Since I have been a believer I have been an active part of 4 churches. That means that I have separated from 3 of them.
The first time I was participating within the leadership community when I realized for one reason or another that unhealthy processes were in place. In all cases, my fellow leaders were diligent, upright, spiritual men. They simply had chosen different patterns of action or inaction that inhibit the production of fruit within that congregation.
The second time was after a long fruitful period of service and leadership, but through a difficult staff transition and the passing of my mentor I became disconnected from the mission of the body, and of differing opinion with others in leadership. Interestingly enough, my wife had become disconnected long before I had, yet she chose to continue to serve in youth ministry there as long as she was allowed to.
A third was a larger faster growing congregation that I found interesting at first, but the control structure of the church placed barriers to service beyond the “hands” type of role, and my family never really plugged in deeply to the community.
Now I find myself in a small (<100) congregation wondering whether or not it is me – that some spiritual problem exists that has caused these separations.
As I pull out my analysis kit, and try to be objective, I ask myself tough questions.
- did I leave because I was dissatisfied?
- did I leave because of personal differences with other leaders?
- did I leave because I was not willing to be accountable?
- did I give the leadership a chance – were they confronted with my critique?
In the first two cases, my answers are different. I was dissatisfied – I had got to a place where I spent more time and energy complaining about the status quo than working to change it. I did not have personal differences with other leaders, but I did have differences about how leaders should act/lead, and about whether the ministry was healthy or whether significant change was indicated. I did not leave because I was not willing to be accountable – in one case, others were not acting in an accountable way. In the other I believed that the leadership clicque had become unwilling to see unhealthy patterns in ministry. In the first, I did not give leadership a chance – I did not confront them – I was very young (late 20’s) and was in my first leadership role, when the leading “family” decided to fire the pastor publicly on a Sunday morning. I stayed on until the new pastor was installed, then left. The church nearly split. In the second, pastor had announced a vision statement for the church which I had agreed with, but 5 years later nothing had been done to move closer to the vision – and as I challenged, the vision was a paper tiger – leadership believed that only superficial change was necessary to acheive. They were ignoring an aging population, and community demographic, as well as a revolving door syndrome. By the time I decided that the situation was irreparable, other core leaders were leaving as well.
In the last case, it really was one of significance. My wife, son and I had tried repeatedly to plug in to various service ministries in ways that we could use our gifts and talents – but either scheduling requirements, distance (45 minutes travel) or circumstance prevented us from plugging in. We ended up as greeters – which strangely enough was an enjoyable ministry. But in the end it really wasn’t sufficient. The church was growing fast, and was enamored of growth, but the growth vector caused them to emphasize certain gifts and it was clear that there was very tight control over the creative ministries suited to my wife and son. I looked at this analytically, and decided that I wanted to be at a church that had greater needs, where we could serve in more significant roles.
So what is my conclusion – in the first to cases I felt lead by God to separate myself (and my family) from a congregation, because we were not in unity of purpose or direction with the leadership. Rather than stay and potentially cause more division (there was already some) we chose to leave. There were no issues of doctrine or sin involved. I choose to look at it as God pruning us from one tree and grafting us in somewhere else. In this most recent case, I am not sure I fully understand what was going on – good things happened for my son while we were there. There was very little growth for my wife and I and very limiting opportunities for all of us for service. With time comes perspective.
One thing I realize is that each time I separate from a body – I find it a little harder to join in a new place – to commit to building new relationships, to earn the trust that allows us to serve, to understand the working systems in place that allow ministry to be effective. I pray that God allows us to plug in effectively and serve here until we are called to move (physically) or until we go home to be with the Lord.