It’s too early for me to try to write something about “leaving well”. My wife 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” 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 the “leaving well” direction and post about this process a few more times before we get to the finish. Perhaps out of that you can distil some sort of “Theology of Leaving.”
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 though 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.
Looking back now I can say that this was the moment that leaving changed from occasional, random thoughts 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’d become the senior pastor of Raleigh Vineyard. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to say out loud. Telling our friends, our elders team, that it was a possibility a month before that was the hardest. I don’t keep secrets from our friends and the gap between knowing where God was leading us and being able to talk to our close friends about it was painful.
Here are seven of the things I’ve learned so far…
1) You can’t possibly predict or be prepared for the multitude of ways that people will react to the news.
2) Beautiful things can happen in the midst of leaving.
3) Horrible things can happen in the midst of leaving.
4) Change is great as long as it doesn’t actually disrupt anything.
5) Most people personalize your decision and their reaction is not about how this will affect you but rather how this will affect them.
6) I’d much rather people were sad or mad that we’re leaving than happy or glad.
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.
As this journey continues I’ll post again here or on my own blog space about lessons I’m learning as I develop a Leaving Theology.