The second reason people want a call or visit from the pastor or pastoral staff after they unhappily leave is to unload on the pastor everything they didn't like about the church. Often they want to regurgitate any slight they felt they received from somebody there. Perhaps the youth pastor is encouraging "the wrong kind of kids" to come to the youth group and they don't want these kids around theirs, the senior pastor is not accessible enough, the music pastor didn't give them a choir solo, the kids aren't well behaved enough in the children's church and they think the children's pastor should control them better, the senior pastor's wife isn’t becoming their best friend like they hoped for, their "ministry gifts" just aren't utilized enough, the facilities aren’t good enough, you didn't shake their hand at the door one time, your messages just aren't "deep enough" or the ever famous..."we're just not being fed." One thing's for sure - many folks can't wait to give you the "Top Ten Reasons Why We're Leaving Your Church" speech.
If you don’t give them opportunity to give this speech (and even when you do) they can’t wait to give a command performance of the speech to anybody they see from your church in the grocery store, at the mall or the local restaurant. Unloading is one of their talents, and all the world is a stage for these folks, but again I have never quite been able to locate that in the scriptures.
I don't believe pastors should sign themselves up for this vocal whipping. And that's exactly what they do when agree to endure this type of conversation.
Our friend was at a pastor's conference where Pastor Mike Purkey spoke and he told the pastors there that he stopped making any of those kind of calls years ago because it was completely pointless. He said, "Why should I schedule an appointment for somebody to trash me and my church for an hour...for someone to verbally hit me over the head? It just doesn't make sense."
I wish I would have realized for the first decade of our ministry that I didn't have to have these type of meetings. I just thought they were a requirement - I didn't think there was a choice. Some say, “I have to do that…I have a small church.” And to that I say…how do big churches get big? I can’t really see Bill Hybels or Andy Stanley sitting down for too many vocal poundings. I realize these men pastor churches of thousands at this point but at one time in their ministry they started with nothing. Both of them started their churches. So when did they begin to tell their secretary, “don’t put any calls through from _______________”?? It had to start somewhere.
A few years ago, a lady made an appointment with my husband to let him know she was leaving. We knew for a while that she was unhappy and had issues. She absolutely insisted on a meeting. I know she had been storing up all of her complaints for a while and just waiting until she could dump them all out. My husband was dreading it but determined he wasn’t going to let her speak a toxic word in his office. She came in to tell my husband she was leaving and after she said, "After much prayer, I've decided to leave..." he immediately said, "thank you for personally letting me know. We send you forth with our blessing, and please let me pray for you." Without giving any opportunity or room for her to start going into her tirade, he went into prayer, prayed a blessing over her, said amen, stood up, opened his office door to let her exit and said, "we bless you as you go and if you would like to come back in the future, the door is always open. Now if you'll excuse me, I have other matters to attend to." And that was it. He walked out. It was a meeting that didn't even take five minutes. She was rather displeased that he would not entertain her criticism, but honestly, the Lord didn't call him to do that. My husband is a pastor, not a customer service rep.
It's very demoralizing for a pastor to sit there and listen ad nauseum to a person who shares everything they don't like about them or the church until they exhaust themself. Yes, maybe they feel better after they do that, but you feel like you were just run over by a truck. So, in my opinion, this is a bad idea for pastors to keep investing their time in such. That same hour could be spent investing in and calling on someone who is actually excited about your church. This past week my husband was reading an article by Ed Young that said that most churches are worried more about losing people than they are about winning lost people. And that is why the majority of churches in America do not grow.
Many pastors talk about people leaving and advise you to, "love them out the door" if they decide to leave. That's advice I concur with. We should always love, and bless people as they go, but I think love can come in another form than a phone call or an exit meeting where you have to hear the “ten things I hate about you.”
There are other ways to show you care without putting yourself in position to be verbally stabbed.Years ago I decided to make this change. I don't believe God has ordained me to chase people who have spiritual ADD, nor be a dumpster for verbal unpacking just because it will feel better for somebody to get something off their chest. I have heard it said that people today are so angry at a myriad of things and many times they take their rage out on their pastor and use them as a punching bag. I was advised years ago by a mentor that often women in the church who have bad relationships with their mother will mistreat the pastor's wife. This is because she is the "spiritual mother" of the church and they see her in an adversarial way because they didn't have a good relationship with their mother. That may be true but I don't believe the fact that somebody grew up with a less than perfect relationship with their Mom means I now have to bear the brunt of it.
God didn't call me to be a punching bag. He did call me to be a trainer, equipper, shepherd, mentor, a leader - but a punching bag? No, I don't recall that being on the job description, at my minister's licensing interview, or most importantly - in the Bible.
In the aforementioned circumstances, my way of "loving people out the door" is usually to send them a card or letter. I would communicate in that way that they are missed and loved, but doing so through a letter does not give them opportunity to turn around and verbally unload. What is necessary has been accomplished. If they are bent on leaving, they are going to do it anyway despite my card or letter, but at least I didn't have to be in a position to be verbally battered doing it this way. There are advantages to writing rather than doing things in person. There are times where I believe writing is the best recourse in a matter and this would be one of those times.
Tomorrow I'm going to conclude with Part III on the subject of how to avoid a verbal beating that has not been expected or scheduled - in other words, when people catch you off guard.