Over the course of this Wednesday series on developing a God-given vision, we’ve talked about how to deal with setbacks and failures. We’ve also talked about how to deal when nothing much is happening at all. Now, we’re going to talk about maybe the most painful issue of all when walking out the vision God’s given us.
And it’s this: There will come a time when team members you’ve worked with and gotten close to will drop out… and for any number of reasons. The commitment might be too much for them or their families. They might move. God might call them to something else. They might not like the direction things are headed. And yes, they might not like the leadership—which might include you.
No matter why it happens—and again, it will—we need to remember a few things: 1) We should always want God’s best for others, no matter how it affects us; at the same time, 2) what others decide doesn’t change what God’s called us to; and thus, 3) we need to allow God to deal with each person’s decision, and remain obedient to what God’s called us to. So let’s work through this together, and learn how to deal with the issues we’ll have when others leave.
Whether it’s ministry or any other kind of work, turnover usually doesn’t happen in isolation. It affects everyone, and might raise issues you weren’t even aware of before. Therefore, we’ll often experience aftershocks from the departure of even one person, and we’ll need to deal with it as a team. Our first case study is a good example of this (roll with the first several verses—it’s context):
So, being sent out by the Holy Spirit, they went down to Seleucia, and from there they sailed to Cyprus. When they arrived at Salamis, they proclaimed the word of God in the synagogues of the Jews. And they had John to assist them. When they had gone through the whole island as far as Paphos, they came upon a certain magician, a Jewish false prophet named Bar-Jesus. He was with the proconsul, Sergius Paulus, a man of intelligence, who summoned Barnabas and Saul and sought to hear the word of God. But Elymas the magician (for that is the meaning of his name) opposed them, seeking to turn the proconsul away from the faith. But Saul, who was also called Paul, filled with the Holy Spirit, looked intently at him and said, “You son of the devil, you enemy of all righteousness, full of all deceit and villainy, will you not stop making crooked the straight paths of the Lord? And now, behold, the hand of the Lord is upon you, and you will be blind and unable to see the sun for a time.” Immediately mist and darkness fell upon him, and he went about seeking people to lead him by the hand. Then the proconsul believed, when he saw what had occurred, for he was astonished at the teaching of the Lord.
Now Paul and his companions set sail from Paphos and came to Perga in Pamphylia. And John left them and returned to Jerusalem….
And after some days Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us return and visit the brothers in every city where we proclaimed the word of the Lord, and see how they are.” Now Barnabas wanted to take with them John called Mark. But Paul thought best not to take with them one who had withdrawn from them in Pamphylia and had not gone with them to the work. And there arose a sharp disagreement, so that they separated from each other. Barnabas took Mark with him and sailed away to Cyprus, but Paul chose Silas and departed, having been commended by the brothers to the grace of the Lord. And he went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches (Acts 13:4-13, 15:36-41, ESV).
• We can’t know for sure, but what are some reasons John Mark might have chosen to leave Paul and Barnabas, based on what you’ve just read?
• Based on these two passages, would you have sided with Paul or Barnabas? Why? Come up with as many reasons for both sides as you can.
• Now, what do your two lists show you about how one person’s departure can affect an entire group?
• How can we guard against our differences becoming too big to get past?
Fortunately, our story doesn’t end there:
Aristarchus my fellow prisoner greets you, and Mark the cousin of Barnabas (concerning whom you have received instructions—if he comes to you, welcome him) (Colossians, 4:10, ESV).
Do your best to come to me soon. For Demas, in love with this present world, has deserted me and gone to Thessalonica. Crescens has gone to Galatia, Titus to Dalmatia. Luke alone is with me. Get Mark and bring him with you, for he is very useful to me for ministry. Tychicus I have sent to Ephesus. When you come, bring the cloak that I left with Carpus at Troas, also the books, and above all the parchments. Alexander the coppersmith did me great harm; the Lord will repay him according to his deeds. Beware of him yourself, for he strongly opposed our message. At my first defense no one came to stand by me, but all deserted me. May it not be charged against them! (2 Timothy 4:9-16, ESV, emphasis added).
…and so do Mark, Aristarchus, Demas, and Luke, my fellow workers (Philemon 1:24, ESV)
• What does Paul say about John Mark in these passages? What must have changed?
• What other people are named in these passages, and how does Paul describe their departures?
• How do we keep going when others leave our team—even if they do kick us on their way out?
It’s easy to think of worst-case scenarios like Demas and Alexander, or even Paul’s painful split with Barnabas. The truth is, most of the people in our lives will be more like a John Mark or a Titus. They just move on, or in and out of our lives, for reasons that aren’t personal, even though the sting we feel when they leave is still real and legitimate.
We can never know for sure what God wants to do with those he brings into, or allows to leave, our lives. The people we become closest to can nonetheless be called to other things. And when they leave, it will hurt, even when we’re happy for them. If it doesn’t hurt, we’re not human. But we have to allow God to do his work in each person’s life—including ours. So let’s do some moving-on of our own.
When many of his disciples heard it, they said, “This is a hard saying; who can listen to it?” But Jesus, knowing in himself that his disciples were grumbling about this, said to them, “Do you take offense at this? Then what if you were to see the Son of Man ascending to where he was before? It is the Spirit who gives life; the flesh is no help at all. The words that I have spoken to you are spirit and life. But there are some of you who do not believe.” (For Jesus knew from the beginning who those were who did not believe, and who it was who would betray him.) And he said, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless it is granted him by the Father.”
After this many of his disciples turned back and no longer walked with him. So Jesus said to the Twelve, “Do you want to go away as well?” Simon Peter answered him, “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life, and we have believed, and have come to know, that you are the Holy One of God.” Jesus answered them, “Did I not choose you, the Twelve? And yet one of you is a devil” (John 6:60-70, ESV).
Let’s face it, Jesus understands being abandoned better than anyone. This passage is just one example. Some time later, everyone else—including Peter, despite his beautiful words here—would abandon Jesus in his time of deepest need. And yet, he chose each of them—even “a devil” who he’d allow to keep following him until the day he betrayed him.
Therefore, we shouldn’t really be surprised by anything that happens to us as we choose to follow Jesus’ leading. But that doesn’t mean we won’t be surprised, or upset, when others we’d depended on and grown close to choose to leave, even for the best of reasons. So let’s see what Jesus wants to teach us through His own experience.
• What different emotions and approaches do you hear in Jesus’ words to Peter and the other disciples? What makes each of his responses appropriate?
• How does focusing on those who stick with us help us not to be overwhelmed by those who don’t?
• How are you dealing with this issue right now—whether it’s a recent issue or one from your past that you’ve never quite gotten over?
Thank God for the faithfulness of each person in your group God has you with right now. Ask God to help each of you past the hurts that come through others leaving or not following through, whether it’s recent or something in the past that group members are still dealing with. And be there for your group—while it is still called today.