When people leave your church, an open letter to my pastor friends


I   read a stat that every 5 years, 46% of the average church body will turn over. If that is true, than let me address this issue we all encounter.   As a pastor, we live within the realm and the reality that people will not be part of the local body that we shepherd forever.  God does call people to other local bodies for His purposes.  I do belive that.  Other than that, the reason people exit the body can be complex.  It could be anywhere from the music style, to the pastor’s style, to the church’s vision, to even a conflict that may not have worked out biblically. I have had people leave for many reasons.  Grant it, some are healthy exits as God is moving them to a new ministry. Some exits are not healthy, and maybe even silly.  I know of  people that have left a body for some of the most minor reasons. The enemy can use a situation, magnify it, and it becomes something that isn’t even true.  I also know that there is a segment of people that just are wired for “change” every few years.  The just want something different in life. Some leave the church because they are walking away from Jesus. This post is not dealing with that issue.

For us pastors, it can be painful when people leave.  I know personally I have experienced that through the years and will more as long as I am in the ministry. It is inevitable.  The hard part for us pastors, is taking it personally.  Most  people leave with grace, kindness, and compassion, some kick you in the gut on the way out, some just disappear, .  When people leave our body, they may get a new pastor, but we lose a friend. They move on to the new church, new leadership, and new circle.   We pastors are left with a relationship that is gone, as a friend exits our  life.  I guess that is just the raw honesty of it.

So my pastor friends, guard your heart, as you will experience the above many times.  Being in spiritual leadership is a privilege like no other. It is very hard at times, but stay the course!   Stay pure before the Lord in heart, soul, and mind.  Don’t let your spirit become bitter or wounded when people move to another body.  Don’t react in the flesh, even if it because of conflict.  Know that God has called you to that community and that body.  Whether people stay, embrace the vision Christ has imparted to you, or they leave your church and your life, stay faithful to your calling!  Honor God in the way you deal with those that move on.  Bless them and above all.   Press on.

May the dark clouds of discouragement that plague those in ministry be gone this day.  May the Spirit of life fill you, keep you, and empower you as never before.  Move forward in glorifying Jesus, preaching and teaching the Good News, and seeing people’s lives transformed by the power of Jesus Christ.

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13 thoughts on “When people leave your church, an open letter to my pastor friends

  1. There is great teaching on this subject in the book “The Bait of Satan” by John Bevere. He speaks more on the parishioner side of things as opposed to the pastoral but still great teaching.

  2. Awesome words of encouragement Nate! There is a book written by Mark Atteberry entitled, “The Ten Dumbest Things Christians Do.” Each chapter is dedicated to the crazy things Christians do. Dumb thing #5 is appropriately named, Hopping From Church to Church (the book is a must read for every pastor). Atteberry begins the chapter with a great quote from Joshua Harris… “We treat church with a consumer mentality– looking for the best product for the price of our Sunday morning. As a result, we’re fickle and not invested for the long-term, like a lover with a wandering eye, always on the hunt for something better.”
    Nate, your words reassure each minister that we are not the only one wrestling with your described feelings and emotions of loss at the departure of a church member. I echo your advice to fellow ministers, don’t take it personal, just stay faithful and “don’t come down off of the wall, you are doing a good work” (Nehemiah 6:3).

  3. Nate, Here is a nugget you may want to store for the future. On Yom Kippur the High Priest was commanded to enter the Holy of Holies 7 times and make atonement for various offences committed by the Israelites during the past year. The first time he entered was for the sin of Lashan Harah (gossip, slander, devaluing a person, etc) and Yaweh considered it so grievous a sin He had that seemingly small sin against others the first thing to atone for. When I learned this along with your stats about people leaving the church, it makes sense that people offending other people by even idle talk would be a logical explanation for the #1 reason parishoners move on. We might do well to take the lessons the Hebrews are taught and cleanse our lips so that His presense has a spotless bride to inhabit.

  4. As a pastor in a predominantly blue collar neigborhood that has been economically devastated by the collapse of the domestic auto industry, your words are a great encouragement to me. Thank you. Thank you. Thank you.

    We live and minister at the epicenter of the folly of man’s wisdom. The sunami wave has subsided but the tragic results will remain for a generation. Our neighborhoods are filled with those who continue to “wear themselves out to get rich”, along with those who are trapped in the “welfare” prison. As a result, our ministry is ripe with opportunities to share the freedom that can come in Christ.

    Many outside of our community see the good news of the rebounding auto industry on the TV news, but miss the looooonngggg term problems that remain. Many in my community continue to live in a “hunkered down / survival” mode. Many families have left our community in search of greener grass. Those that remain are reminded of those absent friends every time they walk through the doors. And they struggle to understand that those old friends are not returning. They struggle to see the mission field that surrounds them. They cannot forget seeing many of their old friends laid off / pink slipped / locked out. They continue to worry that they may be the next one to go. Virtually anyone with a home mortgage is “underwater” due to the collapse of the real estate market.

    The Detroit News reports: “The Bureau of Labor Statistics estimated that for the year that ended in September, Michigan’s official unemployment rate was 12.6 percent. Using the broadest definition of unemployment, the state unemployment rate was 20.9 percent, or 66 percent higher than the official rate. Since Detroit’s official rate for October was 27 percent, that broader rate pushes the city’s rate to as high as 44.8 percent.”

    As you can easily see, messages of encouragement and hope are greatly needed. Thank goodness that the Word of God is rich and full with just such things.

    Thanks again, Brother, for your good word.

  5. Great article Nate. I have been wounded at times.A pastor friend of mine payed for my wife and I to go to a healing house on the east coast. The couple we were with had never heard of people being so harsh to a Pastor before. Although I never left ministry, it took me about three years to heal. When you don’t feel pain and anger anymore you know you’re healed. God can put a supernatural love in your heart for those who have hurt your family. We must guard our hearts from retaliation and ministering out of anger and bitterness. I know my experience has worked for good because now I am able to encourage others with the same comfort I received from God (2Cor.1:3-4).

  6. Good stuff Nate! I heard a stat recently that said churches lose 15-20% of their people every year. If that stat is close to the truth; people pastoring ought to heed your blog.

    Thanks Angelo

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