The elusive Donna and I are just in the first days of leaving the church we planted 10 years ago. Our goal is to “finish well” but the circumstances of life have the “finish line” still a couple months away. Right now it feels more like a marathon than a sprint. Today I’ll just try to describe our first steps in trying to “leave well”.
We planted this church with massive dreams, audacious goals and enough confidence to take on whatever came our way. Like any beginning, myths have grown up around our origin. The myths include the number of people we started with, why we started the church and even around what kind of church we were. 10 years later the myths carry more weight for some than the truth but for me it stopped mattering a couple years ago anyway. In our leaving it’s left me wondering just how many myths will grow up about why we’re leaving, where we’re going and what, if anything, God had to do with this.
So let the blog record show that our leaving started with a question from God. I was prepping a series of talks back in January about pilgrimage. I was talking to our church about building roads into the wilderness and that the call to follow was a call to pilgrimage, wherever that might lead. Then, in my reflection, I felt like God asked, “Is this message just for the church or is it for you too?” There’s a lot I don’t know but one thing I’ve learned over these years is that when God asks a question like that it’s always loaded. So with some fear and not a little trembling I replied, “Well, um, it’s for me too.” And then God began to talk to me about my ‘settledness’ and the limitations I’d put on just what I would and would not allow the Spirit to lead me to do.
Filling some boxes the other day I came across my notes for that talk. The title I gave it back then was, “Why Leave Here?”.
Looking back now I can say that this was the moment that leaving changed from occasional, random thoughts about our future into a fixed point in time we just hadn’t come to yet.
A few weeks ago that “fixed point” finally arrived. We announced to our church family here that we were resigning and moving to North Carolina where I’ll become the senior pastor of Raleigh Vineyard. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to say out loud.
About 3 weeks before that we talked to our friends, our elders team, that it was a possibility. That was the hardest. I know a couple guys who were terminated by their church board when it was discovered that they were considered and being considered by another church. I wasn’t worried about that happening here. Our elders team are my friends and relationship is one of our greatest priorities here. Keeping secrets from friends who you’d like to have praying with you is hard and the gap between knowing where God was leading us and being able to talk to our close friends about it was painful.
Some men and women seemed to live in this adversarial relationship with their leadership team. I couldn’t, wouldn’t and won’t. It seems unhealthy and dysfunctional to me. Somewhere along the line we adopted this “checks and balances” idea of church leadership which is rubbish. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not all teddy bear hugs and sugar dreams with us, we often disagree or have contradictory ideas about things but when we’re done meeting we’re all still friends and Jesus is still in charge.
Here are some of the things I’ve learned so far in this process…
1) You can’t possibly predict or be prepared for the multitude of ways that people will react to the news. Some friends have been happy for us, some friends have been mad at us, some have felt betrayed by us and a few wished we’d left years ago. It’s been hard to reconcile all the different versions of myself that people have reflected back in this process, ie. “what will we do without you?” vs. “You’ve ruined my life and I’m sorry we ever met.” And everything in between and on either side!
2) Beautiful things can happen in the midst of leaving. There have been expressions of kindness, support, encouragement, generosity, hope and a sense of our church here coming together, grabbing hold of who they are and pilgriming on with Jesus. I’ve seen our church maturing before my eyes and it’s been awesome.
3) Horrible things can happen in the midst of leaving. These I will not elaborate on.
4) Change is great as long as it doesn’t actually disrupt anything. Some of us despise change as a rule of life. Many of us embrace change, desire it, and make it happen when it’s not. But change that actually disrupts the status quo (the colour or cut of your hair rarely does) is generally unwelcome even by changers. That doesn’t mean it’s bad it just means that an overall sense of discomfort will be created even when change is for the best. You can’t determine the rightness of the course by the reaction of the crowd.
5) Most people personalize your decision and their reaction is not about how this will affect you but rather how this will affect them. This is true of the one who makes the decision as much as it is true of those who react to the decision. I remember having coffee with a friend a couple years back. They told me that they were looking at a job change and would likely be moving out west. All I could think about was the contribution they made to our community and how could we possibly fill that gap while they kept talking and asking for my advice about their possible move. Of course I suggested God would come up with something better for them here. Staying here had to be the right thing, right? But eventually that wave of fear passed and I was able to focus on what God wanted for my friend. A little while later he moved. Things are good for him out west and somehow life has still managed to go on in our community and new friends have come and good things are happening.
6) I’d much rather people were sad or mad that we’re leaving than happy or glad. Had someone jumped up and shouted, “Hooray!” when I announced we were leaving, part of me would have been relieved in the moment but later been hurt. Instead, the moment was painful but the after effect is a sense of being loved well and having done our best in our time here to love well. Sadness is a positive and healthy emotion in the right time and situation.
7) Family appears in the most unexpected places and friendships can grow suddenly with people you’ve never met before the moment you come face to face. God has surprised the Elusive and I with an amazing sense of family and connectedness that He’s already provided and growing at the other end of this journey in Raleigh. We’d prefer to move our whole CCC family down with us but of course hijacking their story wouldn’t be right either. We feel a growing sense of excitement about this next season of our lives and the people that we’ll be sharing it with in Raleigh.
I’ll finish with a quote from J.R.R. Tolkien from the Rings,
“The Road goes ever on and on
Down from the door where it began.
Now far ahead the Road has gone,
And I must follow, if I can,
Pursuing it with eager feet,
Until it joins some larger way
Where many paths and errands meet.
And whither then? I cannot say.