I am a pastor and a preacher, a writer, a husband and a soon-to-be father. My professional and personal lives are deeply involved with story-telling: stories that are poignant, silly, profound, and commonplace. Stories that are tear-jerkers and belly-shakers. To paraphrase Wendell Berry, there are no unsacred stories for each one sheds light on the great story written across creation. I offer a window into my experience in hopes that others glimpse a reflection of their own.
When I began serving a small church in rural Appalachia almost two years ago, it was immediately obvious to me that a retired college professor was one of our leaders. She spearheaded our outreach ministry, taught The Thoughtful Christian material in Sunday school, and led one of our Presbyterian Women’s Circles. She was not only involved, but also engaged. She faithfully came to Bible study every week and asked probing questions. She actively listened to my sermons and would email counterpoints that had occurred to her the following week.
A few months ago, she invited me to her house and informed me that she was transferring her membership to another church. Right or wrong, I have a tendency to take such things personally:
“But you can’t go! You challenged us to think and learn. You pushed us to reach out into our community. We need you! I need you!”
“I don’t think God is calling me to be in this church,” she countered.
“What do you mean? Just think of all the activities that you’ve led!”
“Well, I’ve come to believe that leadership is more than just a willingness to do things.”
I’m not going to rehearse the complaints she had against our church. It would be too tempting for me to try and refute them, point-by-point. Her truth is that, for personal and political reasons, she felt out of place and felt that she needed to leave.
Does this sound familiar?
Like many others, our presbytery is currently working on our “gracious separation” policy. There are churches among our fellowship who, for personal and political reasons, feel out of place and want to leave. Most of us being left behind have a tendency to take this personally. We'd thought of some of them as leading congregations in our area. They had challenged, pushed, and taught us.
But I, too, have come to believe that leadership is more than just a willingness to do things.
Since she left our church, no single person has stepped up to take her place. No one person does everything that she did. Instead, many different people are picking up where she left off. Some activities have been continued; others have changed as different people have brought their own ideas. We still miss her; I miss her. Yet her decision has led us to discern prayerfully how we want to live and work and worship.
I’m not sure that our church is “better” after she left…but, thanks be to God, we are still being led.