Writings by Cole Huffman

Exits Stage Left

Sometimes people leave our church for another one. How do we respond to that without defensiveness or defiance? Defensiveness is hearing but not listening. Defiance is worse. In both postures pride swells and we act like our church has it together with nothing to learn.

I have a book called Exit Interviews by Bill Hendricks. I read it when I was just starting out as a pastor, and try to remember from it that there is always something to learn from those who leave, and sometimes there are things to repent. For someone to explore another church does not mean things are necessarily wrong at our church. Every church does some things well. No church does everything well.

Speaking for our leaders, we don’t shrug our shoulders if someone leaves First Evan. We take a knee, prayerfully. Usually when people go to another church it is for reasons of fellowship, vision, or worship.

Fellowship: While our fellowship is deep at First Evan, some have a challenging time finding their place among us. They or their children never really connect. We work to assimilate everyone, and First Evan is hospitable, but even some who grow up here don’t find what they’re seeking relationally and look elsewhere.

Vision: First Evan is not a cold church, but neither is it a cool church. By way of “it” factor, a traditionally-set church like ours, with long history, will be perceived at times to be missing out on evangelical movements ascendant, like multiethnic fellowship or social justice causes. Let no one think me critical: I for one wish every gospel-centered church would be multiethnic and multigenerational too, and concern for justice is central to the heart of God. Some move from First Evan because another church does something better than we do it (or the perception is they do), or people are seeking something by way of direction for themselves and their children they don’t find here. We preach a biblical gospel and our vision is gospel-directed. Other local churches can say the same, thankfully. Leaving one church for another is not leaving the faith.

Worship: Some experience another church’s music or liturgy like a fresh breeze. Some hear another preacher and instantly pick up what he’s laying down, or their kids do. During my tenure as Senior Pastor, some have left because they consider my preaching too intellectual. Over the last couple of years, in response to fair and honest critique, I’ve worked at clarifying sermon points. First Evan has given me room to grow as a preacher and grace for the growing pains included in that.

When we find a family or two moving toward an exit, please keep two things in mind:

First, those who leave are our friends. That’s why it hurts to lose their Sunday presence with us. Because they are friends, let’s not rake them over coals—or rake leaders over the coals as if we somehow haven’t done enough for them. Let’s encourage our friends on their way. Don’t throw shade at the churches they’re going to. Those churches are part of Christ’s kingdom.

Second, God brings new friends. All three reasons given above for why people leave is also why people come here. New arrivals find our vision fresh, our fellowship warm, and our worship rich in ways they didn’t elsewhere. Say what you will about church hopping but people have choices. Through the years many of us came to First Evan from other local churches.

When exits happen, I learn again that the church—our church—always needs a deeper work of God. And I repent of any complacency that keeps me from seeking that deeper work of God. First Evan has godly strengths and has been tested and proven over time, but we can always use a deeper work of God among us.

For over eight decades now the Lord has spared us anguishing crises like moral failures in leadership or factious splits. Think about that. Every Sunday morning the Word of God has been expectantly opened in our pulpit and pews. We’ve prayed for countless people and given tens of millions of dollars to missions, and remain ourselves on mission today. We’re not self-promoting about it but there is a lot to celebrate and thank God for doing in, for, and through us continually.

Like Christ’s call to the Ephesian church, I hope all we do is in the interests of seeking to be true to our first love. We’ve had seasons of disagreement and moments of pettiness, yes. We get things wrong and miss opportunities. There are exits, stage left. But the drama for us is cosmic, not corporate. The gates of Hell stand buckled today because God keeps empowering churches like ours to be faithful, whether with few or with many. By His grace we’ll keep the spotlight on the sufficiency of Christ until His grand entrance to come, stage right.

Posted by Cole Huffman at 1:25 PM
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