7 things to do when people leave
How to respond to people leaving a church, or your life.
One of the things that all of us will have to navigate at some point is when someone makes a decision to leave our team, our church, or our life. This is often a hard thing for people on both sides of the equation and I’ve often found myself asking the question, “how am I supposed to deal with this person or this situation.” It gets even harder when people are upset about something, or it’s not a good ending. There’s a lot of ways to do it wrong, and a lot of ways to do it right. Our responsibility as leaders and servant leaders is to get it as right as possible all the time because people matter to us. How do we navigate these conversations?
Here’s some thoughts:
1. “I want what’s best for you more than I want you with me.“
I grew up hearing Pastor Keith (my dad) express this sentiment to me through this leadershipology – “I want what’s best for you, more than I want you with me.”
That’s what love looks like in every relationship. We will have hurt and pain related to friends, or people we love – and even need – going elsewhere. But we have to love them enough to want what’s best for them more than we want them with us. We can’t just say this though, we have to really mean it and demonstrate it in our interaction with them.
2. Being “right” doesn’t matter that much.
Our goal is not to be right. We are not “right” and they are not “wrong.” People are flawed and imperfect. We have to value relationships more than we value being “right.” When someone is hurt by us, we shouldn’t justify it or think that we are somehow above reproach because we feel we are right. The older I get, the more I am realizing that “leadership” is a synonym for “public imperfection.”
Matthew 18:15-17 is Jesus’ model of conflict resolution. If you read it, notice it has nothing to do with who is “right” but who is hurt. We should care more about healing a hurt than being right.
Step One – Go to that person privately. (that means don’t talk to anyone else about your hurt until you talk to the person who hurt you).
Most of the time, when we get hurt, we want to talk about it and spread drama, gossip and vent because it makes us feel better for a time. What Jesus says is different than that.
Step Two – If that person doesn’t listen bring a neutral party to mediate.
That doesn’t mean bring someone who agrees with you. Bring someone who loves both of you who wants to see a healthy resolution occur.
Step Three – If they still won’t listen, bring leadership.
Find a leader and have them help you. Go to your boss, go to your parent. Go to your pastor. Find someone in a position coach both of you.
If someone is unwilling to do any of these things, still love them, but release yourself and them from relationship. Remember the goal though, it’s not “being right” or saving face, it’s restoring relationship and not having issues with people. So if you and I approach conflict with the goal of “making someone understand how wrong they are” we’ve already lost. We should care enough about people (yes, even those that hurt our feelings) to listen to them. Which leads to number 3.
3. Listening is what people need.
When people are leaving, for any reason, good or bad. Just listen to them. Hear what they are saying with an open mind and have empathy for them. Too many of us (me included) don’t pay attention in conversations because we’re too busy formulating responses. Don’t focus on formulating a response. Focus on hearing that person’s heart.
4. Don’t take it too personal (even if it is).
People are messy. We’ve all got drama. And guess what, not everyone is going to want to follow you and I, or do life with us. Some friends are for a reason, some are for a season, very few are for a lifetime. When a reason or season comes to an end, even if it’s messy, we have to act with honor, grace and love towards people. Allow people to pursue what is in their heart and work out their own salvation. Yes, people “leaving” is always an ego hit. But our bruised ego is not more important than that person. Walk in honor no matter what. For more on this check out 1 Corinthians 13 (love is not rude, jealous, proud, offended or irritable).
5. Take responsibility for your part.
When any relationship comes to and end, there is always a reason. Contrary to what you and I may think, this reason matters. It matters because it can help us grow. If we own 1% of the problem, we need to take responsibility for that. Let’s not make it about what they did wrong.
When we’re not taking responsibility, here’s what we sound like –
“They couldn’t handle it”
“They twisted off”
“They’re just a hater”
“There are cheaper churches to go to/teams to be on”
and more of the same.
Instead of blaming things that happen on external factors, we should look inward into how we can be better. A few years ago on facebook, I got involved in what I consider to be a pretty toxic comment chain about Elevate Life. There were a lot of people that were hurting and some of them had good reasons to be hurt. I was scared to get involved because of how angry people were, but what mattered more to me is that we care about people. And if we can fix something, we want to. I reached out and asked for people to email me or contact me personally. A few people took me up on that offer and out of this comment chain I was able to have some helpful conversations and discussions that were hard to hear, but helped us improve massively. The truth is that we are not perfect and are not going to handle things well, and instead of justifying that, we need to take responsibility for what we do wrong and make it better. Most of the time it’s too late for the person that has already left, but it’s not too late for people that are here. When someone is leaving, if there is anything you can take responsibility for, apologize for and make better, do it.
6. Be grateful.
When people leave a team, church or organization they don’t need their contribution to the team to be diminished or minimized. At Elevate Life, so many people give selflessly of their time, talent and treasure in service of Jesus and his mission and we need to always be grateful for that. Honor what people have sown into you, your team or your ministry and pray that God would give them a 100-fold harvest. Each of us only gets one life, and when people choose to invest a season of their life into us, we should always be grateful, no matter what the ending looks like.
7. Love them.
Love people on their way in, love people on their way out. Even if they decide to not leave well. Love people even if they decide to not reconcile with you or restore a relationship. Love people even if they are mad at you. Love people even if they don’t want to talk about it. Don’t see someone as your enemy/hater, even if they see you as an enemy. People are never our enemy. People are created in the image of God. If we hate people, we are hating the image of God walking around on this earth. You and I may want them to love us too, but ultimately what another person says or does should not control what our heart’s response is to them. In Matthew 5:43-47, Jesus tells us to be kind to everyone because we follow him. Pray for them, bless them and “be perfect just like God is perfect.” What that means is have perfect love, even for people that decide to call you their enemy (and don’t call them your enemy) . That’s a John 13:34 kind of love, loving people like Jesus loves us.
If we’re going to preach love, we actually have to live that message. That’s the responsibility of all of us that call ourselves “Christ-followers.” To follow Jesus actually means to be like him and treat people like He did. Let’s make sure we do that in every environment, especially during times of transition.
People leave and choose to disconnect for all kinds of reasons. Good and bad, right and wrong. What matters most though is not why THEY leave, how THEY leave or what THEY did or didn’t do. What matters most to us, and to God is what WE as individuals choose our response to be to them. We will never be able to control, change, or take responsibility for what THEY did. To focus on that is futile.
Last thing, in 1 Corinthians 13 I’ve always found this interesting. Paul shares all of these thoughts on love and then he ends the chapter by saying:
12 Now we see things imperfectly, like puzzling reflections in a mirror, but then we will see everything with perfect clarity. All that I know now is partial and incomplete, but then I will know everything completely, just as God now knows me completely.
13 Three things will last forever—faith, hope, and love—and the greatest of these is love.
It’s an interesting way to end 1 Corinthians 13.
We don’t see things perfectly, one day we will, but that day is not today. You and I, we live in the gray areas, we don’t always know how to handle a conversation, discussion or situation. One day we’ll know how we should have done this, or could have handled that, but it’s hard to figure out today. But the greatest thing we can do, according to Paul is love.
If you and I are going to make mistakes with people, it should be in making them feel too loved. One day we’ll know whether or not that was the best strategy, but when in doubt, love is the greatest thing you and I can do.
So if none of what I said helps you, just listen to Paul (1 Corinthians 13), and Jesus (Matthew 22:34-28, Matthew 5:43-47). Follow the way of life and relationship that is best of all.
Find what says “I love you” to that person and just do that. It’s probably the right thing to do anyway.