Tuesday, 15 October 2013

In or Out - needs a blessing and a conversation

Three of the important things when someone leaves or comes into a church can be summed up as blessings and conversations:


The Receiving Side - Conversations

Conversation One - with person/s coming into church. 
This needs to understand where they are coming from and hopefully the reason they're coming to you from them. During this conversation you need to ascertain whether or not their present minister knows they are intending to leave and if the answer is 'No' then the 'pause' button needs to be hit and they need to be asked to discuss things with their Vicar, Pastor or whatever before they move over (there are exceptions to this rule but they are indeed exceptional!).

What I find at this stage is that the person coming then decides, because they don't want that conversation, that they won't be coming to you after all (interestingly the last couple of people who found themselves at this stage appeared at another church where the same rules obviously didn't apply - but hey ho, we do as we see fit) or at least not until they were coming with a blessing.

Conversation Two -  With the 'sending' church. 
This conversation lets them know that you're gaining one of theirs as a matter of courtesy and as a practical step too as hopefully the sending minister will tell you who and what you're getting, their strengths, weaknesses and challenging bits too.

This does two things in that it is common courtesy to let another church leader know that you are receiving one of theirs and ensures that they are in the know (amazing how often one finds that the person coming has 'forgotten' to let their minister know they were leaving (something that leads to them assuming you have simply stolen one of their sheep). I did this once and although the other minister had no idea they were losing someone but were only to glad to see the back of them - not the most encouraging beginning!

Conversation Three - With the church
I think it's always good to tell the church that so done has left if they're not going to be sent with a blessing because it says you know they're going (or perhaps gone) and it gives you the chance to still pray for them and bless those who remain as well as those who have gone.

The Sending Side - Conversations

Conversation one - When you know they're going: The leaving
Once the person who's leaving makes this know then it's good practice to conduct a conversation, or as a colleague calls it - a leaving interview - to find out the what and why behind it. This is preferable in most cases but where pain or distress is going to come out of it then pastoral sensitivity comes first and the only conversation is 'goodbye'. But when the conversation occurs it's good to have an honest and open conversation without fingers pointed (and if they are let them be theirs not yours if you're a leader).

Conversation two - When you know they're going: The Receiving church
Contact the leader of the intended target church and tell them one of yours is coming to them and tell them who they are and, in an honest yet generous way, their strengths, weaknesses - the blessings and the challenges - that they represent. This way there is no doubt regarding the transfer and no question of sheep stealing because proper processes have been enacted and the move is done in partnership with the other church. Integrity and collegiality is to the front of it all - as it should be.

Blessing - The sending side
It is of the utmost importance to ensure that, as a general rule, those who have left are sent with a blessing (although there are times when this is neither advisable, desirable or practical). There are a number of reasons for this and they go like this:

1. If you send someone with a blessing then they are leaving in communion with you and the fellowship and this is important because the message it sends is approval and relationship and if the receiving church is all smiles and happiness then you have friends in another church.

2. If you send them with a blessing and things go pear-shaped and the dream turns sour, because there is a relationship the person who has left can come back and talk about the situation and even return because the relationship continues.

3. If they leave, especially without a blessing or with them appearing to be under a cloud, leaves the leaver without any source of support or return and effectively 'casts them out' (regardless of who did the casting). That said there are times when this is never going to be anything but the case but this should be the exception rather than the rule.

Blessing - the receiving side
When you get new members it is good to pray with them publicly and welcome them - because it hallows the relationship. Interestingly this is often overlooked for a number of reasons (and that's my excuse!).

I have had some leave who have agreed to be sent with a blessing and some for whom it was never going to happen and this is just part of life's rich tapestry.

But in or out should never be taken lightly and care must always be taken to avoid earning the 'sheep stealer' label - blessings and conversations make it 'transfer growth' instead - and that's what builds relationships between ministers and builds the Kingdom too.

Does that answer your question John? (If not - email me again or post a comment)

Didn't have time to make a sheep image :-)


UKViewer said...

Interesting conversations indeed.

It's good for people to leave in good standing with the knowledge that they can return in the future or even visit on a friendly basis.

What is sad is those occasions when someone arrives somewhere else wounded by their experience with their previous church and are than challenged about reasons etc which can either poor salt onto open wounds or even reopen them all over again.

I've had a number of conversations like this, with people who are wounded and finding it difficult to heal, and in fact, are unable to cope with a new church either now or in the future. What is the church doing for them - literally nothing, and they are left to become embittered ex-members and perhaps even ex-Christians.

That's the scandal that the church often can't and won't face head on.
The assumption being that the wounded one must be the issue, not the church?

Conflict resolution in the Church takes too long, is often obscure or inaccessible and always seems to end with casualties on both sides.

I know that this is bit of a jaundiced view, but it's something that we need to face if our mission isn't to to compromised by cases that go unresolved with the possibilities of future adverse consequences from publicity etc.

Just look at the evidence of damage that sexual abuse has done to the RC Church and the CofE in recent years.

Vic Van Den Bergh said...

No, you are right and this is the reason I say there are exceptions. I have had some people come to us who were the victims of heavy shepherding and abuse in their former church and to open wounds would have been wrong and so, knowing the situation from others, we merely welcome and attempt to bring healing and love,

There must always be wisdom exercised and care and compassion is the foremost consideration.

Where sexual abuse, or any abuse in fact, is concerned the usual game rules are suspended and pastoral care -support and healing are the key.