To be honest, I’ve really struggled over this particular letter to you. I’ve written and rewritten it, both on the keyboard and in my head, dozens of times. But I have to remember this is a letter, one pastor to another, from my journey to yours.
(To any of you who think I’m offering a backhanded criticism or that I’m trying to say something to you that I can’t say to your face, I hope you remember me better than that. Jedi paranoia is the worst…)
If you choose to walk this pastoral path for a lifetime, it is going to be filled with a particular kind of loss that hurts more than you will ever be able to speak about…except to the hearts of only your most trusted and faithful friends. To everyone else, you will give a smile, words of encouragement and understanding, and a call to join you on the “high road”.
What is this loss, young warrior? It is the loss of friends.
Some of those losses are simply the result of relocation…the sad, but inevitable fallout of living in a mobile, even transient, society. I get it. Sheesh…I did it myself. Kids grow up. People move. For jobs…for family…for health…even for a better view of God’s creation. But once there is a move, friendship takes a hit. Maybe you even work real hard for a while to stay connected, but it will never be the same, no matter how many FB pics and comments you post. And it’s okay.
It has to be okay.
Sometimes, people leave churches for really legit reasons. Toxic leadership, unhealthy church relationships, financial mismanagement, doctrinal disagreement, empty programs, loneliness, disconnect, and probably many others. They need to leave. If some of those conditions ever exist in your church, you’ve got way bigger problems than the loss of friends, Skywalker. Just sayin’.
But that’s not the loss I’m talking about. The one on my heart this afternoon is when people up and leave your church and go to a new one down the street. At least that’s what it feels like. And when this happens, you will feel a particular kind of pain deep down in your bones. And you can’t talk about it. You just can’t.
People will leave your church family for all kinds of reasons. Some are understandable. Some have no expressed reason at all. Some just drift away because their connections are not deep enough or strong enough. Some will leave because of personal issues you never knew about. But from my POV, it will always circle back to the same basic reason: they are no longer finding what they are looking for in your fellowship. Cue U2…
Now, your response to that little nugget of reality can be pretty complex and is better left for another letter somewhere down the galaxy. I’ll get to it someday, I promise.
For today, though, here’s what I hope you are able to see. When those people leave, your friendship with them will be forever changed. And the loss of friendship might even be against your will. And it will hurt. You will want to fight it. Sometimes, you will try to keep the friendship active. Sometimes they might even try to keep it alive. But you will be fighting a losing battle. It may be a little more complicated and there may be some layers to their decision, but make no mistake…they left because they wanted to leave.
And here’s the really dysfunctional part. You will run the risk of feeling like it’s your fault. Your fault they left. Your fault you don’t see them anymore. Your fault you don’t text or email or talk on the phone anymore. Your fault the friendship dissolved. Your fault they felt neglected or overlooked. Your fault they didn’t find what they were looking for. Your mind and your logic and even your support group will try to tell you otherwise, but aching hearts don’t respond too well to objectivity!
Look. I didn’t say I was the sharpest lightsaber in the quiver. Just rapidly becoming the most experienced.
So here are a few lessons to be learned:
You will often be left wondering. You will probably never know the full extent of why people leave your church fellowship. It will stink. I don’t know any other way to say it.
Good friendship takes time. There is no substitute. It takes shared experiences. It needs give and take. It takes common direction. It takes conversation. Lots of it. As a pastor, when people move on, you will no longer have that time with them. Any of it. They have moved on to new friends. You will also.
People need to be in a place where they can grow and thrive and live lives that bring honor to God. That may not be in your fellowship any longer. If the cost is your friendship, that’s a pretty small price to pay for the good of the Kingdom, don’t you think?
Pull up your big boy pants. You’ve just got to remember it’s not your church, your people, your needs, your plans, or your kingdom. It’s God’s business and you’re just a caretaker. Where his people go, who their friends are, and who they choose to share life and ministry with are not yours to control. There is one Church. One Vision. One Kingdom. One King.
As a shepherd of the flock, your heart will be broken more times than it will be thrilled…unless you insulate yourself behind behind a desk, or a pulpit, or a program, or a bunch of other insulated shepherds.
Or you can choose to fully invest yourself in the lives of the people who wander onto your path, for as long as they choose to be there. Count the friendships as gifts from God. Who knows? If they leave, maybe they will be the kind of blessing to others they have been to you…
From the Yoda Anvil…