As the shepherd does not want to see his sheep wandering off to another fold, no pastor wants to lose members of his congregation to another church. There are exceptions but let’s not go there …..
How do pastor and church react, then, when wanderers come into their congregation? Of course, we will want to give a welcome and to make them feel at home. We may start lining them up for this or that job, five minutes after they have sat in our pews for the first time! We will invite them to come again. All of these things are good, excepting perhaps that we ought to wait longer than five minutes before putting them on the coffee rota or in charge of the youth work! But do we ask where they have come from and why? Or are we too scared that it might frighten them off?
I accept that it is right, sometimes, or that it is the least worst option, for individuals to move to another church in the locality. In both of the churches I have pastored, we have been blessed by newcomers transferring from other local congregations. We welcome them, and after a few weeks’ attendance I will visit them. Yet I always ask them if there is any unfinished business in the church they are leaving. I will also try and speak to the pastor there.
Recently, we had a couple visit our church who I recognized from a previous visit about six years ago. I even remembered the name of one of them, which I thought was pretty impressive! At that time, they had been thinking about leaving their church. They said that I said something to them then that they didn’t like at the time: ‘Is there any unfinished business?’ But they went away, returned to their church, and although they left it subsequently, they dealt with the unfinished business. And after six years, they came to see me and say ‘thank you’!
It reminds me that in our eagerness to welcome the newcomer, we should not neglect to challenge on their reasons for leaving their current spiritual home. Unresolved issues do no-one any favours. It seems to me, that if they are not dealt with, history has a habit of repeating itself in the next church. If they are dealt with, and the individuals still move on, I think there is every opportunity for both a happy ending and a new beginning in the knowledge that we all serve in the One Church of Christ.
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