Watching People Leave Your Church
Through the years of serving Jesus’ Church, I have seen many people come and go. Some of these have been the joyful sending of God’s people to serve at other churches or plant churches; others have been painful losses of people close to me that left for myriad reasons; others were wolves and their followers that had to be disciplined. All of these left their mark upon me one way or another. In these times, I am reminded that Jesus builds His church, not us (Matthew 16.18). Jesus prunes and cuts back so that His church can bear more fruit (John 15). Lastly, if it happened to Jesus, it will happen to us. Many will desert us along the way (John 6.66).
Here are four observations:
1) Sending and dividing. Be committed to establishing a church culture that celebrates the sending of missional Christians to the ends of the earth (Acts 1.8). This is a gospel blessing and a worthy loss. Also, know that the centrality of the gospel will cause a messy church as it confronts the sins and idols of the church body. This will confront the sin of both believers and non-believers that will ultimately cause some to leave because of selfishness, lack of repentance, and a reluctance to be on mission.
2) The group that you start with is most often the group you don’t finish with. The core group and leaders that God sends to serve the church at one stage are not always the leaders to help you get to the next level. There are a lot of reasons for this, but it boils down to the fact that God strategically moves and positions His people continually – sometimes for a season and sometimes for a lifetime. We see this play out throughout the epistles over and over again.
3) Stay the course. Don’t compromise the vision that God has laid on your lap. You will be tempted at certain stages to veer from the vision in order to not lose people. Hear this: some people need to leave because they are sidelining and stalling the vision. You know who they are. An old leadership saying states, “If everyone is happy you are not a good leader.” The Lord reminds young Joshua to be strong and courageous and not to turn to the left or right from following God’s word as he leads the nation into the promise land.
4) Stay focused on the task at hand. Jesus poured into the 12, ministered to the needs of the broken and lost, and did not get bogged down in the mire of the religiously lost. The task is to make disciples and equip the church to do the same. Are you spending time appeasing certain people so that they will not leave? Is your schedule consumed with the religious whiners and complainers who find every excuse not to live on mission with the gospel?
Jesus loves and cares for His church more than we do and He knows the church far more intimately than we do. He knows what we need and what we don’t need. We can rest in and work from the truth of this statement. This frees us to make disciples, proclaim and demonstrate the gospel, and trust Him for the outcome knowing that He will send and remove those He sees fit. So, our hope and identity is not in the people that surround us, but rather in the glorious gospel.