I was talking with good friend and co-laborer in the Lord a few days ago and we got to talking about people leaving the church. This morning I felt compelled to write about all this, with the hope it may help another pastor or even church members who are walking through a time like this. My friend asked me how I handled it and what I did to make up the tithe. (Hello? That comes from God... he will take care of the need!) In my years of pastoring, I have made the mistake way too many times about trying to get people to stay. I used to worry and stress over people leaving the church to the point it would make me physically sick. I told him about a time a few years ago when the Lord gave me a sermon to preach based from Acts 27 and the shipwreck which Paul was on. On the 14th day of the storm the soldiers had lowered the life boats and were ready to flee the ship when Paul said, “Unless these men stay with the ship, you cannot be saved.” Literally, within 24 hours of my preaching that message, I had the first family tell me they were leaving the church. Within 2 weeks, more than 40 left. To be honest, I stressed... I even thought about moving on to a new church, until I felt the Lord impress in me, "stay on the ship!" Just as they did in the Bible story, we went through a "wreck". Two-thirds of our financial base was gone within 3 weeks, and we struggled for the next 18 months... but we made it! Now looking back, for the vast majority of those who "left the ship" I see families that have been devastated by alcohol, affairs, divorce, and while it is not true of all who left, it is clearly obvious that spiritually and even in the physical, in a good portion of those who left, there has been tragedy in the families and it is clear that people's lives are but a shadow of what they once were in Christ. Absolutely, it altered the course of the church, delayed things... but we are still moving forward.
After that whole ordeal, God spoke to me clearly to never again try to persuade people to stay that want to walk away, and when they do leave, to not go after them. If they return, then welcome them, but as for me... I was to push forward and let those who desire to go where I am going follow, and those who want to walk away, let them walk away. I've stayed true to this ever since, even though it has been painful to see people you love walk away. It has been so hard to watch marriages end in divorce, men who once wholeheartedly served the Lord turn to the bottle and become but a casual church attender. I've watched families that served God fade away and children turn their back on God and live in open sin. Others who were once faithful in church now renounce the church and proclaim that they "serve God at home" while the fruit of their lives reveals something different.
Now please understand, as I want to be perfectly clear, that not everyone who left the church where I pastored is a "bad" person. There are many who genuinely felt led to go to other churches and ministries and they are very productive in the Kingdom of God. I believe that there are times for people to "move on" as the Lord leads... but if it is genuinely God directing that move, then the result would not be chaos and destruction. The fruit reveals the truth of the matter!
After my conversation with my friend, he said he was doing some praying and searching needing further direction from the Lord, and he said he ran across this video which substantiated what I had told him last week. I wanted to share it here, because it is in fact, a good word!