Monday, March 24, 2014

Don't Let The Door Hit You On The Way Out aka - A Final Installment

In case you've missed out on the compelling and thrilling first and penultimate installements on the church leaving blogs I've written I give you Thing 1 and Thing 2.

Before I dive into the likely last post on church-leavership (you heard me) I want to make something clear, if it wasn't already abundantly obvious.  I don't have all this answers. Please.  Don't fall out of your chairs.

This post will not address everyone's situation. I'm speaking from a North American paradigm where in most places you will have many options for a house of worship.  Also, I'm in no way equipped to address what to do if your church falls into the "abusive/dogmatic/scandalous" category  except to say I'm so sorry that's what you're going through, God is better than that, and I recommend you find a good counselor.  Even that is probably missing the boat on some or perhaps many levels.  

The main question I want to address is this: How can we, as leavers and stayers in a church, do a better job so that the awkwardness and hurt that it seems is so often associated with leaving is at the very least minimized?

My answer is really a page out of a Relationships 101 class - but I think sometimes we forget that the church should primarily be a family - a great big group of diverse relationships -and an organization second.  Don't forget to remember that people always come before programs.

Onto the good stuff:

Stuff for Everyone: 

Could we agree that belonging to a specific church is not a lifetime contract, and that ebb and flow is a reasonable and natural part of growth and change in our churches?  Just a thought, really.

This of course needs to be balanced with the truth that there is no perfect church this side of heaven. Every church goes through seasons of abundance and seasons of difficulty.  Not everyone gets to stay through the blessing.  Not everyone is meant to stay through the hard times.  If we could believe this first, I think it would be easy to find a better balance between tribalism (you're either for us or against us) and undercommitment (wish I could think of a better word!)

Stuff For Leavers:

Realize that people might feel personally rejected when you leave.  Do your best to assure them of your friendship and continued care for them. I had not thought of this before, but it makes total sense. Remember - you're dealing with people, so however you have to address the truth of your leaving, do so in love.

If at all possible, work to resolution, or at least understanding before you leave.  Personally, I found that once I acheieved understanding my frustration over certain differences were gone.  We still left, but we didn't leave angry, and I'd like to think that's better. :)

If there hasn't been a true scandal, you have likely left over differences: differences in passion, mission, calling, style etc.  If this is you, do NOT bad mouth the church and try to create scandal in order to help you feel better about leaving.  Don't pretend we don't do it either.  Differences are not the same as abuse.  Speak the best possible about the church you have left, and own the differences as just that - differences. "We felt we could better serve in a church with a different focus on..." make it about YOU and not about the church.  Just remember, wherever you go - there you are, and if the churches you go to always seem to end in scandal every other year, the problem might be in the mirror and not the behind the pulpit.

Don't stop talking to people once you announce you're leaving.  Yes, it can be awkward, but be the better person and say something.

Stuff For Stayers:

Understand that for most people, the decision to leave is a very difficult one, made usually over the course of many weeks, months, even years.  You are usually only privileged to the final decision, not the process it took them to get there.  Be careful to be kind when asking questions about "Why?"

This isn't even something we've personally experienced, but could we please lose the "church shoppers" language?  It's couched in shame and it needs to end.  It bothers me because it can sound like false-piety, as though if those church shoppers were truly spiritually mature as you, they would stay as you have done, and like the way your church does church, and be passionate about what you're passionate about.  We're called to diversity and unity - not sameness and conformity. One church will not likely fit the bill for every Christian - and thank God for that! Admit that your church isn't perfect, because it isn't, and release them and pray for God's best as they look for a place to grow and serve.

Assume the best motives in those who leave - ie - don't create scandal over their leaving any more than you want them creating scandal about the church you're staying in.  You don't know their whole story.  It's possible people aren't making the best decision, but give them the benefit of the doubt.  Speak well of them and if you don't know or understand why they left - ASK THEM.

Don't stop talking to people once you hear they're leaving.  Yes, it can be awkward, but be the better person and say something.

Stuff for Leadership:

If it's possible try and find out why people, especially those who have been plugged in and involved, have left. Take the time to listen.  Hear their story- first hand.  The purpose in this isn't to try and change their minds, but to hear them, to gain understanding and to release them in love.  Many people expressed disappointment that nobody in leadership seemed to care that they left.  They didn't want the church to stop in it's tracks, I think they just wanted to be heard.   The other benefit to doing this is that it can help you see if their are unhealthy patterns and practices emerging within different areas of the church.  It might be that everyone is leaving your church just over differences, but it's also possible that something bigger and potentially more damaging is at play.  Care for you sheep, even when they're transitioning to another field.

Perhaps relationships, even church relationships are best summed up in a two step process:

1) Love first
2) Ask questions later

What do you think?