Exploring Loss in the Church

Loss of any kind is painful, but losing someone who used to be a cheerleader in the church is harmful in so many ways. The poet T.S. Eliot wrote, “We shall not cease from exploration. And in the end of all our exploring. Will be to arrive where we started. And know the place for the first time.” 

Leading in any form alienates some and highlights others as the progress of change marches on. Even small changes bring about many issues that pastors and congregations deal with in a changing season. Every day, each hour, our hearts long to grow closer and closer to God as a leader, to feel his connection, love and admiration. But life triggers us, pulls us away really, to wish for what was, and not was is. The heart and mind battle for the soul, the spiritual tug-a-war is real, and it leaves you hurt, lost and broken. At the end of ourselves, it is there that we are ready for Christ.

Grief in all its forms is cruel yet healing. The church can only capture God’s promise that was and is Jesus through the pain. At times, emotion has taken hold where compassion should have been shown—love, where anger overtook my thinking. Where logic overrules God’s calls, the Peacemaker comes in the midst of turmoil. People in the church may run from. Blame others. Point fingers at your leadership abilities. Yet, at the end of our exploration as a leader or church member, as we sit alone with God, healing can come, and with his help, we move forward sometimes together and other times separately. 

Transitions of any type (death, job, moving) bring forth the rawness of emotion that frightens and challenges individuals to the core, but just then, we are open to growing deeper with Jesus. In the deepening, a church moves from a self-focused to a God-focused focus. It is painful, as Jesus removes pride, wants and desire and restores for His will the local church and you’re calling as a leader. Through the pain of deepening, the progress of spiritual growth endures and reveals in its growth plan what is next. Through the processing of loss, the pastor begins to see new opportunities where God is leading and to help guide the congregation where God is and is willing to take the church if the people will obey.

Target frustrations to attain fruit, not fault.

Anyone can point out what is not working, but only a few are willing to point out mistakes and then provide solutions to the problem. The church does not need any more negative talk, backstabbing or innuendos; the world has given us enough of that. Pastors do not need to play spiritual chess with their congregation to manipulate their way forward; both need a God-honoring, God-called leadership team that follows God’s call for the local church. 

God will honor those requests as leaders begin to target frustrations (what is holding the church back) to attain fruit (which is spirit-filled members and numerical growth) by finding commonality in serving the local church. 

It will take a tenacious, determined leader not to give up when resistance to change occurs, but the gain of fruit will return through the pain of change. A leader must look for something other than fault in what is being said about them or their situation and seek to find the fruit. Even in the most negative comments, there are sometimes grains of truth. Keep the truth, discard the rest, and begin to learn from the challenge and allow it to grow you into a better leader.  

Seek a way forward from loss. 

Fear is natural, but faith is overcoming when facing a challenging season. Loss of people, programs, or even positions can cause a momentary freezing for a church leader, and it can cast aside the God-momentum needed to move forward into the future. As you begin to navigate through loss and come out the other side, you must realize that what you are dealing with is spiritual warfare. The evil one wants nothing more than to destroy what God is doing inside your heart as a leader and in the church. See it more as a badge of honor that you keep getting pushback because it must mean you are on the God-road. Keep pressing forward by staying positive, prayerful, and positioned to move when God tells you and the church to move. 

As the leader, you must stay positive as you help explore the future of what God wants in the church. Positivity will overcome negativity in the end. In the short run, it may look hopeless, but positivity will win the day with God. Keep pointing your people to prayer by seeking God yourself daily and get the church in a position to advance into new kingdom efforts once the loss period has ended.

As the church stays Christ-honoring, Christ’s healing will come over each member and leader. A time of renewal will come about as you target frustrations to attain fruit and move forward from loss.

Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett
Desmond Barrett is the lead pastor at Winter Haven First Church of the Nazarene in Winter Haven, Florida. He is the author of several books and most recently the co-author with Charlotte P. Holter of Missional Reset: Capturing the Heart for Local Missions in the Established Church (Resource Publications) and has done extensive research in the area of church revitalization and serves as church revitalizer, consultant, coach, podcast host and mentor to revitalizing pastors and churches.