Inviting People To Leave

I can remember fishing with my grandpa when I was a little boy. Fred Flowerday, one of nine boys and a girl born to a farmer in Nebraska. Fred knew how to fish. Grandpa taught me about “keepers”. Those of you who fish know that “keepers” are fish worthy of…well, keeping. If the fish was too small or looked sickly, Grandpa would say, “Throw it back.” All others were keepers.

Now if we apply this metaphor to newcomers at your church, it’s easy to sound callous and disinterested. But the fact is that some people will be right for your church, and some won’t. Some will be keepers, and some should be released to go swimming in another pond. It won’t do you any good in the long run to encourage someone to stay and get involved in your church if you know the church will not be a right fit for them. Save yourself, and your new fish, a headache. Be comfortable in saying, “I don’t think this church is a good fit for you.” You’re not being mean (provided you speak caringly), you’re being a good leader. You’re being good to them and good to your church.

If you sense that your new catch has a different agenda than yours…let them go. If your fish is pushing for a different style of worship than you want…let them go. If they want you to be more charismatic than you are or less charismatic than you are, if they want you to be something other than what you are, they will be frustrated with you and eventually you will be frustrated with them. Express to them that it’s okay for them to leave, no hard feelings.

Now I understand that you want to grow your church. You don’t want people to leave, you want them to stay. I’ve been there. I know what it’s like to feel you’ve got a “keeper” because they seem so excited about the Lord, so talented, so experienced, and they believe in tithing. Sure you might have a small check in your gut about them really fitting in, but hey…they tithe.  All people have worth, but not all are worth the energy of trying to keep them happy when your church is simply not right for them. It’s not going to be worth it to you to try and fit a square peg in a round hole. You will either damage the square peg or damage the round hole to make them fit. Either way you’ve got damage.

Maybe you’ve been struggling with someone in your church for a long time. They always seem to be kicking against the goads. Maybe your church is not a good fit for them. Have enough integrity and courage to suggest they try someplace else. Be kind, choose your words carefully, and then show them the door. You barely have enough energy to care for those who are a good fit for your church, let alone those who aren’t a good fit. Keep the keepers and be willing to stock someone else’s lake. Who knows, maybe there they will be happy and flourish because they’ve found a church better suited for them.

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  1. Dennis’s avatar

    Another wise word my friend!

  2. David Cuff’s avatar

    Good reminder….
    It seems so simple until you find yourself having to make the choice.

    It’s like a quarter back right before the snap of the ball understanding one of the linemen doesn’t really like the play. Calling timeout and going to the bench so you have 11 players is the right thing to do…. It saves a sack and loss of yards but sure seems traumatic at the time….

    Wish I would have called time-out a few times in the past before I got sacked!

  3. Dave Jacobs’s avatar

    Great analogy David. I’m really looking forward to connecting tomorrow.

  4. Rev. Michael Duncan’s avatar

    This is an interesting idea and one that is very infrequently mentioned. I’ve had my share of “back-door” revivals, when those who tried to change things to suit themselves eventually left for another church. I’ve also had the privelege of blessing another church with new members.

    I do have a caution in my heart, however. I do not want to cast someone aside simply because they are a challenge or have difficulty. I know too many sheep who stray from the flock because they don’t fit in to a system or conform to a standard set by men.

    There is also a danger because some might say, “we don’t want ‘their kind’ attending our church.” Divorce, drugs, criminal histories will color the background of those coming to Christ (and coming to our churches) and we must not be a barrier to them.

    So, as I agree in principle, I am cautious of making too quick an assesment of someone’s “fitting in”. They might need a different venue where they can serve the LORD most effectively, but I don’t want to rush to that determination too soon.

    This comment also posted at Dr. Terry Dorsett’s blog:

  5. Dave Jacobs’s avatar

    Great balancing perspective Michael.

  6. Allen Burns’s avatar

    I totally understand the perspective and know that I have been in churches that do this, on occasion. But, I am wondering about the Scriptural basis. What are the Scriptural principals that would support this practice? Thanks for your post!

  7. Dave Jacobs’s avatar

    Good point Allen. Can’t think of any off the top of my head. How would you handle this if not to suggest they leave?

  8. Allen Burns’s avatar

    Dave, sorry, I forgot to check back after I posted. Forgive me. 😉

    How would I handle this? Not sure. Fear and trembling comes to mind, but that is not a practical answer. Here are some principals that come to mind that I might apply. All this is in context that the person is not being outright sinfully rebellious, where then Matthew 18 would apply.

    1) I would have to trust that the Lord led them to the church. In doing so, He is trusting that we would love the person as He loves us. There is much grace and patience that is needed.

    2) I would spend much time sitting with the person and explaining through Scripture “how we do church.” I would review our doctrine and distinctives and priorities. I would explain how we practically live out our faith as members of the body of Christ. In summary, I would emphasize how we are to especially, be of one mind, unified, one love, intent on the same purpose (Phil 2:2). I would paint the picture of humility on behalf of the believer and unity on behalf of the body. This would be done gently, but in strong terms.

    3) After painting the vision of what it means to be in the body, I would ask them what that would look like in their life and ask how they might be doing this well and what areas could they work on.

    4) When occasions arise where this person speaks out strongly in a public setting and what they voice is a disruption to what we are doing as a body, then, I would pull that person aside as soon as possible and talk to them about their words or actions and seek to understand their viewpoint as to why they behaved in this way. I would then return to the vision of the church body and tell them to help me see how what they said or what they are doing fit into the body.

    5) I think it would be helpful to try and see how the person does fit rather than focus on what doesn’t fit. If they are truly a believer, they should fit into any church body. Perhaps the Lord is sending us as pastors “trials” to test us and to show our hearts.

    6) If a person remains “rebellious” to the purpose and unity of the church, then perhaps church discipline is in order. But, this would require much discernment and patience.

    What are your thoughts on this process?

    Personally, I would have trouble as the “hand” saying to the “foot” I have no need of you.

  9. Allen Burns’s avatar

    Forgot to mention this, the book, “Life in the Body of Christ” by Curtis Thomas is a great resource for helping the folks in the pews to have an understanding of what it is like to be involved in the church.

  10. Dave Jacobs’s avatar

    You bring out some very good points and your process is hard to argue with. I guess for me it’s come out of my experience and the experience of many pastors I work with that some people just don’t fit. It’s like trying to put a size 9 foot into a size 8 shoe. It’s not a matter of them being wrong or us saying, “I have no need of you.” It’s a matter of compatibly. For example, if one church allows for women to preach and someone begins to attend that church and feels that it’s wrong for a woman to preach, then that church will not be a good fit or them. They are not wrong, the church is not wrong, it’s a matter of fit. If someone is looking for a charismatic church and the church is not charismatic then they will be frustrated. Bad fit, not bad person, not bad church.

  11. Allen Burns’s avatar

    Dave, thanks for your comment. I am totally understanding what you are saying. FYI, I am not looking to pick a theological bone with you. I just happen to follow Terry Dorsett’s blog and you were a guest there. I have been spending the past year or two contemplating ecclesiology and your post caught my attention because we have similar issues that we deal with and I am looking for answers.

    Again, I am having difficulty finding the Biblical justification for the “find the church of your flavor where you will fit” from the standpoint of either the church leadership saying it to someone or the laity saying it to themselves. It would seem that the Saints should be able to worship with the Saints. If there is no Biblical justification for the practice, how can I endorse, measure effectiveness, or apply guidelines to what you are prescribing?

    The issues you describe (women pastors, dispensationalism) are matters of doctrine and not necessarily a matter of preference. If someone were to come into our church and try to put their wife in the pulpit and continually pushed to this end, then I would see they were not being submissive to those in authority and then that would be a sin issue that would have to be dealt with. Perhaps it is helpful for us to spend more time up front with newcomers in helping them understand our doctrine and distinctives. It would also seem prudent to open the Bible together and discuss the differences so as to gain understanding.

    It would seem the key to the whole process is what Paul describes further in Phil 2, which would be humility by all.

    Have a blessed day

  12. Dave Jacobs’s avatar

    Thanks for leaving the comment Allen. I like it when you said, “Perhaps it is helpful for us to spend more time up front with newcomers in helping them understand our doctrine and distinctives.” This approach would go a long way. Thanks for taking the time and keep up the great work you are doing.

    Your friend,


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