On the first Sunday of the New Year, I was excited. 2020 was rough, to be sure, but a new year always brings the hope of new possibilities and opportunities to see God move. The Sunday morning service went well enough. The crowd wasn’t big, but we’re still in the middle of a pandemic and we were still in the Christmas break.
I went hope, took a nap, watched the Cowboys lose, then went back to the church to prepare for the first committee meeting of the year. I was excited – we still don’t know exactly what events we’ll actually be able to do in-person this year, but we had a blank slate of a year to begin praying and dreaming about.
Minutes before the committee meeting started, a lady on the committee, and a long-time member of the church, asked to speak with me in private. She proceeded to hand me resignation letters from she and her husband and informed me that they would no longer be attending our church.
We agreed to talk more after the committee meeting. So, I proceeded with the meeting, now a bit less enthusiastically. After the committee meeting, she and I sat down to discuss what was going on. I began by saying, first of all, that I was sorry for anything that I may have done to lead them to this point, then I asked what was going on. She proceeded to pull out a notebook and lay out about three years’ worth of complaints. It was not a long meeting, but it was a rough one. I’m a recovering people-pleaser and, while I’ve come a long way through the years, I still don’t enjoy hearing about all the ways I’ve disappointed someone.
Everything in me wanted to jump on the defensive. I wanted to respond with things like, “Well, that’s not accurate!” or “Why on earth didn’t you tell me about this three years ago?!?” But none of that would’ve been helpful. So, I listened. There was a lot of truth in what she shared. I needed to hear about how she felt let down by me and the church. At the end of the meeting, I simply apologized and told her that I hope they find a good church home.
How do we, as pastors, respond when we’ve disappointed someone? I’m no expert in many areas of ministry, but I have disappointed my fair share of folks throughout my years in ministry.
First, remind yourself of the gospel. Here’s the truth. You and I will disappoint people. Do you know why? Because we’re sinners. We need a Savior. But the good news of the gospel is that we’ve been accepted by Almighty God through the blood of His Son, Jesus. Yes, we’re sinners. But we’re also forgiven.
Second, remind yourself that you can’t change the past. Have you made some mistakes in the past? Most likely. In my own case, I was reminded of phone calls and visits that I should’ve made but didn’t. But the truth is, I can’t go back and change it. I can apologize, but I can’t change what’s happened. There’s actually a lot of freedom in this truth. I hope I’ve become a better pastor in these three years, but all I can do is resolve to not make the same mistakes again.
Third, move on. One of the realities of ministry, especially replanting, is that people will leave. You’ll disappoint some, and they’ll leave. Some will become frustrated that they no longer have the decision-making power they once did, and they’ll leave. Some will simply move away because of life or job transitions. But here’s the truth: no single person in the life of a local church is irreplaceable — not even you, pastor. Christ is the cornerstone. He’s the only person in a church that is indispensable. Volunteers and Sunday School teachers and worship leaders and pastors will come and go.
So, the extremes of gloating or despair are inappropriate when people leave. Instead, you own mistakes you may have made and repent of things you need to repent of, then move on.
Keep on loving your people well, and keep on proclaiming the gospel faithfully — the glorious truth that Jesus can save anyone, even folks like you and me!
Published January 6, 2021