Recently, I had two painful experiences with friends. One is leaving our church because I am too conservative on an issue, and another threatened to leave because they thought I’m too liberal on another subject.
Both encounters hurt. I lost sleep and a lot of tears over both of these painful experiences.
Years ago, my pastor and friend Joe Wittwer told me, “Everybody’s leaving.” He was referring to the all too common exit of people from a church. I was not too fond of it when he said that then; I still don’t like it. But he’s right. (Only Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever.)
However, every time someone leaves our church, I ache a bit—every time.
Sure, my ego is wounded (I prefer being liked and loved), but far more than that, I grieve the loss of someone I value and love.
Occasionally, I’ve tried to convince people to stay. I tell them, “You know, there’s no perfect church and no perfect pastor!” I attempt to remind them that unity is not uniformity; we can have differences. I sometimes point out their decision will make a negative impact on other relationships.
But more often than not, people do what they want to do, and few reconsider based on my input.
Everybody is leaving. At some point, right or wrong, justified or not, we humans are sometimes a fickle and consumer-driven lot when we get disgruntled. (And I include myself in that as well.)
Okay, enough whining. Even though Moses met directly with God, and performed some pretty cool miracles, he still had follower issues—and I’m no Moses.
So what am I learning (again) through this season of loss?
1. Stop expecting to be the perfect leader.
I fail. Sadly, on a fairly regular basis, I think, say, or do something I shouldn’t. I am an excellent repenter (it comes with practice), but I’m never surprised by my humanity.
So, if I’m not perfect, why am I so shocked when others don’t respond to or treat me perfectly?
I have never wanted people to put me on a pedestal. Consequently, I really shouldn’t be blown away when someone discovers something about me that they disapprove of. Like it or not, as an imperfect leader, I will not always be listened to, valued, or loved—and it’s okay.
It’s impossible to be liked by everyone all of the time. (For heaven’s sake, there are times when I don’t like myself!)
When I lose a friend, a co-worker, or a parishioner because I’m not perfect, that shouldn’t send me into a tailspin of despair. If it does, I will be stuck in misery because I’m never going to be the perfect leader or pastor.
2. Stop expecting other people to be perfect.
Imperfection abounds. No one is perfect, and that means people follow imperfectly just as I sometimes lead imperfectly. Why am I stunned when a follower fails to follow?
Frankly, I have a log or two (or twenty) in my eye when it comes to not always following well!
Humans are broken. All. Of. Us. At some level, and in a surprising variety of ways, we prove that though we are holy vessels in Christ, we are also cracked pots.
Perhaps I need to lower my expectations and not be so upset when someone goes human on me.
I must forgive as I am forgiven.
I must unconditionally love as I am loved.
I must show mercy and grace to those who don’t deserve it because I never deserve it either.
When I stop and remember how patient and kind God is with me, it helps me maintain a heart of compassion toward those who intentionally or unintentionally wound me.
Hurt people hurt people. (And that includes me too.) But to the degree that I remember how loved I am—I love.
3. It’s okay to grieve, but don’t get stuck in sorrow.
I like to think of myself as a “glass half full” sorta guy, but that’s not truly my natural bent. In fact, I can get pretty melancholy at times.
My doc asked me during my last physical if I struggled with depression at all. I replied, “No, I don’t really struggle with depression; I kinda like it.” (Side note: That went on my medical file, and when I went into the emergency room months later, the nurse asked me, “Are you still struggling with depression?)
Here’s where I’ve landed on this whole depression thang: Lots of great men (and women) wrestled with the blues at times. Elijah was a train wreck after being threatened by Jezebel. David was overwhelmed by life’s unfairness and pretty darn grumpy about it. Peter wanted to give it all up and go back to fishing after he blew it.
It’s okay to be sad about your failures and the sins of others against you. It’s okay to be a little bit mad. It’s even okay to want to crawl into a hole from time to time.
Just don’t stay there too long.
Shake off the dust. Pull yourself together. Then fix your eyes on the joy to come rather than the pain you’re in at the moment.
I suppose “shaking off the dust” could sound a bit cold-hearted. And to be clear, I’m not saying people or relationships are nothing but dust.
However, you can’t let the opinions, beliefs, or attitudes of others about you squash your God-given purpose.
You’re hurt. You’re a mess. I understand, and I’m sorry.
It’s good to grieve. (It’s part of the healing process.)
But then get up and get moving.
Get refocused, and get back to the work of the Kingdom.
God’s not done with you yet.
As a matter of fact, God delights in using cracked pots and broken people to do incredible things because He gets to be the hero of our story.
And He is.
“We have this treasure in jars of clay,
to show that the surpassing power
belongs to God and not to us.
2 Corinthians 4:7 (ESV)