Pastor Blake Williams
Missions & Outreach Pastor, Shiloh Community Church
“I’m leaving the church.” These are some of the most difficult words for pastors to hear and sadly I’ve heard them more times than I can count in my 10 years of ministry. But
sometimes these conversations sting even more. I recently had the hardest of these
conversations that I’ve ever had. What made it so difficult was that I sat across from a
person I dearly cared about that I had let down. In their time of need, I wasn’t the friend,
person, or pastor that I could’ve been or should’ve been. This person had given ample time for us as a staff to respond to needs and it was not an easy or hasty decision to leave the church and as hard as this is for me to say, it was the right one.
A lot of people would gasp at what I just said. Now don’t hear me say that I think this
person should leave the Church because that’s not what I’m saying. What I am saying is that there are times when the hurt that someone has experienced in a place is distracting from their worship of God and the fellowship they have with other believers in that place. If they cannot fully worship God because they do not feel cared for by those God appointed to care for them, it should warrant some prayer and consideration of God’s leading. This person did just that and felt the Lord opening up doors they never thought would open that led away from here. I so greatly appreciated the approach they took though because so few people that leave actually do so in a way that is healthy and beneficial for both sides. There was no ill will but a true desire from this person to see us as pastors grow and learn from the experience. Individual meetings were set up and civil conversations had. Questions were asked on both sides and no accusations levied. Prayer and tears abounded but at the end, the peace of God reigned in that place. It was clear to both sides that God was moving this person on and although everything in me wanted to claw, scratch, and fight to keep this person here, I knew I’d be fighting a losing battle.
One of the things God has been working me through for many years is learning to listen
without formulating responses, excuses, or being defensive. In moments like this the temptation arises to talk about what has been done or to try and justify actions or non-
actions. Thankfully God made it so abundantly clear that I had failed that all I could say was, “I’m so sorry. I failed you.” Something I’ve realized in this and many other instances is that people truly desire to know and be known by the pastoral staff of the church they attend. In larger churches we want to believe that community groups, lay leaders, or friends can “be the church” to those that are hurting; but in reality, the unspoken expectation of many is that they want a pastor there. I know I try to be there for weddings, funerals, hospital visits, marriage counseling, and the other highs and lows of life. But sadly, I fail. If I have failed you at some point or another, I’m sorry. I don’t say that flippantly either, I am truly sorry. There are many times that I’ve disappointed, frustrated, or let people down without even knowing it. Sometimes, even years later I’ll find out that something has been eating someone up inside that I would’ve apologized for in a heartbeat if I knew had upset them. But more often than not, I don’t get that chance because it’s left unspoken.
Now, there are probably one of two things that most of you are thinking, maybe both. One is how I, or the church has let you down. The second is that you feel sorry for me or us. Don’t. That’s not what this is about. I don’t write this looking for sympathy or to be told the times I’ve done things well. I’m also not looking for a flood of emails or comments telling me how I’ve screwed up. My purpose in writing this is really a confession and an apology. It’s a glimpse into one of the harder things that we face in pastoral ministry. My heart truly hurts when I have to sit across from someone that feels let down because I didn’t love them the way Christ would have loved them. But I’m also thankful that there are those who will have the conversation with me. Culturally we have bought into what I call Burger King Christianity where we can have it our way all the time. If we don’t like the worship, we leave. If we don’t like the teaching, we leave. If the mission trips don’t go to a country I want to visit, I leave. There is an endless list of reasons for people leaving the church, some good, others not so much. But when someone does leave, it’s nice to be able to sit down across from them, hear why, say sorry for areas where you might have let them down, and pray for healing, reconciliation, and God’s direction for them.
To this person, and others like them that have had similar conversations with me, thank
you for making me a better pastor and sorry I had to learn this way.