I sat across the room from the couple, trying to slow down my mind and open my heart to the criticism they were leveling at me. They had been offended by my sermon and had reacted on Facebook, indicating they were leaving the church. I reached out privately and asked if we could meet to talk. They agreed to do so. When we met, he was relatively calm, but she was very upset and I knew that I needed to hold my own emotions in check to be able to listen to the heart of what she was saying and respond in love, not hurt. As I had prayed to prepare for the meeting I genuinely didn’t think I was going to be able to ask for forgiveness for anything as I didn’t think I had done anything wrong. But in the midst of the meeting God opened my heart to see an area of blindness. I was able to ask and receive their forgiveness for the way this blind spot had injured them. I then asked if they would be willing to ask for forgiveness for their slander. They were willing to do so and I forgave them.
These are not the meetings that you think about when you sign up to be a pastor or leader, but there are few moments more important in your ministry than these tense conversations.
Two friends have responded to my series on leaving and finding a church with questions about a pastor’s responsibility in the midst of church departures. It’s a fair and helpful question. Over the course of this series I’ve reflected on a congregant’s responsibility, but pastors and leaders bear a responsibility to help congregants navigate departures well.