The Awkwardness of Moving On

Something every congregation, and every leader of every congregation has to deal with is people coming and going. Over the years, I’ve had people join my congregations, and had people leave. They come for different reasons and they leave for different reasons. While it is painful when someone who has been a blessing leaves, the reality is, it may be time for them to go. They may have needs not being met by their current congregation, not because the current congregation is deficient, but because the person has different needs than what the congregation can meet at the time.

Some people attend a congregation that focuses mainly on basics, and that is good until a person matures and wants more. Some attend a small congregation and they need to be in a congregation that has many more people because they do better in that kind of environment. There is nothing wrong with that. Other people like to start with something small and help it to grow. A large congregation wouldn’t work for them. Some come for the music, or the liturgy or lack of it, others come for the teachings, and others just because that’s where their friends go. All those reasons are legitimate for staying or leaving because people do have their needs. Sometimes vision isn’t enough. I believe people should feel a sense of calling to a congregation but I realize their calling could be short-term or long-term. It depends on the person and their needs.

The bigger issue for me is not whether people leave or stay. That’s life. People come, people go. The issue for me is the way people leave. Some people leave with class. They go in a good way. Others leave in a way that is, in my opinion, sinful, and I’ve had people leave my congregations both ways.

When someone leaves in a good way, they come to the leadership and they tell them that they appreciate all the ministry and teaching they have received, but they feel its time to move on. When people leave in that way, it’s still uncomfortable to tell people you are going, but at least you are not making them feel bad about themselves or their congregation, and are giving them a chance to bless you as you go. By leaving in this way, the people leaving can always come back should they feel they would like to, either permanently or to visit for the holidays. They haven’t burned their bridges behind them. It makes it easier to retain friendships by leaving in a good way.

On the other hand, when someone leaves in a bad way, they feel they have to show some “spiritual” reason for leaving. The excuses range from claiming they aren’t being fed, saying the Spirit isn’t there, the service is dead, or they don’t agree with the Rabbi, or they weren’t appreciated or treated sufficiently.

I’ve had people leave because they said I was too fat, or my shirts weren’t pressed, or my kids were unruly. I never accepted their critiques of me or my family. Partly because I consider my family off-limits to self-appointed critics. My kids weren’t unruly, they were kids. I don’t go to their homes and tell them how their lives should be. I accept people where they are as did Yeshua, and as I believe we should as well.

In Numbers 12:1-2 the Torah says, “Then Miriam and Aaron spoke against Moses because of the Ethiopian woman whom he had married; for he had married an Ethiopian woman. So they said, “Has the LORD indeed spoken only through Moses? Has He not spoken through us also?” And the LORD heard it.” People complain about one thing, but something else was the real issue. People do this all the time, and when they do it, according to the Torah, its sin. It would be a far better thing for people to just say its time for us to move on, and leave in a way where people can bless one another, then try to find or exaggerate a deficiency that becomes the straw that broke the camel’s back and leave in a bad way. Everyone has problems and short comings. It’s the human condition. We don’t have to go that far to find fault in anyone. I see lots of things to criticize in people but don’t do it because criticism drags people down. It doesn’t encourage. Ephesians 4:31-32 says, “Let all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamor, and evil speaking be put away from you, with all malice, And be kind to one another, tender-hearted, forgiving one another, even as God in Messiah forgave you.”

If its time for people to move on for whatever reason, they should strive to leave well and go in blessing. Those who leave and those who stay should bless one another and lift up the Lord in this way.

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2 thoughts on “The Awkwardness of Moving On

  1. Michael,
    I think you have nailed this issue, and it lines up with my own experience. As a former student pilot I know that most crashes occur on takeoff or landing, and I think more often during landings. Life is full of beginnings and endings, and to end with class is the sign of a true mensch. Finishing without class, with whining, blaming, tantrums, etc. is what children do naturally, and they have to be taught the correct way.

  2. Your experience is certainly a shared one. I generally took it personally when someone left Am Echad for the reasons you stated. In their excuses [valid or not], they shattered the feelings of those who remained. I wonder, sometimes, if I’m just plain stupid by striving for the smichah. Been there, done that [to a very limited extent]; it’s an emotionally painful experience… as you well know, Rabbi.

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