Holding On By Letting Go

Charlie Turner - Lead Pastor | River Rock Bible Church, Georgetown, TX

Sometimes to make the shift we have to let people leave. Holding onto people that do not want to go with you can cause problems. How to let people go well…

My eyes scanned through my inbox; one name immediately jumped out causing my heart to sink and my stomach to turn. I didn’t even have to open the email to know what it was about. Seeing who the sender was told me all I needed to know. It was yet another request for yet another two-hour meeting, to yet again hear why the direction our church was going was wrong.

After multiple meetings stretched out over more than a year, I felt like a failure. What was I doing wrong that this person wouldn’t get on board with where the rest of the church had agreed God was leading us to go? I imagine, most of you can relate to this story. You probably even had a name or two pop into your head of people who when you see their name on caller ID or in your inbox you feel deflated.

In that moment, God reminded me that not everyone made the journey with Jesus either. The rich young ruler walked as did a large number of would-be disciples in John 6. 

From that moment many of His disciples turned back and no longer accompanied Him.” – John 6:66

I knew I had to let them go, and in this case, help them leave our church. It had become clear that they simply were not aligned with the rest of the church, and they had no intention of ever coming along. Looking back, I realized that trying to retain this person, and others like them, had truly taken its toll; not just on me personally, but the church as well.

Like many pastors, losing someone felt like the ultimate failure, so I did everything I could to try to bring them along so they would stay. I was so focused on what we would lose if they left that I didn’t stop to consider what would be lost if they stayed. If they leave, we might lose a volunteer, an evangelist, an elder; or worst of all, a generous giver. However, if they stay, we would lose one of the greatest keys to being successful at making disciples as a church: UNITY.

In Extreme Ownership, Jocko Willink says; “It’s not what you preach, it’s what you tolerate.” Allowing someone to stay who is clearly not aligned communicates to others that perhaps we are not really serious about making disciples. Others begin to notice and think; “Well if they don’t have to do this neither will I.” or “If they get to do things in a different way, why can’t I.” You will quickly find yourself trying to lead a team with multiple playbooks.

How do we let them go well?

  1. Love them well. Make sure you have done your part to try and bring them along and invite them to join the rest of the church. When they have been given a chance to join and choose not to, love them enough to let them go. More on that below.
  2. Listen to them. No matter how clearly we think we are communicating, people often hear what they want to hear. I have had conversations with people who are simply overwhelmed by the thought of making disciples that it causes them to shut down. When they better understand the process, they are less intimidated and willing to join in. At first glance, their inactivity seemed like they were not aligned. However, after listening it became clear they simply had a different impression of what we were asking them to be a part of. Other times, it becomes clear there simply is not alignment.
  3. Help them see it is not a good fit. Don’t be ashamed to say; “This is what we do and how we do it. We would love for you to join us in this. If you can’t, or won’t, let us help you find a church where you can fully support and engage in the ministry.” Ultimately, this is part of loving them well. It should be our desire for every follower of Christ to be plugged into a local body where they are using their gifts, abilities, talents, and treasures to build up other believers and expand God’s kingdom. Sometimes, that means helping them connect to a different church.

*I want to note that I am speaking about those who simply aren’t in alignment. Wolves should be dealt with much more firmly and swiftly.

It is not an easy thing to let people go. There will be people whom you have invested in for many years and with whom have shed blood, sweat, and tears that you may need to let go. It is painful; yet, I have also been overjoyed to see some whom I had have let go advance the kingdom and make disciples more effectively as a part of a different congregation with which they are better aligned. This is not simply a matter of addition through subtraction. This kind of subtraction paves the way for multiplication, in their lives and in the life of your church. 

Charlie Turner – Lead Pastor
River Rock Bible Church
Georgetown, TX