Here at the Faith Today blog, we wanted to draw your attention to The circulation of the saints story in our Jan/Feb issue. The subtitle to that story is “When people leave a church and you are left behind.” This is likely a scenario that has impacted most Faith Today readers.
Rod Wilson, the writer of that story, shares the experiences of three Canadians in this blog post: a lay leader, a senior pastor and a church member. Read on to hear more personal responses to saints circulating between churches….
by Rod Wilson
I had the opportunity recently to receive written communiques from three different people. One was a lay leader in a church where people had left in significant numbers:
“Among the many things I’ve been told is that ‘The church is not really doing it for us anymore and we already have enough friends.’ So I wonder about the consumer mindset, seemingly so rampant, that seems to be set on finding ‘what’s right for me’ rather than living out a covenant commitment to a church community as it seeks to live out Christian discipleship in the good times and the hard times.”
Another was a senior pastor in a church that was experiencing a slow bleed where people left over a period of time:
“Speaking as a pastor, the sheep shuffle also makes it incredibly difficult to lead – especially when folks sneak out quietly. It leaves you wondering who exactly you are supposed to be leading, and whether folks are in or out. Sometimes people themselves aren’t even sure whether they have left or not! Plus this dynamic makes it so tempting to adopt a consumer-driven mentality as leaders. Unconsciously we start to equate success with whether people feel their needs are being met and whether they are being attracted to our church, instead of simply seeking to please God and to be faithful to the gospel.”
The third communique was from a church member in a congregation where people were frustrated and moving to other churches.
“Every time someone stomps off from a church community I am in, I find it so painful. I sense a tearing, a grief, a loss. It is often because of how they leave, and what they say as their reason for leaving, that is so painful. It is only about them and what they think God wants. I think God wants us to be patient with each other, even when the going is hard and we feel off balance.”
While leavers often feel relieved when they depart from a church where they have experienced disappointment, frustration, or disillusionment, and enthused when they find a new body of believers, those who remain live with their own disappointment, frustration, and disillusionment. I wonder if we need to spend more time seeking to understand those who have been left behind, giving them the message that just as there is a way to leave well there is also a way to stay well?
Rod Wilson of Vancouver is a former president of Regent College who now works with a number of organizations including A Rocha International. His latest book, coauthored with Peter Harris, is Keeping Faith in Fundraising (Eerdmans, 2017).
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