Leaving, Returning, And Last Words

Tim Stevens of Granger Church had an interesting post recently called “How To Leave Your Church.” Written for lay people from the perspective of a staff person, the post is worth reading for the lengthy comment section alone.

But it got me thinking . . . what about the opposite perspective? How should pastors and other church staffers react when people leave the churches they serve?

Through the years I’ve had a range of reactions: despair, self-loathing, anger, confusion, and, on occasion, relief.

And by and large, I have tried to follow the best piece of advice a District Superintendent ever gave me: “When you want to get the last word in . . . don’t.”

Oh, I’ve had those “last word” speeches all rehearsed in my mind. I’ve relished the thought of giving them. I’ve even put a couple of them on paper.

But by God’s grace I have refrained from delivering those speeches. Mostly.

You know why that restraint is so vital?

Because sometimes those who leave . . . come back. And those can be the most meaningful of relationships. We’ve had a nice collection of people return to Good Shepherd in just the last couple of months. Some had been gone a short time; others for five years or more. Some just wandered away & others had very specific objections to the direction of the ministry.

But God is sovereign. And something in our church and something in the hearts of those people directed them “home.”

So the last words never spoken became the first words of welcome.