Tuesday, February 14, 2006

Exit Etiquette - Warning this is a rant

One of the most painful things about pastoring/leading in a faith community setting is disappearing people. I know it is part and parcel for working with people but I still don’t know how to deal with the pain which causes anger which causes reflection on the anger and so on…

For those of you who do the same or similar work, you probably know what I am talking about. For those of you who don’t maybe you could listen with an attitude of trying to understand?

People come into the faith community. Some people, especially those who have grown up in church come with hurt and legitimate wounding from past experiences. I have a lot of empathy – I have had terrible/abusive/self-serving leader experiences on more than one occasion in my 30+ years of being in different churches…(4 to be exact). So, I want the faith community I serve to be a place of healing.

When people come in, there are some that come with a sense of what community should be…there seem to be many different expectations. Here is the experience I find most painful…when I or when I observe others in the community invest time and genuine effort trying to get to know someone and let relationship unfold…then the person is gone, gone from any contact… there is not so much as an email or conversation that says “thanks, it was nice to begin to get to know you and the community but this isn’t the right fit for me so I won’t be around anymore” or, “thanks, it was an experience trying to get to know you and the faith community, but the truth is, I think you guys are way off, no offense but this isn’t the place for me”, or, “just wanted to let you know I won’t be around anymore, don’t want to go into the why, but wanted to let you know I noticed you tried to have relationship with me, thanks”

Am I wrong? Is there no church-faith community exit etiquette? I don’t mean the one or five time visitor that’s looking – I mean people who get invited out and over and in other ways have been intentionally noticed and people have tried to get to know them…

For those of us who choose to be in community that has a front door for people to come and go through it would be nice and less painful to have some exit etiquette….

Any suggestions?

That’s my rant, thanks for reading…


Rose said...
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Scott Hodge said...

hi rose - scott hodge here from chicago. we've never corresponded, but i have you in my bloglines and read your posts. i appreciate the work you are doing in your community.

interesting timing with your post... we are in a very high growth time right now in our community and as much as it is our goal to reach unchurched people, we do still attract some churched people who are leaving another church for whatever reason.

this past weekend in my talk, i made it a point to say (i'm pasting from my notes):

We are not trying to grow our church by pulling people away from other churches.

In fact, if you’re here today and you go to another church, I would encourage you to stay connected where you’re at – unless you know for sure that God is calling you to be a part of something different.

And I understand that sometimes God does that… There are those of you who for whatever reason have come from other churches and God has drawn you here to be a part of something different.

And we welcome you! But let me just say this…

If that is the case – please make sure you leave your church well.

Make sure that you take the time to personally sit down with your pastor and tell him or her how much you appreciate their ministry in your life.

Honor them, show them respect. Take time to do that. That’s really important to me.


Because of the transition we journeyed through these past few years, I KNOW what it feels like when people just "high tail" and leave. it hurts (probably the person leaving more) and is sometimes confusing for others in the community.

very few people leave churches well. i'm not sure why - but my feeling is that IF God is calling you to a new church, he'll give you the guts to discuss it with your pastor. if a person feels ashamed or embarrassed, perhaps they need to stick around until they trust God to help them with every aspect of leaving.

now i'm rambling...

waterloo2 said...

I'm so sorry to hear that people behave this way. Seattlites are known for niceness not assertiveness. It takes a measure of assertiveness to tell people you've changed your mind, at least for the time being. The only thing I could suggest is that to the same degree that VCC makes an effort to create a safe place to STAY it is also a safe place to LEAVE. (meaning: we will appreciate your communication and won't be crushed or come running after you)

Bill Bean said...

Let me shower you with my cynicism...nevermind...that wouldn't help. I feel your pain.

Robin A said...

I think when people creep off undetected they are in shame and are only thinking about themselves. To stand up to a Paster who they know can "read their beads" of the real truth that they do not want to admit to the Pastor what is realy going on. It feels to scary to them. Which I beleive is just a lie that has been told to them by the enemy.

Never the less I know that Rose loves her flock with a burning passion and invests so much of herself into each and everyone of them. I know because I am one of those blessed people to be in her flock....

Pat said...

I wonder if this etiquette can be changed. I've tried two things, and though I'd be foolish to say either has made any impact, maybe it adds to the discussion.

First, when we have somebody come in to our church form another area church and they are making noises about us being their church home, we ask them to tell their former church's leadership that they are moving on. If they're people who appear to be leaders, we also tell them that we'd love to speak with their former church's leadership to find out how we can best serve, lead and form them.

Usually - actually in 99.9% of cases, we never see them again. Some wonderful people, too - musicians, artists, evangelists...

The other thing we do is make a huge big celebration out of people who are leaving for good reasons (i.e. moving away or finding a better fit for service; not those who think we're heretical because we have the audacity to read a Collect prayer ;-)). We throw parties and send people out. We let the church be involved in blessing and releasing. Hopefully this models a good relational dynamic, and those of us left behind can grieve the loss as needed.

Donna Faith said...

Leaving without a word is hurtful. But when you think about it, people often “close up” when things get hard for them – when a person slips out quietly, he/she may think that no one will notice or care. When they don’t know what to do, when they feel ashamed or upset (and it may not have anything to do with the faith community), people often try to become “invisible”, thinking they can take care of their problems by themselves better than letting people into their lives. It’s more than SAD, because as Christians we are in the process of learning to care for others, be there for others “no matter what.” And to think that a person can be so “into themselves” and not realize that people around them are in the process of learning to care, and to take that privilege away from others is heart-wrenching at times.

Relationship is a two-way street. This is a simplistic illustration, but I like to write emails, often with lots of details. Very few people like that. Email in our fast-paced world is becoming more of a quick communication than anything else. So often I just stop emailing people if I hardly ever hear anything back. It would be fine for them to tell me they just don’t have time to read my “long emails”, and then at least I would still email short ones. Ha! But communication is something that most of us do not do well at. So I suppose it is my responsibility to try to communicate that issue.

People on all sides need to take responsibility more. When someone is missing suddenly, we should do better at “at least asking” for communication back from the person, because they may be in a “frozen state of mind” for whatever reason. When a person is “frozen”, they don’t feel they know what to do or say. If they drop out of sight with no links to communicate by, then we still need to pray for them, that whatever has caused the severing of communication would dissipate and communication would be restored. However, we need to pray as well that the person will be able to take responsibility and not leave others who have invested in them in the lurch. It is BOTH/AND – both sides. I just know that if something is going on and a person is in a “frozen state” (that’s what I call it), they may not have the “what it takes” to unfreeze themselves to take the responsibility they need to. When you’re “frozen”, you don’t think you hear from God or from others, and you probably aren’t hearing.

We really don’t always know people (even when we think we do). We’re all in process. We often don’t know all/some of their background, what makes them tick, what is important to them, what rejections they have experienced, what traps they’ve been enticed into, what relationships they’ve had that are dysfunctional or chaotic, how their physical and/or psyche are affected by what they’re going through in life, and we could go on and on. Life and relationship is a process. We’re usually attracted in relationships to others that have “like-mindedness” at least in some important area that we deem important. We don’t often become so “self-less” ourselves that we will relate with just anyone, for the sake of relating. Yet some of that seems to me to be part of authentic Christianity. The person doesn’t have to like everything I like for me to like them and/or be there for them.

Just some rambling thoughts.