The email from Karen and Derrick had the subject line "Monday hello." While the actual body of the message felt like a cyber-punch to the stomach, I could not help but laugh at the subject line. If ever there was a Monday hello, this was it.
Karen and Derrick had come to our church from a nearby megachurch. During the Christmas holidays, they sent my wife and me a Christmas card extolling the many virtues of our church and how God, in his providence, had surely led them to us. I felt so encouraged. This well-adjusted young couple had chosen to be a part of what we were doing in Atlanta! They loved the size of the church, the welcoming community, and best of all, they loved the preaching (read: "they liked me").
The timing of this card was perfect. Our struggling church plant was navigating the Christmas holidays and attendance was down, more so than usual, because of the holidays. In the early days of our church plant, I cringed when an individual would open our worship gatherings with the prayer, "And, Lord, you say 'where two or three come together in my name, there am I with them.'" It always felt like someone was patting me on the head after I came in last in the race. The presence of this new couple and their very encouraging words were, as Solomon said, "like honey."
Just two weeks after receiving that very encouraging Christmas card, I received my "Monday hello." It began with a warm greeting to me and my family, and wishes for a Happy New Year. Then they explained that they would not be coming back as they had begun attending a different, larger church about two miles away. This church had a great children's program and even supplied childcare during small group. They also knew and worked with many people who attended the other church.
I went through three stages of grief in a period of about three minutes; shock and disbelief, anger, and depression. Sarcasm welled up in me like a volcano.
Did God, in his providence, lead you to your new church? Do you like the size and the welcoming community of your new church? Happy New Year, my eye.
That's all that's suitable for print. That was a Monday hello all right.
I hit "reply," but I had no reply. The mix of anger, sadness, rejection, frustration, and bewilderment left me somewhere between paralysis and wanting to lash out—in a Christian way, of course.
Every pastor, at some point, receives a Monday hello. It stings, for a Monday hello is, on one level, a rejection. You can put a positive spin on it and spiritualize it, but it will not change the fact that someone became a part of the church you pastor and left the church you pastor, rejecting something in which you have invested blood, sweat, and tears.
Maybe more painful than the Monday hello is the fact that many people will send no Monday hello. They will simply disappear and all efforts to contact them will be fruitless and the only thing they will leave, aside from your church, is questions:
Are they okay?
Did I offend them?
Did someone in the church offend them?
Are they attending another church?
Are they mad at me? At God?
Have they moved away?
Growing in our ability to respond to Monday hellos and disappearing acts is important for the same reason we need to grow in resolving conflict in a marriage. Both are inevitable. How can I respond in a way that honors God, demonstrates concern, respects the person's decision to leave, and allows me to move on in a healthy way?
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