Friday, July 29, 2011

It's Hard When Friends Leave

I never knew what happened. Somewhere in the transition from being friends planting a church together to me being the pastor’s wife, our friendship was lost.

We had started off with a church planting team full of close friends. It was exciting and God was doing good things. This was wonderful, having team members who already cared about us and our family, who loved us and supported us in prayer.  And then, down the road, after ministering together, praying together and growing together, some friends left.  It may have been because the church didn’t look like they thought it would. It may have been a difference of opinion in how a church should function or maybe just the romance of church planting had worn off. It may have been something we did that caused hurt or offense. I don’t understand why this happens, but it seems to be a common story. Has this ever happened to you?

Maybe you have never planted a church, but if you pastor a church, you know what I mean and you probably have a story or two yourself. Friends leave.  They may have good reasons for leaving and they may have terrible reasons for leaving. They may leave for a reason that you will never even know, but it will still result in the loss of a friendship.

At that point, it is not really about the church anymore. I mean, we all know that people will leave. None of us is so naive as to think that everyone who attends our church will stay forever. Close friends are different though, and it hurts, especially if it is a bad breakup. Whether the reason for leaving is bad or good, it leaves a wound behind.

So what do we do? I think we mourn for a while, perhaps a long while if needed. We ask God to dress our wound. We process, we pray, and time goes by.
And you know what we don’t do? We don’t write that person off. We don’t forget all the good that existed in that friendship. We don’t subconsciously (or consciously) vow to never open ourselves up to people again.

I have been guilty of this. When my friends left a wake of pain behind them in their leaving, I could not think of anything but that pain. I forgot their support during the church plant, their faithful serving, their prayers and love and the fun times. Don’t do this. It is too easy a pit to fall into and too hard to climb out of. No matter how hurt, how betrayed, how disappointed you feel, do not link that person forever with the pain they caused you. They are more than a cause of pain to you; they are one whom God loves, as much as he loves you. And don’t decide to never have a friend again, because you fear they might hurt you too. Easy for me to say, hmm?
No, not easy, but true. And I want to live in truth, don’t you?


  1. Thanks Ellen. I really needed that right now. I think I need to print this off and read it often. Maybe in the midst of a time of many leaving, it would be good to reread before and after church some weeks and before those difficult meetings when you just know what's coming, and after those difficult emails when you didn't see it coming. I hope I am learning to continue to love people deeply and hold them lightly, but it still hurts every single time it happens. I think that is the part of loving deeply and the part about not defining people by the hurt they have caused you is the holding lightly part. Hopefully it all brings one (me) to maturity when it is all said and done. 

    Thanks for the good, wise, clear word. 

    Your friend

  2. Words of wisdom, Ellen!! 10 years into it and that experience can still sneak up on me! One thing that has been recently helping is honestly voicing my negative emotions to God in prayer to reconnect with His grace and intimacy. Afterwards I intentionally pray for my friends, asking for God's purposes and grace to be realized in their lives as well. I am doing this everytime I experience a pang of pain, bitterness or remorse. It is helping to keep the negativity from overpowering me.

  3. Just had a good friend decide that she didn't want to go to our church anymore... It hurts!

  4. Thanks for your words of encouragement and wisdom. This is a post I've had to read over and over again.....and needed to read again today. It's easy to start the "Don't you remember when we rushed to your side at the ER at 1 AM? Don't you remember how we supported you during......" when they tell you God is telling them to leave. Thanks for reminding me to focus on the good times we shared, the times they were there for us and the reality that everyone will leave at some point. Someone new will come along and add their own brand of spice to the mix.
    Thanks again.
    Co-pastoring in Alabama

  5. just curious...are you saying the friendship would have to end because the person no longer attends your church? If, yes, why is that?

  6. just curious...are you saying the friendship would have to end because the person no longer attends your church? If, yes, why is that?

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