When you leave a church and have been in that church’s active ministry, it’s hard. It’s hard, because so many people misunderstand. It’s hard because people tell people what they heard, leaving a long and confused string of thoughts and ideas about why the leavers left. It’s hard because it is a loss-both to the leaver and to the stay-er. The sense of loss on either end no doubt can be measured by the investment of time in the place, and the people of the church.
In my experience, we have only served at really large churches, and I am guessing the “large” mega-ness of these mega churches only amplify feelings, raw emotion, words, insinuation, etc., although I have also learned that People are People Wherever You Go. I am sure small churches have issues that are just as difficult to navigate. For myself and our family, we’ve lived large, and that can come with a lot of interesting factors when raw emotion and sincere beliefs are mixed without much direction for how to handle t hem in a healthy and productive way.
Rob was a pastor at Granger Community Church for 21 – 22 ish years. We moved to Kansas in 2014 so he could serve on the pastoral team at Westside family church. We’ve lived in Kansas almost five years now. It is difficult for me to believe Belle was in third grade when we moved here. Whitney was finishing up eighth grade, and Maddie finishing up her freshman year in high school. The girls are now 20, 18 and 15. Belle has her drivers permit. I still cannot wrap my head around that, considering such a short time ago we packed up her Polly Pockets, Barbies and Littlest Pet Shop toys.
Leaving Granger was by far the most difficult decision Rob and I have ever made, because it broke our hearts to leave a place, we poured so much life and love into. Nearing the end of our time there, I was feeling bewildered, un-needed, unnecessary. Rob was working harder and harder to fix everything that was wrong in that moment, I had my hands utterly full with three delightfully spirited girls, so much so that I forgot that my feelings lay somewhere below the surface of my busyness. I forgot Rob had feelings too.
When I allowed myself to slow down, I realized I was sad that Rob was never home on the weekends. I was sad that my friendships frequently went wonky because of his position in the church and community. My friends would disagree with something church related, which they absolutely had a right to do, and it was often too difficult to navigate issues too complex for me to figure, in order to save the relationship. There seemed to be more that was complicated in our lives than what made sense. It was hard.
Rob was given a sabbatical as a gift for a “Job well done” after serving 20 years at Granger. That summer we sat with friends and Soul Care professionals Steve and Gwen Smith at the Potter’s Inn. They peeled back those painful layers so we could see the raw emotion we were both stifling under the surface of our lives. It was incredibly painful to come to terms with the fact that the way we were living was not good or healthy for ourselves, our family, or for anyone. We decided together that it was time to change the scenery and save our marriage and family. We needed to make some drastic changes.
And so we did. As I have mentioned, there were ripples and waves of discussion and speculation. I wrote a post the day Rob resigned, published it two hours before the announcement came. I was instantly and permanently shamed from the inside circles, people I loved and adored, raised babies with, prayed with, vacationed with, etc. in one moment turned against me. I was devastated and confused. It knocked me down for a long, long time. I loved the people of Granger with all my heart. My post simply stated that we were tired, we needed to focus on our marriage and family, “mega” was not working for us any longer, and we needed to move on. I was hoping my post would help explain that. To many it did. To several it did not.
The fallout from that day was severe. I was threatened, coerced, made fun of, shamed. “She better like the big church she’s leaving. Tell her that big church is the one that paid for that sabbatical.” “Michelle preempted Rob’s plan, Granger’s plan.” “How dare she,” etc.
All of these statements and MORE from people I loved, trusted and served with from when I was eighteen until I was forty-two. I was devastated. A sacred and sorrowful moment of parting was met with rage from people “trying to protect the organization.”
Along with the negative, there were hundreds of positive words and kind thoughts sent our way. Why is it that the few less than kind comments hurt the most? I’m not sure. I wish I were mature enough to dismiss them with grace, shielding my heart in the most appropriate way, while navigating the pain in a perfect way that never stepped on the toes of anyone ever. But I have found I am not that person. Not at all. I say what is. I cannot say more or less. I have lived a long forty five years, and have found that the most comfortable in my own skin I’ve ever been are the times I’ve shared my truth without the commentary of a hundred voices in my head. I listened to and tried to please everyone, and that was part of my demise. I can’t please everyone. I cant make everyone happy, or even like me.
Here we find ourselves, at the crossroads of another ending and a new beginning. Rob left Westside Family Church in November, and now…we are planting our own church, The KC Underground. We are loving it, serving together and living it together, as we love to do.
There are many differences in why we left both Granger and Westside, but I have changed, quite a lot. What did I learn from what really hurt?
A few things. I learned that:
1: My heart is worth guarding. I do whatever I need to do to keep my heart safe.
2: To trust the few, rather than the many. My close friends and confidants are the ones I lean and depend on. The public-ness of our lives does not mean that the public can have full access to my words, thoughts and feelings.
3: To make my closest allies people who are not affiliated with my husband’s workplace. These friends can offer fair perspective because the only skin they have in the game is their relationship with me, not with me, my husband, and whole church.
4: Not to take criticism too much to heart. I can let criticism crush me. I’m learning to take in what I need to and let the rest go. Words can hurt, but only if I let them.
5: Jesus is my best, best friend. Walking with Jesus down lonely roads has made me stronger than I have ever been. His love and grace and poured over me and in me, capturing my heart and imagination, setting my soul on fire.
If you are in full time ministry or church work, prepare yourself for the comings and goings before they happen. Keep your soul healthy as you know how. Trust Jesus and let your friends love you. Stay strong and remember your true north. Your soul is worth it.