
Although today, Christians change churches like they change underwear. They bounce from place to place, always in search of the latest teaching or the pastor who says the things their itching ears yearn to hear. My friend, this is not Godís design, and a life lived in this manner will not lead to fulfilling your destiny in Christ.
Do not allow every emotional whim you feel to lead you out of the House of the Lord that God has chosen for you. Refuse to be moved when you see those around you pulling away and speaking evil of the leadership in your church. Wash your hands of it, and do not allow their murmurings to thwart destiny for you and your family.
Stay committed to the will of God for your life even when others seem to withdraw from it. You can remain strong in the face of adversity regardless of the choices others make. Remember to pray for those who have left your church with a sincere heart, but decide to move forward at the same time. There are countless others under your care who still need you to lead them!
(This excerpt taken from Leading Ladies in the House of God, by author Brigit Lee Bogard.)