I am asking for grace as I write on this subject.
Grace and understanding from those who shepherd His sheep.
Pretty please – don’t crucify me by correcting my faulty theology, or hate me if you feel like I have mentioned you.
I am going to be honest, but I will do my best to keep it light. And respectful. And kind.
Because we all know our pastors are human. People. With hearts that wound as easily as ours, and rarely get the care they need.
So here is my plea to the shepherds of His sheep –
I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no divisions among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. ~ I Corinthians 1:10
Occasionally, or perhaps you would say frequently, people move from one congregation to another for a variety of reasons. It’s just part of church life.
We all know that just as there were multiple congregations represented in the New Testament, so there are multiple congregations around the world – nearly all considered a part of the body of Christ. Multiple, very legitimate congregations in every city, every state, every nation.
In light of this fact, I am begging you – please, be careful what you say about parishioners who have left to join a different congregation, for whatever reason.
Please know I am not judging the state of anyone’s heart. I can only imagine how hard it must be to see people you have poured into and cared for, especially for a long time, leave your church and attend somewhere else. It must often feel like a personal affront – as if your shepherding was not good enough to keep them there, or they felt like they weren’t growing under your care. But referring to them as “tares” who must have been bad for your church, and that God has weeded out, is not only hurtful; it is divisive as well. And it isn’t necessarily true.
What if there was a different perspective? One that may be closer to the truth, and not the voice of the enemy whispering lies to discourage you?
Here’s my idea, as naïve as it may be:
We often refer to a specific church body as having multiple members with different functions – the hands, the feet, the head, the eyes, the ears, etc. And that is how a local church should function, if it is functioning well.
But what if, in the same way, different congregations are different parts of the body?
Just humor me for a moment:
Suppose your church is a church that ministers primarily to noses. Since I fit in better as an eye, God leads me over to the Church of the Eyes of Christ. Or maybe you are primarily a tongues church, but I function better as hands and feet, so I go join the Church of the Extremities. Not sure how solid my theology is on this one, but like I said, it’s just a thought.
The point is this: someone leaving your congregation and going to another doesn’t necessarily mean there is anything wrong with your church or the person. Often, it simply means they are trying to fit better into the body of Christ.
Let’s try another one: how would a body of mostly eyes, but no arms and legs function? Probably not very well, right? So if you have an overabundance of eyes at your church, and another local body has none, God may take a couple of your eyes and move them to fill a need. You see? And in return, He sends you some arms and legs. And voila – you are both well-functioning bodies – one can now move, the other can see!
The truth is, the body of Christ is always shifting, and growing, and changing to meet current needs however He sees fit. We don’t always know His vision, and we certainly don’t understand His ways. So can’t we trust Him a little when He decides to move people around where He needs them to be?
It has to be hard to lose church members. I can only imagine how personal it must feel. Many Pastors see their members as their own to care for, as they should; and when someone leaves, perhaps it feels like you have failed. But in that caring, there has to be room for the Holy Spirit to do His own work, because that is a work that, even as the most loving Pastor, you cannot do. It’s very often like raising a child, and then letting them go.
And if you lose a member to another church body, and you see that person begin to grow and thrive in that place, why not rejoice? Because apparently, you raised them well, and now they are fit for the work God prepared in advance for them to do. And He will surely fill the need that is left in their absence, very often through someone who would not have stepped up if someone else was filling that role.
Do members sometimes leave because of conflict? Of course. But again, perhaps it is simply a matter of a member who doesn’t fit well and fits better somewhere else. That doesn’t make them a tare or a weed (although, technically, a weed is simply a plant growing somewhere it doesn’t belong.)
Do members often say very hurtful things as they leave? Sometimes. But often, how they leave will depend largely on the reaction of their pastor and/or others in leadership roles. When God tries to move someone, and those in charge resist the change, or heap guilt on the parties involved, it causes hurt feelings and makes the move more difficult than it should have been.
Remember what He said in Isaiah:
“For My thoughts are not your thoughts, nor are your ways My ways,” declares the Lord.
“For as the heavens are higher than the earth, so are My ways higher than your ways
And My thoughts than your thoughts.” Isaiah 55:8-9
So again – can we trust Him? Even with the things that hurt, and that we don’t understand? Throwing more hurt around doesn’t heal the wound – it only makes it fester. But offering grace, and trusting God’s sovereignty in the lives of both the congregation and the individual promotes healing and leaves an open door if a member ever wishes to return.
Guilting or shunning someone for leaving shuts the door to your ever being able to pour into their lives again this side of Heaven. But leaving that sweet taste of grace in their mouth? It will have them coming back for more, even if just for a visit, or a respite from the hard work they are doing elsewhere.
So please pastors, can you show us that you trust the movings and workings of the Head of our church, Jesus Christ, instead of trying to be the head yourself? It must be so exhausting trying to get the body to move in the direction you think it should, when you yourself might actually be a hand, or a foot, or even a heart. And I used the word “heart” for a reason. And I say this in love, because I love you. Every pastor I have ever had, I love you. Your hearts in particular are precious. I have seen in every one a love for people, and a desire to see them grow and mature. Every pastor I have ever sat under has helped me in some way.
But some have also hurt my heart when they didn’t understand the movings of God in my life and in the lives of my family, leading them to do and say hurtful things. And it was hard to reconcile with the kindness and generosity I had previously experienced from the same people. But one thing it did – it made me never want to go back to those places again, for fear of being shunned. And it drove wedges in relationships with other members that never should have been there. And it cut off friendships and caused hurt feelings that took a long time to forgive and heal.
And here’s the kicker – I have been the leaving member who said hurtful things when I was met with resistance and guilt-throwing. Instead of responding with grace, I responded in hurt and anger, with gossip, and fault-finding. And I was as responsible for the carnage as they were. It is painful to admit, but it is true, and I would be remiss to leave it out. And I am truly sorry. None of us ever intends to wound. But it happens.
On the flip side, I have also experienced pastors who handled a move with grace. And it was life-giving, and freeing, and helped me to better understand God’s calling on my life. And in time, I have returned, sometimes for a visit, sometimes to stay. Because I knew I was loved and always welcome, I believed I was valued, and I felt the comradery in Christ, and the belief that God leads however He wishes, even if it is away for a time.
I still bear scars. Many of us do. Some self-inflicted, but many from wounds inflicted by those who were supposed to care for our souls.
I don’t mean this as an admonition. It isn’t my place. Rather, it is a plea, to please – instead of allowing the enemy to discourage you and cause you to hurt those you have been charged to care for, be the ones who offer grace, healing, and room for us to spread our wings and fly, even if that means we fly from your care into the care of another for awhile.
After all, it is He who made us… we are His people and the sheep of His pasture.
Allow Him to lead us to His pasture for us. Believe us when we feel a call to move. And trust the One who created us and knows us well to place us where we fit the best. He is, after all, the Good Shepherd, and the one and only Head of the church. Jesus Christ.
With love, respect, and appreciation for the many ways you serve and love well,
A fellow servant and your daughter in Christ