Pastoral Insights (2)
Some helps in dealing with the circumstances when individuals or families leave an assembly suddenly and unexpectedly
There are occasions when without any real indication, individuals or families decide quite suddenly to leave a local assembly. Some do so because they’ve never been really convinced scripturally it was where they should be. Some come to doubt the value of living by those truths the assembly represents. Some go back into the world because of the cost of separation or because an upset causes them to feel unable to stay. Others will move out because they feel the assembly is dead and inactive spiritually or has lost activities for the young and no longer provides for the children. On this basis they decide to look for better things elsewhere.
We are not here however concerned with the reasons for the departures but the effects that this event can have upon others still remaining in the assembly. The following are real answers from individuals that have undergone the experience and were prepared to share it in order to help others.
Q. When your family member left the assembly were there any warning signs?
A. At the time, no. We were taken completely by surprise and that is probably how it was planned. In fairness we feel that they wanted a quick exit – one where there would be no questions to answer and no explanations to offer. With the advantage of hindsight there are circumstances and events that we might have interpreted differently if we had known what we know now. At the time these things seemed fairly trivial but had a greater significant than we appreciated. We were not anticipating it and were unprepared.
Q. How did you feel when it happened?
A. To be frank we were devastated. The impact on us of their departure is difficult to describe to anyone who has not experienced it. Initially there was a period of introspection. We spent a lot of time going over the way in which we had brought them up and guided them in their formative years. We tried to pinpoint any mistakes that could have ultimately contributed to the situation and the decision that they have made. The first stage is one of blaming yourself; and then finding some things we should have done differently or warning signs we should have done something about. We sank into a depression that went on for months.
There is great sadness attached to it all. Our son was so active in the Lord’s service, exercising an obvious gift in preaching the gospel, teaching in Sunday School, and ministering the truth of God. We wrestled often with the thought that it was one thing to have turned their back upon the things that their parents held so dear but another to take everything away all their contributions from fellow saints and the assembly as a whole, was even more deeply saddening.
Q. What was the hardest thing for you?
A. It would be difficult to pick one because there were many.
- For someone as I was, active in the Lord’s service, it was a major personal difficulty – I felt it completely undermined any ground on which I could minister and serve. Scriptures such as 1 Timothy 3 verses 5 and 12 came to mind as reasons why I needed to question my service, perhaps even stop altogether. This was a great personal struggle.
- The impact upon brothers and sisters was considerable. There was a genuine feeling of hurt, at being ‘let down’. Some of this generated anger at the way ‘we had been treated’. Clearly the assembly had been weakened, and the testimony had been damaged. The sibling reaction meant that relationships in the family became strained.
- Fellow saints were affected and sometimes more deeply than we appreciated. They felt concerned for their own families who had witnessed the departure of your own. The very foundation of things seemed to have been rocked and the relative security of the assembly seemed to have been shattered.
Q. How have you managed to rebuild relationships afterwards?
A. It has been difficult and a great test for us all. Although they have left the assembly they are still our children. We want to see them restored. We want to see the grandchildren saved and developing spiritually. We want to see relationships between the different parts of the family rebuilt and enjoyed again without this feeling of division between us.
We realize now that there comes a time when you have to move on. It is not that you accept what has happened as final but that you seek to work with the circumstances that exist. You have to rebuild trust and this takes time, patience, love, and care. The little things have to be checked out rather than old assumptions relied upon. There are lessons to be learned. We try never to take things for granted but to work at maintaining them. We have found that these experiences have added a greater depth to our ministry. We are not alone and we can offer a sympathy and comfort to others because we have experienced it ourselves.
Q. What could believers do or have done to help?
A. The difficulty is one that we all have and that is how we handle people who are hurting. Conscious of our own sensitivities in such circumstances we found it hard to communicate on anything other than at superficial level. This is an area where godly elders can be such a massive help. Your own prayer life is badly affected and to have others who can draw alongside to listen and pray with you and for you is a spiritual lifeline. We began to appreciate the importance of these times more as we began to rebuild. Equally, there were periods when we were attending meetings out of habit rather than exercise and those who drew us in and encouraged us through that time were a greater help than perhaps they realized.