"I'm seeing someone else."
I spoke the words with a tremble in my voice. I didn’t want to hurt someone I had grown to love, but it had to be done. My schedule was demanding, and I could no longer make the long distance relationship work.
I broke up with my hair stylist. Her salon was finally just too far away, and with two kids and a newborn in tow, the trek was simply too much for me. She understood, and although she didn’t enjoy losing a client, she was grateful that I didn’t simply stop calling. She didn’t have to doubt her abilities as a stylist or wonder if she had done something to offend me. It wasn’t easy to tell her, that’s for sure. It would have been far easier slip away unnoticed and avoid an uncomfortable conversation. But, we were friends. Not the kind that hung out over coffee, but we had some good conversations while my hair was in foils, and I knew she deserved something better than me going AWOL.
That’s when it hit me. I might have been doing the “breaking up” that morning, but I’ve been in her shoes many times. Life in ministry means we’re often preaching to a parade of people….people who march into our churches (and lives) and right back out. Some stay, some go. Some become our friends, stay for quite awhile, and then they slip away without a word. No phone call to explain. No conversation to find closure. They just go AWOL. In my years of ministry, thousands have come in and out of the churches we’ve served. Only Two. Only two have called to say goodbye.
I’m always left wondering.
Were they offended by some word or action? Were their spiritual needs not being met? Were they privately struggling in some way?
Was our friendship not worth a conversation to say goodbye? Were they attending another church? Did they assume I wouldn’t bless that choice?
For whatever reason, they left, and they wanted to avoid an uncomfortable conversation to explain why.
Let me be clear: I’m not talking about people who are falling away from Jesus and struggling with sin. I trust all of us would pursue those people. I’m talking about people who quietly disappear from our churches due to opinions and preferences.
Maybe watching people flood in the front door of your church (and life) and sneak out the back is weighing heavily on your heart. Maybe life in ministry is taking a toll...one you didn’t expect. Maybe your heart is broken today because someone who you believed to be a friend has gone AWOL with no explanation.
When people leave our churches (even for the best of reasons), we are tempted to take it personally. Let us here at Courage To Lead encourage you today. Your ministry matters. Your compassion and love for people make a difference. You are an effective tool in the hands of God. When people leave your church or ministry without saying goodbye, they are most likely trying to avoid the “break up” talk. Don’t take it too personally. Instead, call them. Let them know they are missed. If they’ve chosen a new church, learn what you can about their reasons, and honor their decision with love. We’re still in the same family, after all.
We all have had church members leave. What have you learned about walking through it in a healthy way?