Let me start by saying that I am a firm believer that “those who are planted in the house of the Lord, will flourish in the courts of our God.” As a college freshman, I believe I was planted in a small church of 60 people. Over the last several years, I have had the privilege of having a front row seat watching God move in South Florida as our little church expanded to several campuses reaching thousands every weekend. I would not have wanted to miss one step of the journey.
Those early foundational years were some of the hardest, but most rewarding. We were on staff with my husband’s parents who were (and are) the greatest leaders we know, and God brought us a team that felt more like family. For the first several years, we continually added to our team, but no one ever left our team – ever. It seemed that no one wanted to leave.
Then it happened. Our church went multi-site and our tight-knit staff family was stretched. Things got uncomfortable as we expanded and our congregation grew. We knew we had to restructure, which meant that fewer people sat at the decision making table. It was a new paradigm for our team and not everyone was comfortable with the changes. Some even questioned whether this whole “multi-site trend” would even last.
In the months that followed, we said good-bye to friends, teammates, and people that we thought we would grow old with in ministry. I wish I could say that we handled these departures with grace, but truth be told, we weren’t good at letting people go. It’s hard to be good at something you’ve never done before. We did not know what we did not know.
First of all, let me encourage you if you are going through a similar season where a person, or several people have left your team. DONT PANIC. The glory has not departed. God’s favor has not lifted. And, while you may not be able to control what’s going on around you, there are a few principles that we have established that have helped guide our actions and attitudes during times like this.
I call this my “what to do when I don’t know what to do” list.
- Speak life (even though you may be dying inside)
Proverbs 18:21 says, “words can bring life or death, they are either poison or fruit …you choose.” It’s so easy to allow hurt to get the best of us when people close to us leave our team. Keeping a reign on our tongue can be challenging, especially when we feel that we have been treated unfairly.
The words you speak “TO” these people, and more importantly “ABOUT” these people, have the power to breathe life into your team or destroy it. I’m not suggesting that you live in denial, but I highly recommend that when processing these situations, you find someone like a mentor or a leader you may have built a relationship with through the ARC network, who is not personally or emotionally impacted by the situation to help you gain perspective.
- Leave the back porch light on.
Ok, this may seem corny, but several years back I decided to give a parting gift for couples to take with them as they left our team. It was a large lantern symbolizing that even though they may not be on our team or on our staff any longer, they are still family and “the back porch light is always on.” I decided to give this gift in the best of circumstances and even in the most uncomfortable.
One of the most painful departures for me was when my dearest friend and her husband chose to move back to their home state. Our kids loved each other, our ministry lives were so interconnected, and to be honest I felt a sense of rejection. After a season away, and some long back porch conversations, they returned more committed than ever before. They learned some valuable and difficult lessons while they were away and we are going on 13 years of ministry together.
Some have left for a season, some have gone on to do ministry in other places and come back for vacations, and there are a few we don’t hear from. I’m not going to say it has always been easy or comfortable, but
I’ve been around long enough to see that when you build bridges like this, it not only speaks love to the people leaving, but it also sends a powerful message to the team members that stay.
- Hug people tightly… Hold them loosely.
What I mean by this is to love people generously, and at the same time, hold them with open hands. One of the greatest privileges we have as leaders is when others invite us in to speak into their lives and to pray with them for direction. One thing we tell our young leaders is that if God is stirring something in your heart (a new ministry opportunity, a country, a calling) let your leader know so that we can pray WITH you.
I remember when Abriel, one of our stellar leaders who had grown up in our house, graduated from our local Christian university. She was leading in our kid’s ministry and came to me because God was stirring her heart for international missions, but she also felt a pull toward students. The thought of losing her made me want to throw up, but we prayed through that season with open hearts. Thankfully as we prayed together we discerned that God was calling her to a season in missions and when she returned she began serving in our student ministries where she leads summer mission trips for teens.
We have prayed with others who have left… we hug them tight and hold them loose and believe God for them and trust Him with it all.
I realize that every situation comes with varying degrees of pain and complexity, but one thing to keep in mind is this: at the end of the day, the people in your team who “stay” will watch the way you let others go. When they see that your security is rooted in God and His presence, and not shaken in the absence of others, they too will grow in their trust in God to provide and supply for the work He has called them to.
It turns out that the whole “multi-site thing” was not just a trend. God has been faithful to raise up new leaders every step of the way. Be encouraged, “He who began a good work in you (and your church) WILL be faithful to complete it” (Phil. 1:6).