One of the most difficult aspects of pastoring is seeing people you love – people you have prayed for, counseled, served and been there for – decide to leave the church. It happens, and it hurts. It can also be heartbreaking and hard on you as a pastor and difficult for your family.
It’s not unusual to see departures because of relocations. While difficult, everyone understands that jobs change, school ends and people move. But people will also leave your church for other reasons. They desire something different, they disagreed with your leadership or vision and a host of other reasons.
As a normative-size (under 200) replanted church, everyone notices when a family leaves. If the departing family belonged to your gospel community, if your children played with their children, if your older children served as babysitters for their kids, if you had them over for dinners or holidays, if you prayed together, cried and laughed together, if you called them friends, your entire family will feel the pain of loss.
As you grieve, you may ask: “What should I communicate to my family?”
1. Communicate your love
When those we grow close to decide to leave, it causes us pain. The reason it causes pain is because you love them and have been loved by them. Tears and heartache are good signs that you have the capacity to love deeply and fully. Talk about your love for these friends and how it will continue, regardless of where they find themselves on a Sunday morning.
2. Provide general information, rather than details
Sometimes departures are due to sin, misunderstanding and conflicts that may be forgiven but lead to separation. Guarding your family from the details in situations like this is prudent and wise. Likely your family will see that person again and if they know the details regarding their departure, they may not be able to see beyond them. In some rare instances, when a significant moral failure has occurred it is necessary to communicate enough to be clear that something has happened that was not God’s design or desire and that sin has consequences.
3. Talk about how the departure affects you
We teach our children many things, and one of life’s important lessons is how to deal with goodbyes. Your children are discerning enough to know when something’s up, they see how it impacts you. As we process our thoughts, feelings and struggles in God-honoring ways, we model for them how to handle relationships that change and equip them for the future.
4. Speak about God’s sovereignty
A wise older pastor told me this as I began the replanting journey: “God gives sheep and takes sheep away.” Some may have followed you into the replant for a season by God’s design to help you and the church move forward. Others may be moving by God’s hand to go elsewhere in order to make room for new sheep. Every time we have said goodbye to some, God has brought us others.
Goodbyes have always been part of the life of a church. How we handle them and what we show through them speaks volumes to those who watch, especially those who live under our roof.
Published April 27, 2023