There’s usually some moment in late November when I realise that I’m done with my diary for the year. There’s still four or five weeks left of service required until it gets a good shelving, but I’m ready to move on.
It’s probably around the time that I start adding meeting and appointments in the pristine, uninhabited one that’s still preserved in its wrapper (yes, I use a paper diary!). The old seems suddenly tired and dirty. It’s colour, fine for nearly eleven months, becomes tedious. It’s pages: stale. The writing: less legible—there’s less to preserve or maintain.
No matter how good something is or was, once a compelling catalyst for change comes we have a tendency to frame the former as lesser.
Whether it’s a job, a house, or even your church, when a decision is made (or made for us) to move on, we begin a reframing process to feel ok about that.
Sometimes it’s easy; we never thought the ‘whatever’ was much good in the first place. Sometimes it’s unfortunate. In preparing for the new, we diminish the old and divest it of worth; its good memories and great deposits in us.
There’s a good tension to be found in enjoying the good of the former while embracing the new.
The church that we play a part in leading was planted five years back. Over that time, many have come and stayed, some have come and gone. Of those who have left, there’s been a variety of accounts for moving on and just as many methods!
We’ve (us, as a church) been ‘dropped’ by SMS, phone call, Facebook, a quick conversation right after worshiping together, and longer times of sitting, talking, praying together with people. (For the record, I like the last one. It doesn’t guarantee authenticity but, at very least, it honours the relationship and gravity of what’s happening.)
Perhaps, most profoundly, we’ve been left by silence. Some simply disappear – no account at all. You pursue them until you start to feel like a stalker, and then you give them the space they’ve implicitly requested.
While difficult, some have told us that The Big Table is no longer a community of which they wish to be a part. Inconceivable! We’re so perfect and all! These conversations are never fun, but whether they’re for positive or negative reasons, they’re helpful. They take the oxygen out of your concern and, regardless of the reason, have the potential to preserve relationship.
The months and years that follow have a tendency of bearing truth to the original honesty.
Some departures (it must sound like a revolving door by now!) shroud the truth. You know there’s something driving the extraction from community that’s different to what’s being communicated, but it’s cloaked in a pleasant version of the truth. That’s because these conversations are hard and they seek to protect a veneer of friendship. It’s a veneer, no doubt, for if a friendship cannot sustain truth when given in a spirit of love, it’s a millimetre-deep friendship at best.
These ‘cloaked’ departures are the hardest to deal with because you wonder why and you postulate but you will never know. Years from now, you’ll likely catch yourself thinking ‘what went on there?’. What did I do or not do? What did someone say or do? Is it still happening? Is it hindering us from being faithful to God’s call on us as a church?
Our willingness to unpack our ‘moving on’ is driven by the authenticity of relationship we share and enjoy in the first place. If there’s no relationship, why bother? Who cares? Deep, lasting relationship informed by a faithfulness to fulfill a call on us as followers of Jesus, though, is worthy of authentic, open, potentially life-giving conversations.
Whether remaining in community with another, or moving on, our unity in Christ compels us to operate with compassion, grace and truth.
Paul encourages us to bear with one another (suggesting this might involve some effort!), to forgive one another (suggesting we may be wronged), to hear those who have a complaint against us (suggesting they’ll likely have reasons to sooner or later!) and to pattern our ongoing forgiveness of one another on the free flow of forgiveness that we enjoy in Jesus. (Colossians 3:12-13)
People move on for compelling reasons. Sometimes your community acts as a catalyst for their reformation – that’s a glorious thing. Sometimes your church will be a place of healing and fuel vision so that they can more fully embrace what God has called them into. Another reason to rejoice.
As one saying goodbye, I sometimes find myself thinking, despite the goodness of all that, there’s always an antecedent – some action, culture, incident or spirit that caused them to consider the context of the call would be ‘somewhere else’. Not pretty enough, not big enough, not ‘insert word here’ enough.
I am slowly learning to be content not knowing the genuine answer, particularly if I’ve been prepared to ask the question in the first place. I don’t doubt that some only realise their own answers further down the track as well.
It’s naive to think that no one will ever leave your church; they will. Sometimes appropriately, sometimes prematurely, sometimes unnecessarily and sometimes as a result of your decisions and actions. Sometimes in an act of rebellion against a God who continues to be graceful to them in Jesus. I don’t write that glibly, but people leave. And, while not wanting to absolve myself, it’s not about me! God is God, Jesus builds His Church.
As pastors, we implicitly sign up for being frequently left behind. I say implicitly, I’m not sure I’d have signed on if it had been more explicit!
Amidst the feelings of disappointment and even abandonment, we do best to remind ourselves of two things. Our calling to partner with God for his glory must always be moderated by love. It cannot be rocked by what are essentially ‘predictable’ events. Second, even more predictably, Jesus is not going anywhere. We’re prone to wander but he will never leave us or forsake us.
Perhaps moving on is just one way that Jesus gives us a glimpse of what He experiences moment by moment: our regular wandering.
This is a gracious reminder from the One who calls us into community to shepherd those in our care by patterning that same grace; having that care as they remain and as they move on.
Thanks for listening.