Sometimes it is really easy to say goodbye- like when you know you’ll see someone tomorrow.
And then there is saying goodbye in the church. And that feels so different.
When we talk about church as a family or a home, it makes it very hard when people leave- regardless of their reason. And people leave their churches for all sorts of reasons. They move. They get married and join their spouse’s church. Their needs change. They change. The list goes on and on.
And while what draws us to church might be very different- the church has only one main goal- to form and send disciples into the world.
Because being a disciple is what we are called by Jesus to be. And not just a disciple- but a disciple who makes other disciples.
In Matthew 28:19, Jesus tells his disciples to, “Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit.”
In light of this scripture, it is best to remind ourselves, that the church is more than a family or a home. It is also where we go each Sunday to PRACTICE being disciples. It is the place to practice being disciples, so that way come Monday morning, we are able to go into all nations- Toyota Nation, Wells Fargo Nation, and even “in your own house” Nation- and make disciples. Church is a safe place to practice, learn, experience, and grow as disciples so that we can go out and witness to Jesus Christ in the world- and make disciples.
We stay at church to practice being disciples- so that come Monday morning we can go into our nations…and make disciples.
But sometimes we forget this command from Jesus. We can think that the church exists to meet only our needs, when actually we exist in the church for the purpose of making disciples. All of the other great things the church offers- fellowship, friendship, and family- is icing on the cake. Delicious and life giving, but still icing.
And so, when people leave- or if there comes a day when you leave- know that as a disciple AND as someone who is part of a family, saying goodbye is important and necessary.
- Say goodbye. Tell people if you are leaving. Allow for people to say goodbye to you. Say goodbye to people who are leaving. In this digital age, it is easy to stay connected- so make the effort to say those sometimes difficult words to say.
- Talk to your priests. Feeling that perhaps it is time for you to leave? Feeling sad that someone has left? Feeling anxious about what people leaving may or may not mean? Please, talk to your priests. We can offer prayer, support, context and perspective that would be difficult to find elsewhere.
- Grieve. It is a loss when people leave. It is a loss to leave a church. Allow yourself to grieve this loss. Also know that as new people arrive in churches, they too may be in grief from leaving a church. Be gentle with each other.
- Remember that the Body of Christ is bigger than the walls of a building. We do not stop being brothers and sisters just because we worship in different places. Leave on good terms if you can.
- Know that people come and go from churches all of the time. Some you will notice are gone. Many you didn’t notice when they were there, and so you never noticed when they didn’t come back. The coming and goings of people to churches is seasonal and cyclical- and each of us will have seasons and circumstances in our lives that will initiate the coming or going from one church to another.
- Pray and be prayed for. Let your church pray you into a new community that will help you continue to grow as a disciple. Pray for people as they journey- knowing that finding a new church is a journey that requires faith and courage.
- Lastly, know that you are loved. In your coming and going, as a disciple and as a beloved child of God. You are loved.