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Some of the worst days in a pastor’s life is when people they care about decide to leave—but those don’t have to be their worst days. When people leave the church we lead, it can feel like it’s our fault. And usually, it really hurts. In today’s episode, Jim & John unpack a pathway to help pastors navigate the choppy waters caused by the departure of people.

Show Notes

When people leave the church you pastor, God often mourns—and so should you—at least for a while.  As a young pastor—the worst days in my life were when people I cared about decided to leave—but now I understand those didn’t have to be my worst days.

When people leave a church it’s usually their decision, not ours. But it can feel like it’s our fault.

Most of your congregation will never know the real story behind someone leaving your church.

So, what are we to do?

Understand that sometime it’s right for people to leave 

Perhaps God sent the departing person to you for a season. To teach him something he could best learn from you. To bring healing to a broken area of his life. To launch him into the next phase of his God-given purpose. Or maybe, God sent that person to teach you something. Sometimes it’s right for people to leave.

Understanding it’s right in certain circumstances for people to leave helps us reduce the pain associated with their departure.


It’s both appropriate and healthy to mourn the loss of people. Especially those you’ve poured time and energy into.

I’m of the opinion that ours is not to be a public mourning. . .  in the sense we grieve openly in front of the entire congregation. Sharing our grief with God is a good start. Sharing our grief with a select group of people—our spouse, a trusted mentor, our board—is healthy.

Say goodbye graciously 

Nothing is to be gained by vengeful goodbyes. Giving in to your anger in this moment will diminish your leadership cachet with those members who remain.

Lead with an open hand to those who walk in and walk out of your church and you will stay emotionally healthy.  Lead with a closed fist and you will continually fight a battle you can’t win, and suffer through what you could have celebrated.

Get back to work 

A disgruntled member leaving your church doesn’t change God’s plan. The local church you lead is more resilient than you imagine!

If you want more help with processing the departure of people from the church you lead, pick up a copy of John and Jim’s book, Putting the Good in Goodbye: A Healthy Conversation About the Comings & Goings of Church People.

John Opalewski

Author John Opalewski

John Opalewski is a graduate of Oral Roberts University. He served as a pastor for fifteen years. He has worked in the business world for nearly two decades, serving in multiple leadership roles. John's experience as a leader in both the church and business arenas has made him a sought-after international speaker, coach and mentor.

More posts by John Opalewski

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