When People Leave: The Private Pain of the Small Church Pastor

walking awayIt’s hard when people leave a church.

It’s hard to leave. It’s hard being left.

Most who leave don’t make that decision lightly. They deal with some serious pain when they finally make the decision to go.

If you’ve been a pastor for several years, you’ve had to deal with your share of such departures. Each one hurts. It’s especially hard when those leaving are long-term members.

The collective pain of all those departures over a long period of time can wear a pastor down.

Even if the church is growing, it can be hard when people leave. But when the church is small, each loss is that much more painful.

First, there’s the math. The percentage loss is much higher than in a bigger church. Losing one family can mean massive changes in entire ministries.

Second – and most difficult – it’s not just a drop in attendance, tithers or volunteers. It’s the loss of people we know. People we’ve invested in. People we’re friends with.

 

No Answers, But Maybe Some Solace

It’s taken me a long time to hit “publish” on today’s post because, when I raise an issue, I like to provide solutions or alternatives. But I don’t have a solution to this one.

So today’s post is not about answers. It’s a public recognition of our shared private pain. With the hope that we can find some sort of solace by knowing we’re not alone in these feelings. 

Here are some painful truths many of us have felt when people leave our churches.

 

1. It Hurts When People Leave the Church

There are two realities about pastoral ministry that we cannot change:

  • People will leave our church
  • It will hurt when they leave

We can deny it or admit it.

Denial gives it power over us and allows it to surprise us the next time it happens.

Admitting it… well, at least we can remove the weapon of surprise from this nasty beast.

 

2. It Hurts When It’s Someone We’ve Invested In

Sometimes it seems like the people we’ve spent the most time with, helped through the hardest trials and seen the most progress in are the most likely ones to leave.

I understand that people need a fresh start after they’ve been through some emotional and/or spiritual trauma. But it still hurts to invest all that time, energy, emotion and compassion only to hear them say buh-bye after you’ve helped them get healthy again.

 

TGM box sale 250c3. It Hurts When They’ve Been Friends

No, not everyone in your church needs to be your friend. But some should be. Yet a lot of pastors resist having friends in the church because when they leave, it’s really painful.

Ellen Jacobs addressed this issue poignantly from the perspective of a pastor’s wife in her blog post, It’s Hard When Friends Leave. Here is some of what she wrote.

Whether the reason for leaving is bad or good, it leaves a wound behind.

So what do we do? I think we mourn for a while, perhaps a long while if needed. We ask God to dress our wound. We process, we pray, and time goes by.

And you know what we don’t do? We don’t write that person off. We don’t forget all the good that existed in that friendship. We don’t subconsciously (or consciously) vow to never open ourselves up to people again.

Good words, Ellen.

 

4. It Hurts When They Leave Without Telling Us Why

Church consultants recommend doing exit interviews to help us understand why church members left. That’s a great idea. In theory. And it works well in larger churches because the person conducting the interview probably doesn’t know them personally. But it’s one of those principles that doesn’t transpose smoothly into the smaller setting.

When people leave a smaller congregation, who should conduct the exit interview? The pastor they had a disagreement with in the first place? The deacon they’ve been gossiping with for years? The new family who barely knows the church and the issues involved?

No. In a Small Church, the pastor calls and/or emails the person or family they haven’t seen in a while to ask if anyone’s been sick or on vacation. Even though we have a strong suspicion of what’s really going on. If they answer the phone or return the email, that’s our exit interview. And it can be very awkward and painful – for both sides.

If they don’t return emails or phone calls – which happens quite often – there’s nothing to do but feel hurt for a while, then soldier on. The silent, unanswered departure is never easy.

Since this post is about making private pain public, here’s a hard truth that I’ve heard some Small Church pastors admit to each other. We don’t always make that call when we know what the answer will be. We know we should, but we can’t always handle the rejection.

So, to all the church consultants berating pastors for not following up when members leave, we get it. We know we should make those calls. But it’s not always because we don’t care. It’s because we care too much.

 

5. It Hurts When They Bomb Us with Every Reason Why

This is the other side of the silent departure. The pastor gets a “we need to talk” call.

The truth is, we want to know why people are leaving and why. We really do. But these final talks are often a great source of additional pain to us. Especially when the problem is with something we did – or failed to do.

In my three-plus decades of ministry, these have been some of my toughest moments. People who I thought were doing well and were happy in the church sit down with me and pull out a piece of paper listing all the offenses they feel they’ve endured over the last few years. Some are legitimate. Some are really not. All of them are painful to hear.

But the most frustrating thing about the “here’s every reason why I’m leaving” conversation is…

 

6. It Hurts When They Don’t Give Us a Chance to Make Things Right

I wish people would tell me about their problems when there’s still a chance to make things right!

I’ve been through too many meetings where

  • I didn’t know there was a problem until now
  • The problem would have been fixable if I’d known
  • It was just a misunderstanding that we could have easily resolved

But it’s too late now. They’ve already made their minds up to leave.

 

7. It Hurts When They Leave for Another Church

It’s especially hard when they leave the long-term, healthy, faithful, smaller congregation for the flashier, new, big church. But it could be worse…

 

8. It Hurts Even More When Don’t Go to Any Other Church

To lose someone from our church is hard. To know they’ve left the church entirely and that we’ve possibly lost them from the body of Christ is unspeakably heartbreaking. (Please, no eternal security comments. This is not about that.)

 

9. It Hurts When They Avoid Us Later

Many Small Churches are in small towns, or in tight neighborhoods where people run into each other in the store or at civic events.

If I could give one word of advice to church members who leave, it would be this. You don’t have to look away awkwardly when you run into your former pastor or one of their family members on the street. Our relationship may have changed when you left. But just because we’re no longer your pastor doesn’t mean we can’t still be friends.

 

So what do you think? What challenges have you faced in dealing with people leaving the church?

We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
Enter your comment right below this post and get in on the conversation.

(Walking Away photo from Marcelo Jorge Vieira • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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184 thoughts on “When People Leave: The Private Pain of the Small Church Pastor”

  1. Thank you Karl… But I have one thing to add… The pain of feeling good or relief when someone leaves. Although I know that there will always be troublesome people in church, and no amount of investment or coddling seems to help, for some people are just miserable complainers with a critical or gossipy spirit. There have been some that have left my ministry that have been just that way, and the pain of guilt and the “did I do everything I could” thoughts, keep ringing in my head, while feeling relief that they are gone… or are they? They continue to cause trouble by using the sympathizers that are left behind. Failing to help someone rise above the negative,
    troublesome, divisive ways and become positive and helpful, is a hard pain to deal with…

    1. Boy-oh-boy, Roger! You nailed that one! Been there, done that, more than a few times. One thing I have found that helps is when I lead the whole church in prayer for the one who left, even though they created strife and/or division, our entire church seems to pull together in a closer bond of love, even for the one who left. As I like to say to the congregation in times like that, “Bless those who curse you, and pray for them who despitefully use you.”

    2. I totally agree. I’ve actually prayed that some people would leave! When it gets to the point that they seem to be thriving on creating chaos, sowing seeds of strife, and making everyone miserable, then clearly it’s just not a good fit anymore. An old Spanish saying is, “Para los gustos fueron hecho los colores.” Colors were made to accommodate a variety of preferences. One church is not going to be a perfect fit for everyone.

      You run into trouble when you try to minister to people that you just don’t have the gift for. For example, not everyone has a calling to minister to drug addicts. But when a gentle and loving pastor has such a huge heart and just tries and tries and tries to minister to a group of people like that, it probably won’t work out. That’s what I’ve learned.

  2. So true Karl. Seems like very little of a breakup is easy. I just read an article from pastormatt.tv that had similar points. Great points & thanks for writing.

  3. I would like to thank you, personally, for continuing to invest in your church, despite the pain felt in the past. Not only do you invest as a pastor, but you also continue to grow friendships. Yours is one that I and my husband, truly cherish. I think if you were to close yourself off, which is, I am sure, what many would do, your particular mix of giftings would not be used to their fullest. You are a strong leader, gifted teacher and a faithful friend. Thank you for sharing your vulnerability and thoughts with us all…..pastor or not!

  4. Reasons to rejoice when people leave the small church

    1. They may be the reason the church is small. This is a “blessed subtraction.”

    2. They have suffered a wound the church cannot heal, so the Lord moves them to find healing.

    3. The Lord moves them to minister in another church that needs them more than yours.

    4. They are consumers who’ve never really gotten their teeth into ministry and discipleship. Their departure, painful though it may be, will free up some of your bandwidth.

    5. This is a God-given opportunity to examine yourself, to see whether your self-image, your worth as a pastor and your value as a human being is tied up in the church. In other words, are you looking to the church to satisfy your unmet ego needs?

    (I’ve been on the other side of this, too. In the megachurch we can afford to say, “Well, So-and-so left for another church. But what the heck, there’s more where they came from.”)

    1. All excuses for not doing a simple loving thing like talking to your people. When a Pastor has nothing to say to you for months and months and without question avoids a conversation that is just pure wrong. I am in that boat, I am not a Pastor but having someone who cares less whether you have a word or not is very hurtful. I don’t care what your excuse is. Doesn’t matter. Talk to your members and visitors especially at dinners, other events, prayer study. Don’t ignore people and you know you are.

  5. You post brought back some painful memories. When I became a pastor, several people withdrew, but my impression was that were “fans” of the previous pastor who moved only a few miles away. So they didn’t hurt as much. But recently (last 2 years) 2 couples have left that really do hurt. One couple had been long time members and leaders. They left apparently because I failed to mention specifically by name a prayer request the wife had brought up. They simply refused to talk about it or to answer any communications. The other couple had been through a traumatic church closing and came to our church “on the rebound.” We included them in the leadership group immediately and started a bible study that they requested. Then one day, the wife called my wife to say they weren’t coming back. She wouldn’t give a reason. I have no real idea what triggered this move. We thought of them as friends with lots to offer the church. Now thy go nowhere.

    1. I know the feeling, George. The early departures are easier. You’re still establishing things and a lot of issues are in flux. But the ones who leave after such long investments are harder.

  6. Great words but hard to hear. I’ve experienced most of those. It seems that oftentimes people leave just as we are gaining momentum and bang…there goes the momentum. For me the hardest ones are 2 and 6. I invested months in discipling some men and their wives get upset with someone in the church and they leave. And then a family leaves for a reason that was easily correctable. What they noticed was a problem, not a sin, and when they pointed it out we changed…but they left anyway. Small chruch is hard work.

  7. From my perspective as a judicatory leader, I have noted several occasions when the departure of a person or persons has brought healing to a church where they did not fit. In a few cases both the church they left and the one to which they went were both healthier.
    In the prison church where I serve as the worship pastor, we rejoice when a member leaves to return to her family.

  8. I was coaching a new pastors who was hurting over the loss of a church member. He said to me, “Dave, you pastored for 30 years. Does it ever stop hurting?” I told him, “It stopped surprising me. It never stopped hurting.”

    1. That’s a good distinction, Dave. The surprise is also reduced when you start to learn the telltale signs that it’s coming (taking a break from a ministry they’ve done forever, frequent absences, less involved in fellowship, etc). But it’s never any less painful. And thanks to Ellen for her contribution.

  9. #8 is the hardest for me. It’s a feeling if failure and it breaks my heart to see others walk away from the desire for Christian Fellowship.

    1. It’s a very helpless feeling, isn’t it? When a pastor has a shepherd’s heart it’s hard to stop feeling some sense of responsibility.

      The good news is, if you stick around, you do see a few come back. After over 20 years at the same church I’ve received several calls from “lost sheep” when they realize what they’ve been missing by being out of fellowship. Some no longer live close enough to attend our church, but they call me because I was their last pastor. I’ve been able to guide them into a renewal of faith and a good church. So there is always hope (no pun intended).

  10. Amen, amen, and amen. This is such a painful event for pastors. And along this line, as a small church pastor, it’s so painful when you lose your “right-hand man” after many years of serving together (it feels sort of like the breakup between Paul and Barnabas must have). It’s a hard cup to drink from but most all pastors will experience it at some time or another. As bad as it might sound, I’m not sure you really get your fullest ‘initiation’ into the pastor’s ministry until this happens to you (Paul spoke painfully about Demas “forsaking” him).

    It’s a loss not quite like any other; he was my ‘friend’. It was so emotionally painful that I almost became physically ill, couldn’t sleep for 2 or 3 nights, and I played the event over and over in my mind for months trying to understand ‘how’ it could even happen. Looking back, I missed some ‘signs’; I won’t miss them again.

    But Jesus is the healer of the broken-hearted and we must be willing to put our hearts back out there on the line again, possibly to be squashed all over again, but it’s the only way we’ll ever stay effective in ministry. I understand ‘why’ pastor’s sometimes harden their hearts as a protective mechanism against the next ‘leaver’, but it’s plainly not right. We must live the life we preach and never, never, never burn bridges.

    Now after 3 1/2 years, this man that left comes to our Sunday night services for the ‘teaching’ (his new church doesn’t have Sunday night services). We speak freely and friendly to one another and there’s no animosity from either side. But we both know things will never be the same again between us. Life and time has passed and each one of us has moved on with the Lord in the direction He’s taken us. Paul wrote cordially about Barnabas in his letters years after the incident; but things were never like they had been. I’m sure both of them, just like myself and my friend, felt the ‘loss’ and hated it ever happened.

    What’s the moral of the story? Your article sums it up nicely. We must, must, must forgive instantly and move on to let Jesus heal the wounds. He’s so faithful to do it! Please pastors, keep your hearts soft so that the ones who’re still with you don’t ‘pay’ for what that person did. JESUS already paid for any ‘wrong’ that might have been done (if there was one) and we “forgive others even as God in Christ has forgiven us.” Love God, love people, let God help you love people.

    Karl, I love your posts. I’ve read your book (‘Grasshopper’) and found it to be excellent! I’m handing them around to my leaders because there are so many things in it to confirm what they already know to be true in their heart. Please, keep up the great work. You’re a tremendous friend to me, the small-church pastor. I appreciate you greatly!

    1. I have only been a Pastor for a little over 3 years , and I feel like its a place of constant abandonment. When I first started the Church I had nine people who said they would be committed to the work of the Lord and building the Church. I was so excited that I didn’t stop to think if they met what they said but shortly after they began to miss service and make up excuses, and now all except 3 are gone! This has not only hurt me deeply but it has hurt the Church financially and we are facing closure or relocation to another Church. So I have been Praying and very discouraged, wondering , how I could be called to a place of abandonment when I already have abandonment issues? Maybe that’s why!! Its been about two months now since one of my closest friends that I invested in , just up and left the Church, no calls, no explanation , until I called them!! It hurt a lot aside from the fact that a very close member died also, and my adult Children began to act up!! I know that God knows the plans He has for us and He doesn’t always give us the details!! Please Pray for Me and Gods direction for me in Ministry!! Thanks in advance and I will do the same!!

      1. pastor somerville

        I can feel your pain because I’m in the same boat I was told the same thang they wouldn’t leave they are here to help well that didn’t go well I stated out with 30 people well one bad seed came in and moved everyone away and things as not been the same since then I started in ,2011 I ask myself why has know one came in the church I’m still waiting I ask giod everyday when will my season come so you’re not the only one pastor god know and he do have a plan don’t give up even when when people give up on us god want leave or forsake us

  11. Regarding #9, sometimes it’s not possible for the ones leaving to remain friends, especially if they’ve left poorly and/or tried to do damage to the church/pastor. 🙁

    1. That’s true, Chris. And it’s quite understandable when they leave that way. But sometimes there are those who left well (with no apparent animosity) who don’t seem to know how to relate to us in a civil way outside the pastor / church member relationship.

  12. Karl, you nailed it on this one. Everything you said is absolutely true and you are right, there are no solutions, at least none that I’ve heard anyone coming up with.

  13. painful, but true. Thankfully it’s not all about us which keeps me grounded and more thankful that it’s about being faithful to the gospel and loving others in the best and worst of times.

  14. So what do you do if you are a parishioner and you feel the need to move on, but are invested both in relationships and leadership in a church. How can one make it less painful? The last thing I would want to do is cause pain. Do I give the “we need to talk” call? There is no offense, no problems, just a difference in vision, I guess? Can that be said in any way that doesn’t cause hurt? Our church leadership changed 2 years ago, and while I love the new pastor, the church is just…different. We’ve stuck it out, trying to help bridge the transition and giving time for the new pastor to hit his stride and get things ironed out. But it’s clear that his direction and ours are different. I have been putting off making a decision about leaving for another church just because I 1. don’t want to cause them pain and 2. am sad about leaving some truly special relationships (don’t want to cause myself pain).

    1. That’s a very good question, and I appreciate your sensitivity. The big issue with the “we need to talk” call is when it’s used as an excuse to bomb us with a list of overdue, previously unmentioned problems. The best approach is to sit down with the pastor and let him or her know you’re leaving and give them a basic understanding of why without beating them up over it. It won’t be easy for either of you, but that’s the best way.

    2. Local Church Fan

      We were in exactly your shoes after attending a church for 14 years. We were deeply involved in every area of leadership over the years. We had never left a church before. We had (and still have) great friendships with people there. We met with the pastor, and told him everything we appreciated about what he was doing. We said, “our work here is finished”, and we wished him every success. That was three years ago. We have never talked badly about the pastor or the church, and we are always greeted with hugs and smiles when we run into them around town. Of course, things “will never be quite the same”, but we honored them, and they in turn honored us for our decision.

      1. Thanks for the way you did that. I still have great friendships with people who have left the church because they did it the way you did. Leaving is never easy for anyone, but your story proves it can be done well.

      2. I have to wonder “Local Church Fan” if there weren’t other issues involved besides your “work here is finished” – nothing else? See, this is what that pastor is wondering about – believe it – for too often there are “presenting reasons” for leaving and then there are the “real reasons.”

        Peace

  15. Please permit me to add a few things here:
    I have been in full time ministry since 1983. I have seen people leave the Church again and again. And I quite honestly agree with the fact that it hurts to see them leave.
    People leave the Church for very many reasons – some reasons are for good, and others are bad; some are tenable while others are not; some are for progress while others may have been engineered for destruction of the Pastor or the small Church.

    It hurts when the person leaving is your trusted supporter (your right-hand man of woman), whom you have heavily invested in, who now decides to leave because he or she begins to feel that he/she is, afterall, better than you as a result of perceived God-given gifts in him/her, which you helped to activate. His departure alone can rock the boat of the Church.

    It hurt more when he moves away and pulls some of the members away with him, thereby splitting the small Church and making her smaller further.

    It hurts when the people who leave go out with such bad minds that they begin to speak evil of you and tries to persuade others to leave as well.

    It hurts further when they have left, only to later realize (and admit) that they are the ones who are wrong; but because of the manner in which they left, they find it difficult to come back.

    Really, there is no way we can stop people from leaving. But I get quick healing on hurting feelings such as these by allowing the Holy Spirit to diagnose my role in the circumstances which have given rise to such departures. Where I am at fault, I endeavor to learn from it and correct myself and try to avoid a repeat of the fault. Where I am not at fault, I take things as they occur, no matter how painful that departure may be, after all the saying goes that “20 Boys Cannot Play Together For 20 Years.”

    Lastly, I always pray that God would quickly fill the vacuum created by the departure. Trust me, God has always been faithful in answering that pray.

    1. Thank you for that last phrase about God filing the vacuum… God knew I needed to hear that today. I receive it as an encouragement from God, after we have been through a bunch of departures this year, some more hurtful than others. Thank you.

  16. Karl, I think I want to say thanks for raising this issue… I think. Yeah, thanks a lot! 🙂 You’re right, this is just a reality for us small church pastors, and if I quote the other half of 200churches (Jonny), I would say “It just sucks!!!” And… it does. He and I did our third podcast episode on how to handle it when people leave your church. It’s not as smooth as our current episodes, but it was our take on dealing with this reality, and we have the experience to talk about it! Unfortunately. Here is a link to it – http://www.200churches.com/2/post/2013/01/how-to-handle-people-leaving-your-church.html

  17. What’s been hardest for me is seeing the pain that has come to my wife and even my children when a few families left. Mess with me, ok. Mess with my wife and my kids – watch out. It’s like my wife and kids did not exist overnight, all communication just cut off. Eighteen months later and I still find myself getting angry at times when I drive through our small town and go right by their place of business. Only Christ can heal this kind of hurt and He does, thankfully. Now I can honestly say that we are in a better place as a church (increased attendance and giving, yes, but more than that – the Lord has sent a good group of new people who have jumped in and are doing ministry, starting new ministries!).

    Perhaps you could write a post for church members – “How to leave a church – in a Christ-honoring way” – you may have already written it…

    Thank you, even, for the opportunity to put this out there (healing in some ways).

    Grace & Peace

    1. I hear ya, Rob. That’s the reason I left my last church, over 20 years ago. They started treating my wife and kids badly and I wasn’t going to put up with that.

      I’ll give some thought to your idea for a “how to leave a church well” post. That’s a good idea.

      1. Thanks Karl – I remember reading about that in your book and resonating with you! I just went back and re-read “Bitterness and anger don’t disappear overnight, and some people still leave the church with the same old excuses, but it no longer carries the personal sting of failure like it used to” (p. 155). I’m not there yet, but I’m on my way by God’s grace.

        Many thanks

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  19. I agree with these, but unfortunately you left out the fact that Pastors can be the main reason people leave and it can be valid. Pastors can manipulate. Pastors can betray trust. Pastors can be so into their “church” they run their people to death, never taking time to say thank you or see their church is only as “healthy as the people in it..” I was a right hand man for 12 years for a pastor and recently stepped away from the church as an employee and may leave the church all together. When a friend asked me, “What do you want the pastor to do?” I said, “Anything, just open your eyes and see me or the others around.” I was faithful, I gave everything, but its always easier to crucify someone else rather than inspect ones own heart.

    1. You are right on Craig. I’ve experienced a similar situation myself – it took some years to say that I was healed from it. Also, as a pastor I don’t always say “thank you” near enough. I think I can understand why you might leave the church altogether, but I pray after some time to heal and re-group you’ll find a healthy, life-giving fellowship.

      Grace & Peace to you.

    2. I hear you, Craig. I’ve sat with a lot of recovering church members associate pastors who have been burned by a manipulative, untrustworthy pastor. I didn’t intend to ignore that reality, it just wasn’t the subject of this post.

      Your comment has spurred me to think about writing a post that deals with the other side of this issue. Why good people leave and how to address the issue of a toxic pastor. Hopefully I can come up with something of value on it, soon. Thanks for the nudge.

      1. Hello Karl,

        I think it would be a great idea to write about this from the other side. Its been very painful for us. Our kids are young so as we tried to explain it, we don’t want to talk bad about the church, or the pastor, but at the same time try to explain whats going on in a way they can understand. I think its also tough for wives who are sometimes caught up in it when the conflict is between the two men. The wives understand, but at the same time may not be as closely connected but deal with all the fallout. Finally, I think even toxic pastors could be interesting, but our issue was more of a tired pastor, who just needs to rest and take some time away to get perspective and be able to recover and refresh, but they refuse. My hope would be pastors could see the church isn’t any more theirs than it is the people who attend and those who are part of the core, and that people don’t always have to get their way or “be right” sometimes people just want to be heard in full and listened to.

  20. natewoodwardmusic

    I left a church about 3 years ago. I was on the leadership board, had led a short-term mission team, had filled in as worship leader when the pastor’s wife, the regular worship band leader, was gone. Both pastors had become critical of our suggestions and had stopped asking us to serve as they once had, and one even went on a tirade against my wife–this is what prompted our immediate resignation and departure. We did not specify our reason for leaving in our letter of resignation, in part because the most immediate offense was with an individual, and didn’t feel like it would be right to air that with a group. And we didn’t feel safe to approach either pastor. There were a couple people in the church who knew we had been feeling uncomfortable but none of them offered to step in to mediate, and neither pastor made any attempt to ask the reason for our departure. This was a small church–maybe 40 or 50 on a Sunday morning.

    I can tell you that it was heartbreaking to leave, but it was a good decision. Two years after we left, the head pastor asked me to have breakfast, but he never asked for the reason we left.

    I guess I would encourage/admonish pastors:
    -Own your brokenness and deal with the stuff that triggers your insecurities.
    -Have the courage to apologize first. Ask if there is anything you did to hasten that person’s departure. Ask if there is any neutral third party who could mediate a reconciliation, or at least conduct an “exit interview.”
    -It’s cold comfort, perhaps, but remember it could be just as painful for the people leaving. If you’ve invested time in them, they probably invested time in your community.
    -Remember that the way of Jesus is faithfulness to God in the midst of the betrayal of friends, an unjust system, a condemnation by the religiously powerful.

    1. Wow. Thanks for telling your story here, Nate. And for that helpful list. As you can see from my previous convo with Craig, I’m working on a post to address these issues. I’d like to use some of your points in that article, giving you credit for them. I think taking them into the main body of a post, instead of leaving them buried here in the comment section, could help a lot of people.

      1. natewoodwardmusic

        Be my guest, Karl. You can see my email from my wordpress profile, yes? I’d be happy to answer questions if you have them.

        If I reflect on my story more, I think one difficulty with the situation was that there was not a very robust or independent leadership structure where I felt I could take an issue to have it mediated or get a neutral third perspective–I actively looked for that possibility, and found that basically the long-term members felt very loyal to the pastor. While the lead pastor didn’t have an autocratic demeanor, everything the church did was funneled through him or the associate pastor. So two problems: 1) everything depends on the pastor, leading to burnout or a very limited scope of ministry; and 2) pastor is personally invested in every decision or ministry, which means critique always runs the risk of becoming personal.

        It may be that I just have fundamentally different ideas about what a church should be, and that even if we had found a way to talk these conflicts out, we still would have come to the conclusion that we were just too far apart to work in ministry together. And if you go to a small church, you have to work together. Spectating or avoiding just isn’t possible.

  21. Wow, this interaction on deep wounds is amazing. I would like to suggest that much of this pain is a symptom of systemic corruption built into the hired Pastoral habit patterns. It’s not your fault. It’s the system’s fault. It’s only your fault to the extent that you refuse to lead in correcting the system failure. This may not be a welcome idea when this system is so deeply imbedded in your soul and you “see” the Bible validating what you do. I”ll explain.
    1. I wonder if some of the ease at which lay folk walk away from a fellowship is they have seen their share of pastors walk away from them with ease every 3 – 5 years for a bigger pay check or some other excuse? Is it possible these saints are just following the example set for them by their leaders somewhere in their church life history? Don’t pastors reserve the right to leave when ever they “feel” like it but always say “God is calling them to another vineyard to serve the Lord”? Isn’t the average stay 5 years?
    2. The saints are trained to be consumers in the American church. Every church with a special building big enough for a crowd and has even one hired expert to lecture the Bible every Sunday for a pay check will by these two elements force the saints to consume 86% of their “giving” on average to buy these services. That’s consuming the “giving”. As the attendance grows, the first priority is to hire a 2nd man to serve the givers, not to add more giving to go out the door beyond the givers to “reach all nations” or “serve the poor”. The saints are all told “give to your local church first” and “your gift is to the Lord’s work.” Is a weekly one-way communication event and a special building for a crowd size meeting really the Lord’s work?
    3. I can’t find anywhere in the NT that believers need a weekly hired Bible lecture every week of their life till they die. This single person driven expectation nullifies so many scriptures, specially the ones that say a teacher is to “fully train” his students to “be like him”. Luke 6:40 Add to that 2 Tim. 2:1,2. Biblical teaching – “sound doctrine” is reproducible for others to teach so one man is not needed to dominate that every week, after year after decade. The perpetual dependency model is assumed true in every book about “preaching the word”. Preaching and teaching is not your ministry, it’s Christ’s ministry and He asks you to give it away. If 99% of the saints never “speak the truth in love” during the worship hour it means you are not “equipping them to do the work of the ministry” and it means they will not “grow up into him who is the head…”. and the rest of Eph 4 on church life. The pastor will be zeroed in as a focal point of all the saints when he is such a dominant player.

    I’m going to stop with those 3 but there are many more. Why do hired pastors go through so much hurt, anger and burn-out and never double check God’s revelation for whether they are doing what God asked for or not? I don’t know other than they are wearing tradition driven filters that do not allow them to see their direct systematized contradictions to God’s word. I’m writing a paper on Paul’s teaching on “ministry free of charge” and “refusing the right to pay” and “not being a burden” to the saints. I’ver heard sermons on these texts which ignore or sweep under a rug the truth here. One nation wide radio preacher laughs when he says Paul only meant that for himself. Most agree with him. I’m using John MacArthur”s commentaries as I work through the scriptures. I am amazed as he sees no connection with all of Paul’s reasons for this ministry dynamic as having no connection to himself. At least 4 times in 2 Cor 12 Paul uses the word “burden”. It’s more literal meaning is “numb”. The saints are numbed by hiring men to serve them. It must also “numb” the hired leader as well to the NT full context on the economics of church life, specially God’s design for full reproduction of every work done.

    As one who now ministers free of charge, and fully reproduce my work to other men, I have seen believers walk away with no expressed reasons. I know they are not rejecting me. All around them is consumer church. They can get that weekly Bible lecture easy and not need to prepare their own heart Monday through Saturday to express truth on Sunday. They can send their children away to someone else easy. They can hide in casual relationship easy. Even a church of 100 is 3x’s bigger than what I promote because it forces the consuming of “giving” to buy stuff for the “givers” and many other scripture contradictions. A mega church is merely an enlargement of the same system as a small church. It’s not my church. It’s all Christ’s singular church. He is keeping score and will compensate everyone according to what he has done or not done. I’m okay with Him on that. God moves his people around. I’m okay with that also. I continue to pray for them. I even pray for the institutionalized saints that ejected us. God connected me in Home Depot to the Executive pastor who had “confronted” us 8 years earlier. He was working there and no longer on staff. I encouraged him to worship the Lord as he worked there. He did not want to see me see him working there in the toilet department but his boss was bringing me to him to show me where the toilet connection hoses were. That was painful for him. Brothers, please take a deeper look at a system that puts so much focus and performance on you and so little on the people of God. You can lead them to do what you do only if you are like them, meeting your own needs like Paul exemplified in Acts 20; 2 Thes. 3; 1 Cor. 9; 2 Cor. 11 & 12 and more. All his reasons for “refusing the right” are far far greater in kingdom building than whatever comes from taking the right. Your “full time” effort results in the saints minimal effort – a set up for bogus expectations and consumer thinking. Just passing on what I read in the Word and see in the work. Post what text you see saying you should be this focal point in the body. I’ll help you re-examine it.

  22. The Bowden's

    Not once does this article mention God, Prayer, or Scripture which is sad coming from a Pastor. This is someone’s opionion then not fact!

  23. Sherry Grosenbach

    We are enduring this right now and it is very difficult. When a person or family decides to leave they often believe it only affects them. In reality they leave a wake of troubled waters behind especially when they argue with the leadership and then disappear without closure or explanation. The pastor is blamed often unfairly and yet explainations are not feasible due to expectations of confidentiality or integrity. I see my husband go through this and our family is always directly affected whether it be spiritually, emotionally, financially (people leave who are financially gifted because they don’t get their way and church finances are directly affected therefore salaries are directly affected ), or physically through the anguish of grieving loss on many levels.
    We do indeed covet the prayers of other pastoral families.

  24. Karl, Thanks for sharing that such pain is so real. It hurts so much till today since some 5 to 6 families left our small church since March this year. All the good memories we shared together and the time we serve God together bring tears to me every now and then. Those who left said they are still serving God and yes they are serving very nearby. They have their share of pain with leadership but they said they left by God’s will. But their departure caused so much pastoral pain, hurt, pain, financial, youths struggle with friendship etc.

  25. Karl,
    I have a little different take on this. Having spent the majority of my “professional church worker” life in the military chaplaincy, I saw my share–and then some–of people coming and going in chapel ministry. When I would come on station, I had to painfully endure time and again, faithful people leaving for another Uncle-Sam-written-but-divinely-influenced assignment. I experienced a lot of evangelism in the squadrons and dorms and discipleship and preaching in the chapel on Sundays and special events. Great ministry! But the most difficult part was, indeed, in the discipleship part. I found myself often merely intersecting their lives, rather than walking with them in the fellowship and all important discipleship of “life on life”, not merely information transfer.

    One of my primary reasons for retiring from the military was so that I could indeed fulfill the life on life discipleship aspect that was characteristic of the Lord. My first stop was taking a staff pastor position at a “seeker targeted” church (as I have grown in my followership of Christ, I now see this an impossibility, for Scripture tells us that no one outside the Kingdom of God seeks the Lord), where there were a lot of programs and an emphasis on small groups. I saw a LOT of information transfer but little to no emphasis on life on life discipleship. After I left there, I began pastoring a small church, with a subsequent dissolving of that fellowship and folding into a new fellowship.

    This began the arduous journey of incorporation, Constitution and bylaw writing, and some hard thinking about church membership–and dismissal of members. What I realized is, admittedly, some re-ordering of my thinking and philosophy to what I’ve seen so often, particularly in the “seeker targeted church” and the intersection of Scripture, as well as the life on life discipleship that I’ve come to see as the biblical model (in which every follower of Christ is to be engaged). In reviewing the “real” Lord’s prayer of John 17, the Lord prayed for us (those who would believe on Him through the testimony of the apostles), that we would be one. The reason for this request? “So the world would believe that you sent Me.” In other words, the greatest witness the Church of Jesus can give to the watching world is His body being unified.

    With that said, here is my “take” on members leaving the church, for whatever reason. When a person / family comes to a church, checks it out, and then leaves, cool. This is not the place for them–the Lord has not led them to join with this particular group of saints.

    However, I am convinced that when a person / family actually joins with a particular church, knowing what they are getting into (which some don’t, and that may be the fault of the pastor / staff because they may be very eager to get the person / family to sign on the dotted line), then the assumption is that the Lord has led them to join, and they are to stay there, work circumstances, moves, etc notwithstanding. There are far too many people who leave one congregation and go to another for less than good reasons, such as they can’t get along with others and “need a fresh start”. Or “they are not getting their needs met”–whatever that means. Or, “they are not getting fed”–again, whatever that means. I have over the past little while have come to the conclusion that if a person / family joins a church and they leave it due to personality conflicts, or not getting their needs met, or not getting fed, then they are breaking fellowship and they are sinning against the Lord.

    I have told the congregation on a couple of occasions that the only legitimate reason for leaving a church (other than moves, station in life, etc), is when the church stops being the church (no longer preaching the truth, or letting sin run unchecked in the fellowship).

    When people are “free” to go to this and that church, for this and that offering (kids programs, music, etc), the world has good reason to accuse us of being divided, and therefore they don’t really know that the Lord can save them. For, after all, they reason, that if the Lord can’t “save” His body by helping them to love each other and displaying unity, then how will He be able to take care of their needs?

    In conclusion of this “book”, the bottom line for me, is that as pastors, we ought to make it “hard” for a person / family to leave–to include telling them, if necessary, or possible (some do leave without a trace), that they are sinning against the Body of Christ, and ultimately against Him. Christians who are continually “church shopping” based on personal hurt or personal preference stunts the growth of the believer–and the church–because they are not strongly encouraged / “forced” if need be, to work through their problems. And when that happens, the body is weaker. And when persecution comes to the doors of our churches in the states, which it will (Houston and Idaho are two of the most recent examples), those who refused to work out their problems, and the churches which enabled them by just letting them go, will find it so very difficult, if not impossible, to stand for their faith in Christ.

    I also hear much talk about the “problem people” and “blessed subtractions” when they leave. Shame on us as pastors and those committed to the Body of Christ! If we can do all things through Christ who strengthens us, then we ought to be able to work through our differences. If there is sin via divisive spirit, then Matthew 18 is in order. If there is a “prickly personality” then, we have to offer grace, while helping the prickly person to be more gracious. But that takes a LOT of time–and patience. Truly, our “life lab” is coming together on Sunday mornings. And coming together on Sunday mornings is more than singing a few songs and hearing a sermon–and often forgetting the vast majority of its content–except for good illustrations–10 minutes after they leave. We are called to love one another as He has loved us (remember who Jesus actually chose as His apostles: a zealot and a tax collector, and Judas Iscariot, along with the “sons of thunder”; and don’t forget the doubter of the group–Thomas). If we as pastors consider the “problem people” as “blessed subtractions” when they leave, then perhaps we have a bit longer ways to go in our shepherding than we realize.

  26. Here is a unique painful situation. Our city had invited an evangelist to come. He had several meetings and rallied the participating churches’ pastors to team up with him to reach our city region and nation. He showed a lot of sincerity and we trusted him. After a few visits he told us he wanted to base himself in our city. To do that, he would have to immigrate to Canada. One pastor of a large church offered to hire him on staff to open the doors. Our church, a small congregation rallied many of our people around him. Two of our most precious people and friends were even added to his board of directors. They began city wide revival meetings with him in the large church that hired him. These meetings were supposed to be a vehicle to rally churches and reach out to to the lost. They went well. But within a year, the staff of the church that hired him all resigned and he took the position as senior pastor of the church.. He asked me what i thought. I said “This changes the scope of your monthly meetings because you are carrying on with your evangelistic meetings but you are now pastor of this church. This will create a conflict of interest” Our two beloved leaders just announced they are leaving our church to join his. It’s only the beginning of pain for the pastors who supported him. Others will undoubtedly do the same as the monthly meetings continue. It is especially painful because we supported him and set the stage for what has happened to us now. There is not only the pain but also the concern of how many more will we lose ? As you all know, losses of people really hurt small churches in more ways than one. But this one has a unique sting.

    1. Wow. I’m so sorry to hear that, Alex. I wish I could agree that your situation is unique. It certainly is unique and very painful for you, but I’ve heard too many stories that sound similar to yours. Wolves in sheep’s clothing are still among us.

      1. LEAVING A SMALL CHURCH IS PAINFUL BUT IF THE MINISTER CAN NOT SEE BEYOND MAKING PAIN TO PEOPLE
        THEN IT’S TIME,IT’S TIME TO MOVE ON AND LET HIM RUN AROUND THE COUNTY,POISONING PEOPLE HOW BAD I
        AM, LIKE HE DOESN’T HAVE ANY FAULTS OF HIS OWN.SO,I NEED TO LET IT GO AND MOVE FORWARD AND TRY
        TO PUT MY LIFE TOGETHER AGAIN “AFTER THE STORM”. ,SO,TELL ME WHY EVERYTIME I PRAY FOR “A MAN OF GOD” THAT THEY HAVE ALOT OF “EMOTIONAL BAGGAGE” THEY CARRY.THEY TEACH IT SO DIFFGERENTLY

          1. YES,FORGIVENESS IS THE SUBJECT.BUT EVEN PASTOURS DON’T
            EVEN KNOW HOW TO REACT TO SOME PEOPLE WHEN THEY
            RETURN TO “FORGIVE” THEM BECAUSE “THEY DO NOT KNOW WHAT
            THEY DO”.

        1. It sounds like you’ve been wounded deeply, Helen. I’m so sorry for that. There are definitely toxic churches led by toxic pastors. When that happens, people need to leave.

          The Lord has given my church a ministry of helping people who have been hurt by churches and pastors, so I’ve spent a lot of time crying with hurting believers and hearing horror stories about controlling, manipulative church leaders. I’m so sorry that you have experienced such pain.

          I pray that you’l find a loving church home where the Lord can bless you, help you to heal and allow you to become a blessing – perhaps to other hurting Christians.

          1. I RUN MY MINISTRIES TO HELP PEOPLE NOT TO HURT THEM.BUT THIS MINISTER CONTINUES TO CONVINCE
            PEOPLE,”THAT I AM THE “EVIL ONE” AND HE’S THE SAINT AND PEOPLE WORSHIP HIM BECAUSE HE KNOWS HOW TO CONTROL AND USE EVERY PERSON HE MEETS FOR HIS OWN BENEFIT. ALL I COULD DO IS FORGIVE
            AND PRAY FOR HIM.

          2. While I am really glad you are helping people who have deep church hurt. Did you ever think or pray about the other side of the coin? Meaning the Pastor’s side of the same scenario? There is a valid reason after all why so many Pastors leave the ministry per month. My husband and I have a small church. We have been gaining momentum, thank God. One person joined last year to ” help” us, only to criticize ( along with her family) every other month. We tried our best to coddle or help this person. She got upset , left with no word, my husband called her after about 4 weeks of MIA. She said she was hurt and offended, my husband tried to talk to her. To no avail, she and about 5 others gone. About 3 weeks before we go into our new building. Who helps the Pastors heal?

  27. In humbleness, I ponder if this was written by a real pastor or not. And then, of the maturity level in the faith. I have heard many reasonings by church leaderships used on people who decide to leave a church fellowship and one thing that is constant no matter how subtle or blatant is a form of blame and guilting. I’ve even heard a preacher accuse people of dropping out on Jesus just because the person(s) left that one fellowship. I notice a statement made that referenced all not needing to be friends in the church. I found this an odd statement as the author references their church as “small”. What is the purpose of Christian fellowship? Maybe they left because of their desire for friendship from their leadership. We, especially those in leadership who are supposed to be more mature in the faith must realize that people are obliged only to Christ and not our individual assemblies.

    1. Those that do not pastor small congregations have more difficulty envisioning the real discussion here and the sharing of pain that is more noticed in a small church.
      Having and experiencing pain in the small church does not make one arrogant in the faith or self righteous. It makes one more reachable and more easily wounded;Serving on the front lines rather than in administration.
      Sadly we are often wounded by friendly fire.

    2. Hi, John. Yep, I’m a real pastor. Here’s the website of the real church I’ve pastored for the last 22 years. http://www.cornerstonefv.com/.

      There was no intent to blame or guilt anyone in this post. It was simply written to express the hurt that is felt by small church pastors like me when friends and church members leave. No, not everyone in the church needs to be our friend. There will always be occasional attenders that we barely know, even in a small church. But we can still love them all.

      Like Sherry wrote in her response to you, sometimes people who don’t pastor a small church have a hard time understanding these issues.

      But I do fully agree with your last sentence. People are obliged to Jesus first, not their pastor or their local congregation. And sometimes they need to leave. Sometimes because the leadership is toxic. But sometimes good people leave good churches and it just stings a little.

  28. Thank you so much for this post. You said you don’t have a solution to this issue, but to me, all that you have raised have already helped me deal with this issue. In fact, I came across this post while googling “how to cope when people leave the church”. I’ve been wrestling with this for about two weeks now, alternating between conflicting feelings. At times, I felt angry, upset and betrayed – how can she leave like the church wronged her? Why didn’t she tell me earlier? Is it fair to the church that we don’t get a chance to make things right? Exactly which part of this church could she not fit into? She didn’t even give this church a chance!

    Other times I felt lost, empty and sad – where did I fail? How could I miss it? I thought we were doing so well. What happens to our little accountability group now? Should I be angry at her? What if she backslides if I do?

    I’d invested in this person for about a year decided to leave church after being absent for seven weeks. I’d read the Bible with her, prayed with her, helped her through some difficult decisions when she was trying to run away from life, was there with her when her mother opposed her faith. It’s like you said – it came as a blow to me. It hurt. I knew all the right things to feel, think and do, but I couldn’t bring myself to do them. I wanted to be angry, to feel vindicated and justified. “If they have to go, let them go”, “sometimes people leave”, “let her be”, “no need to be angry”. People have been saying that to me. I know these are true. But your words resonated with what I felt. I can feel the same pain you feel.

    I’m supposed to meet her this Thursday to have a final chat (after reading our post, I’m glad we actually get to have this talk!). I googled because I felt that I was going to go to this meeting with very bad feelings – on the one hand, I didn’t want our friendship to end on a bad note, but on the other, I also secretly wanted her to taste the pain I felt. I think I just needed to know that I’m not alone, that someone hears me, and to understand exactly why I felt the way I felt – to know that these feelings are real… and normal. So thank you for writing. God has spoken through you. I am now at peace and ready for our meeting this Thursday. =)

    1. Thank you for sharing your struggle and pain of this journey. So glad you can meet with her as well. I believe that will speed along the healing. These types of situations are extremely difficult, but I can see how the Lord has used them and is using them in my life and ministry as a pastor. Grace & peace to you in Christ.

    2. I am so honored that the Lord used this post, written from our common struggles, to be a help to you face this very difficult moment. I’ll be praying for you as you approach this meeting on Thursday.

      1. Hi Karl, just thought to update you on how the meeting went. We explored how she felt and why she wanted to leave, and narrowed it down to her feeling that she doesn’t fit into church because there’s no one that she can talk to after the service about the sermon, or anything they’ve learned throughout the week that has to do with God. She feels that people either don’t talk to her or don’t do it on a deeper level. She wants to serve, but feels that there’s nobody she can serve with, therefore she’s been avoiding serving. She also feels that she doesn’t know the leaders well, and they don’t seem to take an interest in her as well. She’s also been comparing her experience in our church to the church she attended before she graduated.

        We worked out a plan for her. I told her that the very thing she’s looking for (i.e. true fellowship) often comes through serving alongside a fellow believer. Therefore, she cannot “explore” churches forever. At some point, she has to make a decision about which church she wants to serve in, and she has to commit herself to that church and trust that God will turn her experience around. She also shared that she’s open to the idea that she may choose our church at the end of her exploration.

        Before I read your article, I would’ve dismissed her feelings as consumerism. But because this article opened my mind to what she might be going through, I discovered that she’s actually been very ashamed to meet me and our church members, because she felt that she’d disappointed everyone who’d been counting on her. This meeting brought restoration to both her and me. So thank you again for your article, and for your prayers. =)

        1. This is a great example for us all. I applaud you for meeting with her, that’s not easy. I think many people simply want to be heard and taken seriously and you do just that. May the Lord bless you and your ministry.

  29. TWow. I am glad I found this site, but I am shocked and disappointed at some of the pastors’ comments. I, too, am on the “other side”. I am sort of like the parishioner above who is leaving, but unfortunately, my pastor isn’t even willing to meet with me; he is totally ignoring me. We made the mistake of emailing, after a severe misunderstanding. I have recently read another blog on Matt: 18, which said how destructive emails can be. I wish I’d read it before! Anyway, my pastor really pulled the rug out from under me, and manipulated me (I can’t go into the entire story– maybe he’s reading this?). I was treated very badly, and there may have been gossip involved. It has to do with church politics beyond my ken. He promised me something, then broke his word with no explanation, and made me look like an idiot– with no explanation (and even more than this, but too much to go into). He humiliated me, and I believe that there were others involved in the humiliation. He is apparently ignoring me, yet before, he told me in a formalistic way that he hoped I’d return– however, there seems to be no repentance nor sense of remorse from him towards me directly for what he did to me. And by now, I think he believes me to be a “problem person” or a “blessed subtraction” (what a horrible way to think of people!) There is no way that I could return, the way things stand. I have come to the end of my rope in my “spiritual journey”. After this, I no longer trust any church. I have simply had it with churcheology.

    It’s not a question of forgiving him: It’s more that I simply do not know how to handle this situation. I was treated very shabbily; how can I just pretend it never happened? It’s like saying “hi” to one’s rapist (I don’t mean to imply any sexual abuse; it’s more of a metaphor for emotional abuse). But I don’t think he understands that. I suspect he’s in denial. Because at first, we got along well. But since he’s now ignoring me, and since I believe that there are forces arrayed against me in this church, what am I to do? I don’t think there is anything that I can do, but leave.

    There ought to be a training manual, when a dewy-eyed aspirant comes to church, for what to do when one has to leave, or confront one’s pastor. I mean, step by step? Unfortunately, there aren’t such tools (except perhaps for Matt: 18– but what if one doesn’t have any witnesses? Or what if the hierarchy and structure of the church doesn’t lend itself to Matt. 18? Or what if the person and the pastor don’t know about Matt: 18? Or the pastor doesn’t seem to care?)

    I am actually suffering PTSD from this experience. And also, the church is close by. Chances are, I will run into the people involved. I have been quite traumatized, yet I have no answers on how to handle this event (and neither does anyone else I have confided in, unfortunately). And those of you who use such terminology as “problem person” or “blessed subtraction”, shame on you! If you think that way about people, then that’s how those people will continue to respond. Where is charity in this sort of thinking?

    There ought to be mediation boards for such incidents. But if they exist, where are they? How does a newcomer find out about them? There is never anyone to pick up the pieces. I really expected this shepherd to look out for his sheep, but I have fallen over the cliff.

    I am beginning to perceive how limited Christianity is it’s answers re: human relationships. Or perhaps that is true of any formalized religion? The Church was my life; now, it’s my nightmare.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear that you’ve been through such a difficult and traumatic experience. The church is not perfect. but that’s why we’re not called to have faith in the church. We’re called to have faith in Jesus, because he’s the only one who will never let us down.

      I encourage you not to give up on gathering with other believers (which is all the church is, really) because of one bad experience with one bad pastor. There are a lot of good churches and pastors out there. It may take a while before you’re able to summon the courage to test the waters again. But don’t give up. Trust Jesus. He’ll guide you to a healthy church and good people.

  30. I left a small church because they abandoned my family. Worst of when we left it was like being excommunicated. My step-son has family still there and they never call, text or anything. Also hurt when I saw the pastor a few months later and he blew me off. Couldn’t even stop for a quick handshake.

    1. SHOW ME A GOOD HEALTHLY SMALL CHURCH IN AMERICA
      BECAUSE THERE ISN’T ANY.MY SO-CALLED FORMER MINISTER
      HAD DECLARED “THAT I AM A LOCAL TERRORIST” AND HE’S THE
      GOOD GUY SINCE HE’S A GODLY MAN.

      1. Helen, as a pastor who was fired from a church, and had to deal with a lot of church hurt, allow me to recommend a great book that REALLY helped me and a number of people in the congregation I’m privileged to pastor: “healing your church hurt” by Stephen Mansfield.

  31. This is my first church and its very hard to lose people, it can really through you especially when you don’t understand why or because of something seemingly trivial (like wording on the by laws) – but I know God is in charge and he called me – it’s him who draws and him who takes away – I trust him – thanks for the post

  32. This isn’t meant to be a who’s right, who’s wrong item, but simply a point of fact that, as Christians, we are going to differ at times in our styles of worship, choices, and interaction with others. And, both sides may be fully convinced they are acting according to biblical constructs.

    I, too, experienced an issue that I had with a pastor which ultimately led me to leave a church. The issue was over small groups, and how you walk with people through life. My wife and I had served in small group ministry for over ten years in other churches, and this pastor had just been assigned the role in the church to start groups. We worked with him for quite awhile (over a year, maybe two) while he compiled data, crunched numbers, and wrapped his head around creating a small group model for the church. All the while, we served as small group leaders, with full accountability both ways… to our pastors as well as to our small group members.

    My wife and I believe that the ministry is hands on, and that you love and walk with people through their joys and struggles as they grow in Christ, while he chose to adopt a more classroom-style approach, requesting that we actually kick people out of group when they didn’t regularly attend, even if out of town on work for a week, etc. The church was so gung-ho on the title “Home Group” that they even called their men’s group a “Home Group”. Never mind the other complications with the changes involved, but he expressed regret that he wouldn’t be able to meet with and mentor me ( three or four times a year for an hour… because of course he’s a busy man ) unless I acquiesced to the new format.

    Several months later, he learned that I had left, and he asked for an exit interview. In the interview, when it came time to address my key point, he simply said that we had the right to disagree over semantics. I was floored, and really did not agree, but that made no matter. How do you explain to someone who just doesn’t get it, how mentoring is a process where you spend uncountable hours of time with others? And, alot of that spent on your knees praying…

    In closing, while I love the pastor and this particular church, I simply found that I couldn’t abide with the decisions made. Our family tried another church, but it didn’t feel right… it ended up that I was going, and the family was mutinying when I would attend. Now, we do not attend… anywhere.

    I’m sure I’ve been labeled as a problem. The pain is terrible, but I’ve learned that it doesn’t matter. I have no clue where to go with this, yet, but I do know the Lord loves both he and I, and as much as I tried to be a good member and follow this gentleman, I ultimately, in my Christian spirit, just found that I could not do it.

    Now, I attend no church, but not for lack of being a Christian, or loving the Lord.

    1. I’m so sorry to hear about the pain you’ve been through, Keith. There’s no question church members have been hurt by pastors at least as much as pastors have been hurt by members.

      But I encourage you to please find another church home. I have never yet seen a Christian who stayed out of fellowship and kept strong in their walk with the Lord. We need each other. Please look around and ask around. There are great churches that God has given a special calling to help Christians who have been hurt in other churches. The church I pastor happens to be one of them.

      If you’re interested, I wrote another post that might address some of the things you’re feeling. Here’s the link:
      http://newsmallchurch.com/done-with-church/

      I will pray for you that you find peace. And a great church home.

      1. Amen to your words, and I fully agree with them. Just working on it and learning to wait upon the Lord for His providence in this matter. To God be the glory!

  33. iv been through this as a church member and I went through the process of pain and healing. I am feeling good about my self and the people I left behind. but miss them even dream about he church almost each week. I pray God to guide me and find a church ill be free to worship the Lord . I really used to enjoy myself there but my husband doesn’t want us to go back which is sad. Im waiting for God to direct us both if we should go back or look for another church. Thanks for this article

  34. I can relate to Cilla’s post. After 10 years with our church, my husband started criticizing the church…it started small: “the music is too loud” and then got worse…”the Pastor doesn’t care about me and He doesn’t really even know our kids”. I know that my husband is insecure and I tried to explain and even defend, but he believed that I was taking the Pastor’s side. He finally declared that he didn’t want to go there anymore. I knew that we shouldn’t be divided, so I reluctantly left as well…totally heartbroken. I’ve spoken with the Pastor and I actually understand the misunderstandings, but can’t convince my husband. It’s been 5 years now. We visited more than 20 churches. He likes the one that we’ve been attending for the last 6 months or so, but I’m just faking it….completely disenchanted, but attending so that our 3 kids can have a church to call home. No more, “what church are we going to this week?” I stopped praying to return to our old church…clearly not happening. I was praying for direction….still totally lost. So now i’m just praying that God completely change my heart & help me get planted in the current church. It’s been the most difficult time in our marriage. I would’ve never thought that we would argue and disagree over church of all things?! So I’m trying to submit and also provide stability for the kids. Underneath, I’m sad and faking it…missing the praise & worship, movement of the Holy Spirit, teaching and relationships that I enjoyed at the old church…very hard to maintain strong faith…not to mention trying to resist bitterness and resentment toward my husband.

  35. As a pastor of 20 years, this post is a truth that only those who’ve been “left” can really understand. One additional pain, it especially hurts when they leave to go join the former staff member who was asked to resign for dishonesty…. Who has now started a church but apparently hasn’t developed any more integrity.

  36. But how do you deal with the hurt? My dad is pastor at our church. We are a very little church, but we just decreased by 50%. That’s a big number, but we ARE a little church… The family that left was a very close friend of ours. We don’t know exactly what went wrong, but they got very upset with my parents and left. It didn’t stop at that because they spread lies about my dad to the other families, and they left also. And it hurt that those families didn’t trust my dad enough to sit down and talk about those untruths that were spread, that they believed them even though they’ve know us for many years. Pretty much all of those hurts listed above apply here.
    And it’s hitting my dad really hard, and he is getting depressed, feeling that this was his fault and that he just isn’t competent anymore, and questioning whether he was really ever called to be a pastor. He doesn’t have many people he trusts to talk to because everyone he trusted and went to for help with the first family that left, ended up leaving as well…
    I know that prayer and time with God are the answers, but what is a more REAL and right now way for us, his kids and wife, to help him out of this?
    I don’t know if anyone reads these comments, since this is an old post, but I would welcome some advice and feedback! Thank you

    1. Hey Sara,

      My husband is a pastor and I can relate to what you are saying. If there is any consolation, any at all about being betrayed by others, it’s the fact Christ has gone before us. He was the best “pastor” ever and still he was spoken against and betrayed by “one who ate bread with him”. He was lied about by those who knew better. He was left by those who were too timid to stand for him. When a person becomes a Christian, Jesus never minces words about the costs. If we dare pray, “that I might know him”, he takes us up on it. It involves conformity to his sufferings. Our cross costs us too. Our only responsibility is as far as in our power, to be at peace with all men. We cannot be responsible for another’s actions. I’m soaking in the Psalms right now, trying to make sense of it. If that’s any encouragement to you at all.

      Olivia

  37. Hi Karl. Your points in this article are on point. The church I currently attend have experienced several members leaving for a few of the reasons you stated while others state that the pastor’s wife was the problem. I’m sure it is difficult to hear that a wife is either scattering the sheep or not a right fit in her husband’s ministry because of a personality conflict. How does the pastor handle that situation with a member? Should his wife leave to help restore the church?

    Thanks

    1. Hi Connie. That’s a tough one. I don’t want to risk offering advice, since I don’t know the specific situation, but the main issue for the pastor and his wife is for the two of them to be in agreement with God. If she leaves the church it should only be because her husband is leaving. If they truly can’t minister together in that church, perhaps they need to find another way to minister together.

  38. Pastor Finished

    We are about to lose another family and I am about to lose yet another friend (5th one in 10 years). I am beginning to think that it is impossible for a pastor to have true friends in the church. Frankly, I am on the verge of walking away and finding another line of work. Even though our church is growing and most people would say it is healthy, I am emotionally and spiritually exhausted. To top it all off, my wife was recently diagnosed with a serious life threatening illness that will likely require a major organ transplant. People in the world are not nearly as petty as those in the church and often times they seem to care more.

    1. We have all felt at one time or another like you do my good brother. I have wanted to quit a thousand times always on a Sunday! Glad I waited until Monday morning! The thing I try to remember is Who I am doing this for when I’ve been hurt or disappointed. It is the Lord’s ministry through you. I am so sorry for the way you feel. People will hurt you and they do. But, we are doing our ministry unto the Lord and He will reward us. God never called us to be successful, just faithful. The results are up to Him. You have a high and holy calling. I will pray for you and please pray for me. I too, have endured pain from people to the point of doing something else. But, I would be totally miserable doing it. May God grant you peace in your spirit and may your good companion be healed in Jesus name. Blessings and grace to you on a good Monday!!!!!

  39. Wonderful article sir. I really appreciate this. As a pastor of well over 30 years I can truly identify with all written here. For me as a current pastor in Baltimore the one thing that troubles me the most is to have members that I have trusted and truly invested in, not be able to tell you why they are leaving. They go overboard to tell you they love you and love your ministry and preaching, but their “season” has come to an end and they must move on to follow their “calling” to the world. We spent two hours with a couple for example that left who affirmed us in every way and promised they had our backs, but said they had planned to leave a year earlier when we came as new pastors. When we came to this church the vote was split with another potential pastor and many that were “attached” to him left without even giving us a chance to get to know them. That was truly painful and is often the case when a new pastor comes in. Someone said, “they were not your sheep to begin with.” Not an explanation that makes any sense. How do you leave what you say you love???. TD Jakes said it is an epidemic in this country now and pastors are pulling their hair out because people come and go so fast. He said, “love them while you have them and kiss them good-bye when they leave!” Tell them as they are going you can always come back! One other problem that produces so much pain is the fact that no matter how they left or why they left the pastor is always somehow to blame! Remarks like: a lot of good tithers are leaving as if we do not know that pain as well. Or, the pastor is running people off when you had nothing to do with it. They couldn’t bully the pastor around and just left!!! But, again, you are to blame. OH, well, enough said. God bless sir again for helping to soothe our pain.

  40. Feel the pain again while reading. Hits home. What you have said reminds me that our experience is not unique but takes place over and over again throughout the whole of the world. Thanks.

  41. I have been attending Greentree Church in South Jersey for about 30 years. There is no perfect church. There is no perfect congregation. I have heard so many complain from deacons to the person sitting next to me. I realize that if something is not right we as Christians should SUPPORT our church not LEAVE IT. I have had many times not agreed with so many things in the way they are handled, but know the only way to improve things to HELP IMPROVE THEM & NOT TO LEAVE THEM! The part that really bothers me is that the reasons are truly Petty Reasons & not about true Biblical Preaching. The Pastors at my Church give themselves totally in the work they do around the clock constantly. I thank God for opening up my eyes to problems like this. Please Pray for your Church Congregation, Pastors, Deacons & every problem that can only be solved by Almighty God.

    1. Hello Anthony,
      I see your point, but what happens when you give 12 years of your life to a church, and you helped plant it, worked there and things got bad and you tried and tried to fix them and improve them, but it wasn’t successful. These issues are not always petty and can be very complicated base on the make up of your church, like if there is a large family in leadership with a lot power. I believe its not the disagreements that cause people to leave, its now they are dealt with. Most churches do not have a system of raising questions and challenges where people can talk these things out. If you disagree or have a concern, its painted as not important or petty, or you are seen as challenging “Gods Chosen One” or not supporting the vision. Churches that handle these well and really talk about it, they are healthy and do well. The ones that don’t often have created a my way or the highway mentality or they have people around their churches that are tired, frustrated and withdrawn from the church emotionally. Its not that difficult, but these situations show how healthy church is, its not the church without these situations, but the ones that deal with them correctly don’t have people leave as often

      1. It’s hard. Pastors and congregants feel pain when someone leaves. Congregants and lay leaders who leave may have been driven to frustration over long-term, complex issues that aren’t easily resolved. My situation is that I’m in community and in lay leadership with a church but at some distance. There are wonderful aspects of this body. Like many small churches, we’ve had our share of struggles. Part of our core spiritual formation corpus revolves around managing anxiety personally and organizationally in a healthy, authentic way that leads to integrity. So what happened? We’ve had some escalated tension/ anxiety organizationally and it resulted in skipping steps in decision making. Okay, that happens. When I complained, however, it didn’t go well. I was heard- but I wasn’t. My statements were recast and marginalized. Apparently, it wasn’t the objection that I was raising that was the source of my issue. No, it was another committee altogether. Not really. Very frustrating for both my pastor/ fellow leaders and for me. I’m burnt to a crisp. Stick a fork in me, I’m done. Just trying to take it a day at a time through this season of transition and murky water. If you think being “left” sucks, try not being able to resolve a major issue and being smacked in the head with a surprise result and no communication. After a long season of taking a deep breath and counting to ten for the grace to take another step. On top of the rest of the escalated stuff going on, small leadership team… Oh, and don’t forget the guilt of not meeting the expectations and needs of your fellow leaders and congregants, along with references to Satan stirring the pot. Well, yes. Probably. But the real issue I have is the fallout and loss of trust from the breach of integrity from a fellow lay leader and the knowledge that this isn’t going to be dealt with before impact from the decision is felt. Worse, it could be repeated.

  42. Pingback: It hurts when people leave a small church… | Pastor Mathis

  43. I have a different perspective on this.—It is Also very painful as a fellow church member to have the church you have loved and invested in –i.e. the people–constantly changing and coming and going. The rest of the congregation also invests in and gets emotionally attached to other members as well (if it is a true church). However it is ESPECIALLY hard to have it be the pastor who is always leaving for greener pastures…..I have been in my church 19 years, and we are on our 3rd pastor already since I joined! It is very discouraging, as a member when this happens. We invest ourselves in our pastors and their families too, and it feels very much like being abandoned when they announce they are leaving. Usually for a better job elsewhere. it leaves us wondering why we weren’t good enough to stay for…..Please remember that dear pastors and sty put unless the cloud has lifted and is moving you on. Remember when the cloud stays put, YOU stay put…

  44. This whole topic is so painful.

    I have tried three times to compose a post explaining why a long, long-time involved, serving, integrated family might decide to leave without telling anyone why…and I just can’t. I keep crying. Thanks for talking about it….

  45. Well when I was at Uni I went to some very good flashy churches, now 30 years later I still go to my local small church wherever in the world it is and it can be a bit demanding. I remember comparing notes with someone in a similar position and we both agreed if it had not been for Uni we still would not be soldiering on in our usual inefficient way. There are many who stick it who would like to move to big flashy congregation s and they also know they are themselves not talented enough to revolution ise the church they are in but still as in Ephesians they “stand” in their poorly talented way. Fairly sure I know who God the Father cherishes.

  46. It hurts when you are trying to raise your kids to love Jesus, but all around them this is going on. Having to figure out how to give them a view of God when so many of His representatives are NOT representing Him well or living by His words.

  47. I’m curious to hear….you talk about some who leave being friends. I was always told that the pastor can’t have friends in the pews, that they are all congregants. I would love to hear more on this from people…..for and against.

    1. RevCindy – I remember well as a Pastoral Education major in Bible college being told that as a Pastor I must maintain a professional distance from God’s people. I was the shepherd and they were the sheep. Immediately a red flag went up ERROR. This was a contradiction of everything Paul modeled and taught on shepherding in the NT. Every book on pastoring repeated this same mantra. I will spare my long journey in how I delt with this. Very recently Christianity Today had an article called “The Friendless Pastor – How to address our perennial problem.” I interacted but all the comments were trashed recently. No doubt many pastors are are as friendly as they can be with 50 or 150 or 1000 people. But we all know you can only be friends in a mutual, initmate way as God designed with more than 12 or so. The numbers and our limitations force the system of the hired pastor, needing enough people to pay his salary, to at best posture a veneer level of friendships with his congregants. He cannot set the example of Jesus for those he is said to be the undershepherd. Being “members of one another” will now be seriously marginalized for the depth of God’s design. It is in no ones best interest to leave this system intact and perpetuate it to the next generation. We can be transformed if we will allow our minds to renewed and “test what the will of God is…” Rom. 12.

    2. That’s a long topic, Cindy. And I was taught the same as you. But yes, I have friends in the church.

      One of the biggest obstacles to many pastors’ own spiritual growth is that we don’t have a home church of our own – we have a job. A calling, for sure, but it often becomes just a job. When church is all output in ministry, but we’re receiving almost none of the input from the church body that we tell our congregants they need for a solid spiritual life, we weaken our own spiritual life.

      There are dangers in this, for sure. But I’ve found the benefits – both to me and to the church body – to be worth it.

  48. It was my experience in a church that I attended and was on staff for a number of years, that cliques in a church hurt everyone, especially when you are on the outside. I asked my pastor’s wife numerous times to go get coffee with me, but she never had time for me. And yet, she would go out with other women from the church. When my husband had surgery, there were no emails sent out to have meals brought in, and yet a few weeks later, another church member after surgery had meals brought in. The pastor didn’t have us come up and hands laid on us when we moved, but yet, just a few weeks later, another family was brought up to have hands laid on them when they moved. Our move was short lived, and we were back, but no one reached out to us to see how we were doing. (And the pastor knew we moved back). No help offered to move our stuff back. No going away party given, although the other family had a going away party. Recently, I contacted the pastor, and was told that they didn’t reach out to me, because they thought I wanted it that way. A cop-out I think. I see that church as just a clique, and if you are friends with the pastor, then you are in. If you are not, then when/if you leave, I guess you are a “blessed subtraction”. How hurtful. We no longer attend that church, and have found another that the Lord has used greatly to help us heal. We’re not church hoppers, and have actually been in ministry before in a small church, so alot of this post and comments resonate with me. But I thought I would share how it is sometimes from the other side. I just thank God that He does not consider anyone as a “blessed subtraction.”

    1. Rebekah, I don’t know what to say other than thank you for sharing and I’m so sorry that you had this experience. I can absolutely resonate with your pain as recently as this week when no one from the church I pastor came to my father-in-law’s wake or funeral. And I’ve had similar experiences in my home church when I needed to be ministered to but wasn’t and yet very soon, someone else had a similar situation and received everyone’s utmost attention. So painful.

  49. Has this gotten worse do you think?
    It seems to me that our consumeristic society has bred people who want what they want no matter what.
    It used to be that Christians would join a church to serve in, that would reach their neighborhood. Together that church would grow, through hard work and prayer and faithfulness and commitment. More and more I hear of people leaving because the programs aren’t meeting their needs, the worship isn’t the right style, someone was “mean” to me… the list goes on.
    It IS painful for the pastor and his family. We’ve gone through this over and over and over in our 33 years of ministry together. The last one we experienced was the straw that broke the camel’s back, a family we had invested in for over 10 years, who left because “the youth group just isn’t what we want”. I’ve cried with this woman. We had them in our home. We invested in practically every area of their life. They later began making up stories about us to fit the occasion and the audience.
    She then turned around and began stalking me and my extended family. And she persuaded one of my sisters that I am crazy and mean and they are now besties. It just got weirder and weirder!
    All that to say, I think you are right. There are no answers, or at least easy ones. The only thing I know for certain is that we have a God who never leaves or forsakes us. He uses the weak and the wounded for His glory. And His glory is not only for our good but for our best.
    Through all this ugliness, He has opened amazing doors for ministry for us in Haiti of all things, which is still connecting with our existing ministry. We are wowed and moving in the next month. Never ever would I have thought God would do it this way. But praise Him, He will do His work through the willing and obedient hearts of His people.
    And because this couple left it paved the way for this to happen. And I guess I see my sister for what she is and know more clearly how to pray for her. There is no God like our God. He is a Rock and our Fortress, a very present Help in times of trouble.

    1. If people take membership vows as something other than a vow before a holy God, this will continue. In our congregation as part of membership classes people are told, if they have a question or a difficulty they are to follow scripture’s method of dealing with it, Matthew 18. Sadly most who left don’t bother, or use as their reason preferences, programs and styles that were evident when they joined.

      I think of Paul who wrote after losing a close colleague, “And Demas having loved this present world……” How it must have hurt him deeply. Or Jesus, even though he knew in advance, he was still man as well as God and said, “Judas, are you betraying the Son of Man with a kiss?” Betrayal hurts, but Christ has gone on before and will use these occasions to refine us.

      I am grateful for what you said about God opening another place for you. None of what you experienced will be wasted. We have a good God who refines us as silver so that we can reflect him to a dying world. Press on.

  50. I know what you’re talking about, being a young pastor of a tiny church for the past year and a half I’ve already seen a handful of people leave. In a church as small as the one I minister in every person missing is felt, especially when their purpose for leaving is not a legitimate one.

    I listen to other pastors in my area Talk about their low numbers and having only forty or fifty people at a service, I wish I could see that amount in the pews Sunday morning.

    Praise the Lord for other pastors like you who help me feel like I’m not alone in this struggle to help people gain a better relationship with God.

  51. I’m not a pastor or really involved in any vocational ministry. But I am a member of a church that merged with another church a few years ago. At the time, our small church merged into another larger church, and the larger church kept all of their pastors (and two of our three pastors were still pastors) and the name of their church, so it was kind of like going into a marriage as the woman and having your name changed. I actually kind of likened it to Ruth going to be with Naomi and remaining with her as she had become her family.

    Over the course of three years, most of the people from my original church left, and eventually our head pastor who was on staff left. Our other original pastor followed not too long after. And actually, it was and is still painful for me. A lot of the people who were in my life seem like they avoid me and I’m not even the leadership! I feel like we were given reasons from the people who left, but it doesn’t make it any easier. Anyhow, as a congregant, I’m still grieving and suffering – even having sleepless nights at times. I should say that I don’t necessarily feel like our church is theologically “off” and it seems like the pastors have tried to do as much as they can to help heal the body, so I really don’t see anything egregious that would make me want to leave. So, anyhow, I think it can be really painful for congregants too. I think it’s probably a good reminder to a pastor that maybe your flock is hurting too and how are you/how can you help them walk through that separation and grieve it well?

  52. Pingback: When people leave the church | On Target

  53. In my 4 decades as a pastor, I can share all of the situations when people left the local church in the article. With some however, who were a constant source of schism among the people of the church, so that we did not enjoy a time in which they did not bring trouble to the family of God, their leaving was considered as “a backdoor revival.” We may have been smaller, but more refreshed in our worship and service to our Savior.

  54. Stupidiswhatstupiddoes

    It’s not always the one that leave who needs prayer. The scripture “2 Chronicles 7:14 KJV
    If my people, which are called by my name, shall humble themselves, and pray, and seek my face, and turn from their wicked ways; then will I hear from heaven, and will forgive their sin, and will heal their land,” is meant for pastors too. To pray for them “before the congregation” once they are gone and curse them demonstrates that the decision to leave was a Great one.

    1. There could be many reasons why he doesn’t ask you personally why. 1. Some pastors can be in a zone or “church view” where the progress or momentum of the institution is far more important to their heart than any individual. 2. He may know from a grapevine route. 3. For many pastors there is a separation that is built into the system. They are the shepherd and you are a sheep. 4. He may be frustrated that you did not give him a chance before you left to make a correction or just hear your beef. No one will know which of these or others were the reason. What we do know is “bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgive each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive.” Col 3:13

  55. Having been one of the members who left, my wife and I sat down and talked to my pastor. I still remember what he said when he saw us come in his office together. He said, “Oh Oh”. It seemed that he knew we were leaving. He asked if there was anything he could do. I said, “Not that I know of.” At the time, I didn’t have a clue of what we needed of him that he wasn’t already doing. Initially, I felt that he had an intimidating control over me to the point that I didn’t have much confidence in myself. Unfortunately, I didn’t know enough about myself to articulate that to him. For me, I didn’t have malice against him or his ministry. I was just trying to deal with my own inner issues. I was one who often thought about other’s feelings instead of my own. I often denied what I really thought or felt about an issue in favor of the other guy. As a result, I was often ignored or someone would try to make me to go over to their side. It wasn’t their fault! It was mine and I knew it. I just wanted to get over myself and grow up. My heart truly went out to him. I didn’t want the wall that I created between him and I. I didn’t leave so that other members would leave also. I know that as pastors, many of you are hurting. I want to say on behalf of your members, “I’m sorry”. I’m not being naive by saying that, because I know that there are some childish and vicious members in probably every church regardless of size. But not everyone left because of you. Sometimes they (like you) probably have been hurt and hadn’t healed. You could do something that helps one and hurts another. The fact that you have pain are a great indicator that a good pastor resides within you. I would like to encourage you all to not quit…please. You are making a difference. It is the devil who wants you to give up. There are too many lives who depend on what you do. When the enemy makes things look hopeless, take courage from 2 Kings‬ ‭6:16‬ ‭KJV‬‬ “And he answered, Fear not: for they that be with us are more than they that be with them” and “What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who can be against us?”
    ‭‭Romans‬ ‭8:31‬ ‭KJV‬‬. Just stay close to Jesus and keep moving. Through Christ, you will bless more people as you go and trust him to heal you as you go. I pray that anytime you feel, hurt, burned out or drained spiritually that you will rebuke that with the power of the Spirit and continue in HIM who is ABLE to keep that which you have committed unto Him. May God bless you all. P.S. Much admiration and respect to all of you men and women of God.

    ‭‭

    1. Thanks. I’ve had that “uh oh” moment too. After decades in the ministry, you can see it coming. Thanks for your kind words and prayers. This issue isn’t easy on either side.

  56. Prickly Sheep Mary

    As a “blessed Exodus,” I have a question:

    My husband and I were kicked out of our former small church.

    So my question is, when Christians are kicked out of church for being difficult, “troublemakers,” prickly, and whatever charges people add, where do the unwelcome sheep go to church?

    There’s that verse in Hebrews that says we’re not supposed to forsake the assembling with other believers. Does that verse not apply to what I call “prickly sheep”?

    Should we start our own church for other prickly sheep?

    When you kick us out, where do you want us to go?

    1. I’ve discovered that a lot of people who are called troublemakers in one church, end up being great people of faith in another church. Some of that has to do with finding a better church fit, while some of it has to do with one church being accepting of them while the other one wasn’t.

      The church I pastor has had a reputation for accepting people whom other churches rejected. They come in prickly, but soon those edges get softer and they become very special to us.

      I pray you will find such a church near you.

      1. Prickly Sheep Mary

        Hello, and thank you for your comment.

        I believe God wants to use all of His people, and I’m glad you have found a place where some “difficult” people can mature into God’s purpose for them.

  57. I respond to this with caution. I do not want to ever refer to myself, my spouse or any other sheep as prickly. The Aposle Paul was told by Jesus that it is hard for you to kick against the pricks. He was fighting against the church and he was going to lose. He later admitted to his understudy (Timothy) that he obtained mercy because he did it ignorantly in unbelief. (1 Tim. 12:13) Jesus said that upon this rock I will build my church and the gates of hell will not prevail against it. (Matt.16:18) In the church, there are sheep and there are goats. Which people are sheep and which are goats can only be determined by God who judges our hearts. (Matt. 25:32) None of us can with total accuracy, know everything that is in our hearts. (1John 3:20) My part is to submit my heart to God and let Him work in me to do what is needed and to love the pastor enough to pray for them that God will help them with whatever they’re dealing with. If I have changed pastors and my behavior is the same, then the common denominator is me, not the pastor. This at least gives me an indication that perhaps I need to change. Because pastors are human too, they are not all the same. A spirit of rebellion is the same, regardless of the pastor a person has. But we are the only ones who can make that determination provided we are submitted to God. (James 4:7) But we have to always remember that we can’t love God without loving people which of course includes the pastor. (1John 4:20) If we are in rebellion against God, then it’s no wonder why we are in rebellion against his leadership. I speak this in love only. My prayer is that it will be taken in the spirit by which it is given.

    1. Prickly Sheep Mary

      Thank you for your comment.

      We left to protect the church (we left right before they kicked us out), and we do still love the people there.

      I no longer believe it’s necessary to have a formal relationship with a church, especially if you’re someone who sometimes “rubs people the wrong way.” Maybe it’s better for “misfits” like me to meet with the other “misfits.” Yet I can’t help thinking that some of the early Christians were misfits … Where would they fit in today’s churches?

      What does Jesus want His church to do with the misfits? If you kick them out, where do you want them to go? (Or do you believe there are no Christian misfits, that anyone who doesn’t fit in must be a “goat”?)

      1. As I stated before, none of us can say who are sheep and who are goats. Only a God can. (Matt. 25:32) When I hear someone say that they were kicked out of a church, it is automatic that the thought of them being a problem would come to mind, at least as a possibility. Having said that, the scriptures say that man looks at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart. (1 Sam 16:7) When you say the term, “misfit”, I don’t know what you mean. As Christians, we all come from different backgrounds, cultural, educational, financial and the list goes on. The thing that unites us is that we were all born in sin and it took the same blood of Jesus to put us in right relationship with God. He died for the sins of the whole world, not a select group of people. All we had to do is receive by faith that grace that God offered to us by Jesus Christ. I can’t avoid being with the family of God because when I get to heaven, we who are Christians, will not be separated from each other. Jesus prayed that we may be one. (John 17:21-22)

      2. I’m curious about your worship habits, if you are one of those who “rubs people the wrong way” and recognize it, why not change that?

        As far as “misfit Christians” we’re all misfits, a church ought not kick anyone out unless they cause constant disturbance during services. On more than a few occasions I’ve had to be the defending shepherd with such people, it’s not a fun thing to do, but sometimes it’s necessary for the whole congregation.

        I pray that you haven’t given up completely on churches in all, true there are some not so good ones, but not all are like that.

        1. Prickly Sheep Mary

          Thank you for your comments.

          In some cases, we have a “no filter between brain and mouth” issue, where thoughts just come out without careful evaluation. I think we need some divine intervention of some kind. (smile)

          In other cases, we probably lack spiritual maturity, thinking, “I must correct what is being practiced or taught.” I hope that would change as we grow spiritually. I want to allow God to use us when and where He sees fit, not just where we think we need to act.

          And there are probably other issues that I just can’t see at the moment.

          We currently attend a very friendly, loving church; however, we do not agree with a few areas of their beliefs.

          If I may ask, where did your disturbance-causers go when you removed them? Did you counsel them either before or after removing them?

          1. I actually didn’t remove anybody from my church, shortly after their disruptions were rebuked they quit coming.

            I don’t wish anybody to leave the church at all, as well as leaving the church that I’m blessed to preach and teach in.

            I can’t and won’t say someone isn’t allowed to attend my church, but I won’t let someone who isn’t given permission by the church to preach or teach the opportunity to attempt to do something they aren’t allowed to do.

            Thank you for your honest and humorous reply, it’s good to see that you are looking at yourself for what can be corrected. Also I’m pleased to hear that you are attending a church that seems to be giving you most of what you need.

            I hate to see people leave the church entirely, I wondered for too long because I gave up on church altogether, that is until the Lord opened my eyes and made me new.

            Take care and God bless you.

        2. Prickly Sheep Mary

          Matt K.

          (Sorry this is out of order but there is no “reply” option after your October 19 comment)

          Perhaps I should re-word the question thusly: Before or after you rebuked the people who caused disturbances, did you counsel them? And do you have any idea where any of them went when they left?

          I guess I’ll leave it at this.

          1. I didn’t formally counsel some, though I did explain that regardless of their beliefs, this particular belief is and will be taught in the church where I preach. And few just left saying that they needed to go elsewhere.

            One had been a frequent leaver, that person left several times before leaving for good. Each time myself and occasionally another would go and talk to this person regarding their departure.

            I’m not one chase people constantly, I figure if someone truly doesn’t want to continue attending my church, I don’t want them to feel like I forced them.

          2. Prickly Sheep Mary

            Regarding Matt K. October 21 comment,

            OK, thank you. Sounds to me like you did what was needed.

  58. Rev. Kathy Flores

    I think this was beautifully written!! I do believe sometimes, it’s just time to go!! No one’s fault…just time!! Still hard, but if done right..not nearly as painful!! ???

    1. Very true, Kathy. We had a couple who just recently left our church that way. It was their time. They did it right. But, like you said, it still stings. For them and for us.

  59. I am a loyal member of a small church and everything you mentioned sounds like it came from the heart of my pastor. It is obvious that he is very hurt when members leave the church and I csn understand why but what bothers me is when members that remain are told not to associate with them anymore. When church is your life you make a lot of close friends. It has happened several times where close friends have left for their own reasons. And its difficult when you are shunned for staying in communication with them. I love my pastor dearly but Is that wrong?

    1. As a pastor I would have to say it depends on the circumstances that they left, we’re taught to love everybody however if someone is living life in sin without repentance we are told to keep ourselves pure, so I would have to say if they are living in sin maybe being in their lives (so long as you’re not tempted to sin) you may very well bring them back into THE church.

      “Do not admit a charge against an elder except on the evidence of two or three witnesses. As for those who persist in sin, rebuke them in the presence of all, so that the rest may stand in fear. In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus and of the elect angels I charge you to keep these rules without prejudging, doing nothing from partiality. Do not be hasty in the laying on of hands, nor take part in the sins of others; keep yourself pure.” 1 Timothy 5:19-22

      And if they merely leave your church and are living rightly then I would say there shouldn’t be anything wrong with spending time with them.

    2. Unless the people have left because they were biblically excommunicated, which doesn’t sound like what you’re talking about, there’s no reason for a pastor to tell current members they can’t associate with former members. There are many former members of my church who current members have been, and remain close friends with, including me. Obviously, I don’t know your specific situation, but that sounds controlling to me.

  60. Perhaps we’re being a bit “light” on those who decide to leave the church at all…? Because “Freedom” is such a vaunted cultural value, I think we tend to assume that everyone has the freedom and “right” to leave their community whenever they wish. Is this a healthy assumption? Is the rampant church swapping in our culture indicative of something more harmful in our cultural assumptions that tears away at our ability to truly understand community?

    I realize this transcends the topic of the post, which is that leaving a church (especially a small church) is hurtful. And that is true, no doubt. But is it possible that at least one reason it is so hurtful is because it’s not a good thing? Can I be so bold as to suggest that it shouldn’t happen (at least as a norm…perhaps in unusual cases)?

  61. pastor somerville

    What do you do when you had a assiant- pastor who leaves because of a man that wasn’t her man from the beginning I send her a tex and ask has she step down well know respond so does that mean she will not be coming back i have the right to know but she want respond what do I do I do want to know so I can make so change

    1. Pastor Somerville, I would say that it be best for you to attempt to have a meeting between you and this assistant pastor as well as another member of your church leadership, your first goal should be to counsel this person in hopes they repent of any single they have/may have committed. After all your position is to be an agent of forgiveness and to help reconIle people’s relationships with God.

      If this person refuses to cooperate then you ought to relieve them of the position.

  62. R. D. "Blue" Mauldin

    Thank you, first for your article, Karl. Excellent. Called to pastor from within a local church after 31 years as a lawman, and 11 years later still have to push against “what did I do wrong?” thinking when one of the beloved goes away.

    Heard president of denominational seminary once explain that Paul and Barnabas promoted the gospel effort when they parted ways. Neither “right” nor “wrong” fit very well there.

    Secondly, I’m becoming increasingly aware of our need to learn that “edify” as a role needs to be pushed down to the cellular level. That way, when one gets displeased about whatever some other member of the body is doing, he finds that he has indeed also entering into sin unless he rebukes, loves, forgives, bears all things as far as is heavenly possible.

    Even reviewing you comments, I find the commonality that we too easily regard consumerism at religion (“Feed Me, Seymore” religion of the Little Shop of Horrors) as acceptable. So, I’m doubling down on role of the priesthood of the people in the pews, and on how hard it is to make dead men angry (Gal 2:20).

    Hope this addendum is beneficial. Loved your article, and it encourage in the sense that Bi-vo’s sometimes feel hideously alone and unusual. Value in finding I’m not going through unusual suffering when one of the lambs bails.

  63. Yes it hurts one of my friends from my youth is in the process of leaving for a bigger church yet she desires to have the normal friendship with me and I to enjoy her fellowship. She wants to continue to go shopping and visit our home on the weekends for dinner and etc… She hasn’t really given me a clear reason for not showing up on Sunday’s but she checks in at another church on Fb which she’s never done at our church. She was also our announcement reader. I suspect she’s leaving for a couple reasons 1 because she wants to meet a husband and we’re pretty small and, because she asked us to join her in prayer to get a job and she promised she would pay her tithes because the job offered a hefty salary, she got the job but she still hasn’t really been able to keep that vow concerning her tithes. She also knows that we Haven’t even been making rent for the space we use.
    I don’t know how to handle this situation my husband is the pastor of the church but all the members have been asking me about her where abouts. Secondly we just lost our choir member too she left because we weren’t able to drive her to a appointment. This was one week before Christmas we called her several times and even sent her pics of Christmas gifts we had brought her children but we got no reply. I think people are leaving because their afraid we won’t be able to maintain the bills and honestly it’s been difficult but God is providing.
    Please pray for us Houston

    1. Ok. I am going to tell you the cold hard truth. One, you shouldn’t expect tithes. That to me is low. That is voluntary. It makes you sound GREEDY and money hungry. Yes people flock to bigger churches because they seem more financially stable. That means their Master is money and that is where their faith is. Not in the unknowing unexplored heavens where God is. That flashy building I merely an illusion. Big attracts. The more you attact, the bigger donations and tithes even the poor contribute. It still accumulates into mast quantities. How do you think the Holy Roman church got so powerful they actually murdered monarchs and royalty. They conquered and forced people into submission. Then justified and used Christ to self glorify. Jesus had no money, no army, no temple, no tithes, he had volunteers and followers. Your friendship should be unconditional love, my dear. No matter what or where your friend goes. As long as she is still a believer. So ask yourself and self analyze what are you so afraid of? She is free to be her own person, is she not? The people that only want you when you can provide are not true Christians. New testament. Pray for them n wipe your feet n walk away move on to another who wants to know our Lord. That is their free will. It’s a mark against them for being uncompassionate and hard of heart. Life is very hard. Very beautiful yet intensely painful, trying, testing, and confusing. Always a learning experience. God be with you.

  64. Ok. I would like some divine truth. I am in my father and my father is in me. We set out to find a church community. Three churches. Just like the angel showed and asked me in a dream. And the same. Heart broke because we were completely ignored and rejected by all three congregations. No growth, the laughed and snickered at their own poorer congregation member, the pastor does not have or correct them breaking one of the commandments. My family have been attending regularly yet during the Lords supper they treat us and avoid us as if we did not exist. Not even a hello or a smile. We are good looking well groomed outgoing help strangers on the street and those misfits no one else has the courage to help. We do not judge by appearances. We are very connected to our Creator. We see beyond. It really hurt my feelings alot. I am very sensitive have spiritual gifts and can speak to the Lord and I know He hears my thoughts and emotions. We are good righteous people and sincerely help others to see them feel loved. And show them God does exist through us and others. So my statement is I would be blunt and tell the pastor my true feelings of why we are probably moving on but his responses to me pouring my heartfelt suffering in a private meeting he just said monotoned WOW. No emotions. No sincerity, no question about us becoming members, because I mentioned it to become one which is a first because of the many many many many churches and religions I have visited. It’s always the same. Turned away from God and Jesus. Not connected. No real passion. All self glory and self fame. A bigger promotion from the supervisor.it isn’t alive. And I told our Father and Lord and asked Him to come down here and see through my eyes how wicked people are behaving. Narcissistic. Making their own rules. Turning their backs on the poor, falsely judging by false self glorification and vanity. Three churches in this small town. God moves me around alot. Why I do not know. He just does. I like new adventures. This one has been the ugliest and most wicked so far. The people and evil in people in a 200 mile radius is beyond my own belief. They have no structure. No laws here. No accountability. They turn and destroy their own kind. They lie. They are malicious to others for evil. They are prejudice, discriminate, segregate in the businesses, schools, courts, law agencies. The churches are right along with them. It is very very sad. And yet they refuse to change their hearts. Sodom and Gomorra. God doesn’t need church buildings. He has the heavens. He is much more than stone, mortar or wood. Gods heaven is more beautiful than any building any man could even imagine to erect. If I were an apostle I would preach as my brother did out in the beautiful wilderness not constricted or imprisoned by mans temples. The natural elements from God would be my shelter as it was before. No electricity. No indoor plumbing. No coffee or Starbucks, no fancy gift shop or bags. God is more than mere material glorification. He deserves more than that honestly. I pray people really start reconnecting to their inner being and Creator. Feel Him. See Him. Talk to Him. Thank Him. He is there and all you have to do is look within and you will find Him. God speed and peace to all.

    1. Dearest I Belong To My Father, I appreciate your heart and can’t speak to the situations you mentioned as they’re only one side of the story.
      If I may be so bold as to share some insight I have gained from reading your post.

      You truly seem to have a heart for the lost and that I applaud you for, though I can’t help but notice that your view of church seems rather askew; you speak of how you were ignored and laughed at and yet you talk about these pastors in a way that you’re in some way superior to them in righteousness. Our goal is not to be the most righteous person we know, rather it’s to become as close to Jesus Christ as we can.

      There was a reference made that church shouldn’t be in a building at all and if I understand you correctly then that may be some point of contention between yourself and any church body. The early church started out in people’s homes and soon grew to numbers that a person’s dwelling couldn’t accommodate. Even in the Old Testament God instituted the temple for worship, it was a tent at first and then became a structure of more durability.

      I hope you don’t take offense to my candor in my post, and I pray that you find a church body that teaches and lives out the biblical standard for all our lives, if I may impart some tough love here please hear me out.

      If the purpose for your family to attend a church is to convert the church to your ideals, you won’t be met with open arms and ready to change people. Churches should stand on the principles that the bible guide us live by.

      If you would like to engage in more one on one dialog please make it known in a reply and we can talk more. Again I pray that you understand where I’m coming from and hope I haven’t hurt your feelings in any way.

      God bless you and your family.

  65. Pingback: When people leave… – bivopastor.net

  66. Thanks for writing this Karl! This just happened to me recently and I can relate to all the points you wrote about. I’m also just amazed the community that is on here, I wish I found this sooner but nonetheless thank you again!

  67. Hi. I am not a Pastor, but I can feel the pain our Pastor feels when people suddenly leave without “reasonable” reason. There are some who are very shallow. What I really feel? We feel “betrayed”.

  68. Our pastor is in denial … 8 families leave over a 4-month period of time (all involved in ministries, tithers, 6-8 are long-time members) and the pastor just shrugs it off as “people leave churches all the time.” He doesn’t reach out to any of them to find out why they’ve left. Three of the families when to the pastor and asked him to be more of a shepherd to them and to the church body … he rejected the fact that he wasn’t shepherding. He’s not. He preaches Sunday AM and has little to no contact with the church body the rest of the week. He “works” out of his home and comes to the church office 3-4 hours a week, where he retreats to an upstairs office where “he won’t be bothered/interrupted.” He is clueless about what is going on in the church and with church ministries. He calls that ‘delegating’ … no mention of his oversight and guidance role. Help!

  69. geoffrey otieno

    I’m just amazed at this, because this happened to me three months ago, my associate pastor’s wife influenced all the memebers out of church and boasted that i’m headed nowhere.The pastor as well left without telling me, after taking the cheque book and influenced the account signatories out of church. How do you deal with such a case

  70. If there is a loss of expectation…What do you do when you stop expecting from your Leader based on the leader not investing in you? Based on past behavior from your leader. I dont mean not expecting them to preach the word.Do you believe that you should leave due to the fact that this relationship will not be productive from either sides..There will be no growth or fruit being bared. If you are stagnant and not growing and the ministry is not able to help facilitate where you are going in ministry.

  71. Most leave because they just want the pastor to tell them anything..when the pastor found out they were sinning..so they leave the church go and start to talk bad about the church they attended.they act like they are the victims and the church and pastors are the evil ones….when in reality they are the ones who are doing things wrong..and its hurts and it upsetting…..

  72. You know what’s harder- Being the pastors wife. You have double the ache. I watch my husband pour his soul and sacrifice his time with us to study the Word and then no one shows up. I wish to join a church you had to go overseas for a least a week to witness how real Christians worship. Our nation is in a very sad state. God have mercy on us all.

  73. It’s not really a comment, it’s like a question. I am 39 years old. Have been in church all my life. Almost every church I have attended, I have learned that at least once you will be hurt by someone. The church I am attending now, is a wonderful church! Full of love and joy. I had made up my mind that I would not allow myself to be close to anyone in this church because I wanted no hurt or pain to be the cause of leaving once again. Unfortunately, I became really close with a lady to fast it seemed. We had fun hanging out & even began to teach sunday school together, something neither of us ever did. But as fast as it started, it is slowly ending & now I don’t know what to do. I don’t want to lose another friend & I surely don’t want to leave the church. My comment, is why does it seem that the most pain a person experiences in in church? The one place that you should never feel that way. Thank you for your time. Bless you all!

    1. Unfortunately, people get hurt in churches because churches are filled with people. There’s no way to avoid it. But we have higher expectations of people in churches because Jesus calls us to something higher, so when we get hurt there, it hurts more.

      My advice is to be a part of the healing. You may have gotten sick while visiting the hospital, so maybe it can inspire you to go back as a doctor and help others who are hurting like you are. Hurting people hurt people, but hurting people can also help other hurting people. Maybe that’s what Jesus is calling you to do.

  74. This was a great article. What can I do, as a saint, to help my pastor heal when there have been several people leaving the church? What can I do or say to support and encourage him, other than stepping up to do more and cover for the ones that left?

    1. Pray… really pray specifically before trying to do anything and by the grace of God and His power – forgive as we have been forgiven and love as we have been loved in Jesus… maybe one day the parties involved could look each other in the eye, ask for forgiveness, and wash one another’s feet… this takes the “air” out of the “unforgiveness balloon” which is the fuel that keeps this kind of thing going… The world is all about “ruthless competition” – Jesus calls us to “radical compassion”… But, there may be health issues involved that no one knows about or understands… please leave room for this and for people’s sin…

    2. Thanks for such a great heart, Denise. I’d start by letting the pastor know you’re praying and want to help. Then ask what you can do.

      You may get a response like “there’s nothing to do but pray”, so go back after a while and ask again when the pain of those who left has diminished a little. Your pastor may be more open to help then.

  75. Believe it or not, after 6 years of attending and being friendly with the Pastor, he turned on me and stopped speaking to me. I have been unsuccessful in trying to meet with him, a mutual friend also attempted to bring us together. He has shut me out. It really hurts and there is nothing that I can do. No one in our small church has contacted me to ask why I haven’t been coming. So, it goes both ways.

  76. What about suddenly discovering your lovely church is knee deep in apostasy? The blurring of lines between the world and the church which seems to be a deceptive trait more and more churches are falling for?! I love my church and love my pastors but the One World spirit has entered and I feel sick to go now. Our amazing Christmas service is being led by someone who has toured with Little Mix the whole of last year who celebrate Satanism publicly. Feel sick to my stomach of well meaning pastors trying to grow their churches by using famous celebrity names to endorse their brand of Christianity. Wake up church!!! Also all the pained pastors on here – you don’t own your congregation – Jesus does. They are not yours to feel painful about. Give them back to Him.

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  78. I have been pastoring this church for 32 years. I am at a point where I feel I need to give a 12 month notice For resignation. Is this a good thing? Thanks. Ron

    1. I don’t know your situation well enough to know if 12 months notice is a good thing. Generally, that’s too long. I’d suggest talking to some trusted denominational leaders or leaders in your church, first. See what they think about it.

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