After we have felt the feelings and admitted the reactions we experience when someone leaves our team, ministry, or church, we can then focus on how to respond well. I now offer six responses (from the upcoming book) we can implement to help us stay well when others go.
Forgiveness and Forbearance: I must forbear and forgive them
We all know that our deepest wounds come from those we love the most. Thus, when our teammates let us down, move away, or just follow God to something new, we can begin to resent them.
Just as Jesus released you from the debt you owe him, release your teammates from their debt. Do they deserve it? Maybe not. Does it still hurt? Probably yes. Could it have been handled differently? I think so.
But still, Jesus asks us to forgive. He realized this issue would be so common that he included it in the one prayer he taught his followers to pray. This is a process—so take your time—but do take the time to forgive.
Who are you struggling to forgive? Why?
Remember Your Calling: I’m still called to be here
Regularly remind yourself why you are still there, why you are doing what we’re doing. Be convinced of it so you can continue doing it when all others leave.
If that vision has leaked, dwindled, or taken a hit, ask God to reaffirm it. Ask him for fresh assurance for why you are staying. What have you been appointed to do? Has that changed? If not, then persevere despite the actions of your teammates.
The author of Hebrews tell us us to hold firmly to our faith (4:14) and unswervingly to our hope (10:23). It doesn’t say “hold fast to your job as a missionary.” Hold fast to God where you’re at and let your teammates follow Christ.
What is your calling or commission? Has it changed?
Speak Well of: I affirm and bless them as they go
Whenever a teammate left, we typically gave them a gift, wrote some encouraging notes, had a party, and sent them on their way. While I went thought the motions, I don’t think my heart truly blessed them every time.
One of the words used for blessed (in the Bible) means “to speak well of someone.” It’s where we get our English word eulogy. I suggest that to bless a teammate, focus on what you might say if you were giving a eulogy for them.
What are their good characteristics, their helpful skills, their pleasing traits? How have they helped the ministry? How is your life better for having known them? What are you grateful for from your time of serving together? If you were walking where they tread right now, what would you like to hear?
What are some practical ways you can bless those who are leaving?
Let Go: I’ll let the Holy Spirit lead
The revolving door hit me hardest when it was my mentees that left. After pouring many hours of time, energy, and love into them.
One day, some of John the Baptist’s disciples—the guys in whom he had invested time and energy—up and left him to follow Jesus. And Jesus accepted them without a word of acknowledgment or thanks to John. He didn’t care that he might be stealing John’s sheep.
We may never see or reap the full benefit of the time and energy we invest in our teammates, but as we let them go, we are freed of the burden of clinging tightly and we allow God to use his people wherever he desires. Letting go is easier when we believe that we are all about building God’s kingdom and accept that God is directing the whole process.
What would it look like to truly let them go?
Readjust: I’ll concentrate on my responsibilities
Learn the difference between responsibilities (the things God has asked you to do) and concerns (care about, but not your responsibility) and obey accordingly. Some tasks may go undone until God supplies another teammate or an alternate solution, but we are cannot take on everything that our departing teammates did.
A team debrief is an effective way to let each party share their feelings about the departure of their teammate. Listen without judging them. Acknowledge their feelings. Don’t give advice.
At a later time, meet to problem solve. Who will take on what responsibilities? Which tasks or ministry will you put on hold for the time being? Who might you recruit to join the work? Pace yourself. Have margin. And ask for help.
What concerns might you be taking on in their absence that are not your responsibility?
Be Present: I’ll invest and nest here
When I lived overseas, it seemed like I either looked back and longed for what had been. Our team was so much better last year. We had such a good thing together. I miss her encouragement so much.
Or I looked ahead, living for some future event. New teammates will come next year. We’re going on home assignment in six months.
God calls us, rather, to live presently. He has redeemed the past and will take care of the future. He is with us today, now. Do whatever you need to in your home and community to nest, to really make it home, to settle in.
And despite the fear of losing yet another friend, invest again. Particularly in your local community. Say hello to the next one that arrives or to the people that are around you. Engage, yet again. Be where you are at, in the present.
How can you be present to your current reality?
Stay tuned for more tidbits from the upcoming book.