At one time or another, all of us will experience the disappointment of betrayal. We will have a leader who will walk away from the investments we have made in him and abandon us, even though we would have given everything to him.
There was a time I thought I could avoid this by being the world’s best boss, but I later realized even Jesus, the perfect leader, experienced abandonment (see John 6:66). In modern terms, his Treasurer betrayed him and his Executive Pastor denied him. I’ve come to believe it’s naïve to think that great leadership will make us immune to betrayals and splits. Perhaps a better question is, “How do we bounce back after church leaders wound us?”
Years ago, I experienced a sequence of difficult staff departures. Some were God-ordained, but most were awkward and filled with misunderstandings. The chaos of these transitions resulted in our losing almost a thousand people, one-third of our congregation, in a short period of time.
As I worked through this experience, I pictured my church as a beautiful sweater that had unraveled to an awkward sweater-vest and was quickly turning into a crop-top belly sweater! I slowly found myself completely overwhelmed by anger. I questioned myself and God: How could I have trusted these leaders, even dreamed with them of our future? Why would God let this happen? Why does it feel like they are favored while I’m wearing this shrinking sweater and watching my church slip away from me?
After several wearisome years, God supernaturally blessed our church with two huge miracle buildings and soon our income and our staff talent exploded. In no time at all our church was booming again. It wasn’t long before all the people who left us five years earlier returned!
I learned three valuable lessons from this experience:
Be loving and life-giving when people leave. Many of them will return some day and apologize. Forgiving people and treating them generously doesn’t negate God’s justice but activates it by letting them off our hook and putting them on God’s hook. We’re simply removing ourselves as the conduit of justice. Surely no one gets away with sin. Everyone’s character will be tested and revealed (see Revelation 3:9).
Remember that no human can stand in the way of God’s promotion (Psalm 75:6-7). People may hurt us for a season but “God will never let the righteous fall” (Psalm 55:22). In His time He can restore everything and more (1 Samuel 2:1-10). God took my embarrassing midriff sweater and turned it into a designer masterpiece.
Always have financial margin and back-up quarterbacks. Many betrayals are created or compounded when we lead with very little financial margin or our leadership team is not deep and healthy. I’m always mentoring three or more leaders at a time. I am very careful about hiring staff from outside the church who may be more interested in financial gain or personal glory. I build reserves into my budget so the church can endure the loss of people, including leaders, without interrupting our ministries.
Ultimately the only thing that can stop God’s promotion is our whining and self-pity. A quick path to spiritual death is rehearsing our hurts and elevating others’ sin above God’s power over sin. Allow God to be your justice and stay focused on your ministry.
Peter and Carolyn Haas are the lead pastors of Substance Church in Spring Lake Park, Minnesota (ARC church plant number 15), and members of the ARC Lead Team. Since planting their church in 2004, they have grown to multiple campuses. They are not afraid to approach church differently and believe that the greatest miracles are yet to come. Peter is the author of Broken Escalators and a DJ and Producer for Substance Variant, an electronic dance music project out of Substance Church. To learn more about what’s going on in the Twin Cities and beyond, visit substancechurch.com.