Word of the Week

Have you ever been in a situation where a houseguest has left early in the morning before you woke up?

Or you've parted ways with a friend in a mad dash to the airport without final words?

Or you haven't been able to find that favorite teacher or buddy in the midst of the large crowds at a graduation ceremony to say "thanks?"

I think we all have.

And, I hate situations like this.

I like saying goodbye. Closure is a great comfort.  Words like, "Thank you" or "I love you" Or, "I look forward to our paths crossing again" are a part of what good endings are all about.

In the church, as many pastoral leaders can tell you, we suffer from a lot of cliff hanger types of relationships with our parishioners. Lots of folks leave without telling us that they are leaving and most certainly not saying goodbye.

Someone has a spiritual or family crisis and goes from present every Sunday serving in multiple ministries to the status of "Where in the world did they go? Anybody heard from them?" in a flash second.

And in response, when contacts of concerns are made by the pastor or other caring church family folks such as: "We miss you. . . .  We hope you are alright.  . . . We hope you're still alive . . . " and there's no response.  It is a great grief is suffered when it feels like the cold shoulder is given. Leaving without saying goodbye can feel like a slap in a face to what the relationship has meant in the months and years prior.

I understand that relationships and the dramas of life are messy, though. I understand that the best possible scenario of closure just is not always possible. But, it doesn't mean that we shouldn't do a better job of holding ourselves accountable to end as well as we began.

So, as you all know, I will be leaving my post as pastor of Washington Plaza Baptist Church on December 24th.   It's a little less than a month away. And, in these next several weeks, I want to make good use of the time. I want to continue to engage in the life of the church as much as a possibly can so to make this time of transition a healthy and smooth one for everyone. And, I don't want to leave without saying goodbye.

My pastorate at WPBC has been about more than just the members or regular worship attenders. Many of you online have been a part of our church and many of you have popped in and out of our ministry as your life situations have allowed. I want to include you too. Let me not leave without getting to see you too. Consider coming back to one of our Advent worship services that begin THIS Sunday at 11 am and continue throughout the month.

I have shared with the congregation this week that I am available to meet with folks for lunch or dinner or coffee over the next several weeks. Don't hesitate to contact me to find a time to get together.

I want to say goodbye, celebrate the good work we've done together and anticipate the great future that is ahead for both of us!

I haven't left yet.

One of the greatest surprises I have encountered in my almost 4 years of ministry as a lead pastor relates to the practice of leaving church. Growing up in the South, there would be times when people left the church to begin to attend other churches. In the DC area it seems especially in my setting, such is not the case. When people leave the church, they seem to leave the church for no church.

It makes me sad every time it happens especially because the reasons given for such a departure usually aren't things that can be "fixed." These aren't people storming off mad because of some controversal vote at a business meeting. They aren't citing me as a horrible pastor. These aren't people fleeing because they found some other community that meets their needs in a deeper way. They leave simply because they want to leave. And these are some of the reasons they give:

1. I am too spiritual for the church.

2. I  don't need a community to live out my faith.

3. I'd rather pray at home and do yoga.

4. I am too busy for church. I travel so much for work and fun. Considering all the time I'm gone it just doesn't seem worth it to come during the couple of times a year that I don't have anything better to do.

5. I don't like ____ person. I can't come to the same worship space as them. I've been hurt. I will not come back. Reconciliation . . . that is out of the question.

6. My life is just too hard right now. I can't be a part of a community. I need space. Lots of space.

7. This ____ project at church didn't turn out like I hoped it would. Since I didn't get my way, I can't come back. It's too embarrassing.

And the list could go on.

At this juncture, the direction of this blog post could go several ways. I could pout. I could suggest a superiority of those church going Christians who keep on keeping on even when unfavorable things happen. I could strive to make comments about the state of American religion and the dying mainline church. I could propose some grand idea about how to reform the church so that such "I quit the church" declarations decrease.

But, I won't do any of these things because I'm just not sure any of them are right or helpful.

The most helpful thing I know to say is to simply talk about my experience honestly. It is always good to start with a clear sense of where you are if you ever want to move to any other place.

People are leaving church for no church. But I don't think this makes the church any less important in society (for example, I do weddings and funerals all the time for those who are without a church who want to celebrate major life events in a holy space with a minister). Nor, do I think that folks are searching spiritually any less. They are just finding what they want outside our walls. They find God in nature. They find God in community seminars. They find God in their relationships. Which begs us to ask ourselves the larger question: what are our walls for?