In many of my contacts in the past months, the issue of how people end their committment to a fellowship or a relationship has come up.
A number of pastors have said to me, "they just disappeared." There was no exit contact. No note. Not even a phone call. Many times, this kind of treatment came, not from peripheral people, newcomers or noninvolved persons, but from core people, people considered to be close friends, trusted leaders. They just disappeared...poof and they were gone.
The hurts that can linger from this kind of relational mismanagment on both sides of the relationship, can be really destructive...doubting ministry, doubting relationships, doubting self.
Instead of these kinds of miscues, how about this as a departure process? (There can be real good that comes from a departure on both sides...along with the pain.)
Here is my short list of how we can all do it better:
1. Make the reason given for departure simple and clear - and don't blame "God" for it all. Sometimes we say "God is leading me" as an excuse for not being honest.
2. Until you are actually gone, do not use your financial support or lack of it as leverage. Remember that your giving is to the Lord - right?
3. Make the occasion of the words given to explain departure be in person and by prior arrangement. Don't "drop the bomb" in the foyer, just before someone has to go public. Don't put a note into the offering. Instead, set up a time to talk personally, even if it has to be briefly.
4. When you actually get to talk, begin the conversation with affirmation, telling the person what you appreciate in them, and how you have valued the relationship. The Lord will help them to linger on these words rather than the tough ones in the future.
5. Welcome future contact with the person, if either of you feels so led.
6. Assure the person of your prayers, even if will not be seeing them. And then do pray.
7. If/when that person comes to mind in the future, take it as from the Holy Spirit. Check in on them with a simple contact to express: "I was thinking about you today and just wanted to say 'Hi.'"
8. You may have more and better ideas, but if the above are done, even in part, it will help everyone deal with departures...and not distrust the future.
9. Finally, leaders should consider establishing an agreed-upon means of exit, incorporating things like the above - then feature these in a teaching, and put them into an always-available foyer-handout that can inform everyone as to the nature of this very important dimension of relational life.
The Kingdom of God: it is a Kingdom of relationships.
And remember - our relationships actually never end...even if some choose to just walk away now. How we manage in this life is a preparation for all of our managment in eternity.