I hesitate to say this out loud, but it is something that bothers me every time it happens. My words here are an honest reflection on how a particular comment I receive (semi-regularly) feels. My words are not meant as a slam to those who make this – or similar – comments. Those who say it are sincere. I love them. It’s just that, I’m not sure they know how disheartening their words – meant to encourage – really are.
Let me back up. I serve as pastor of an awesome church, filled with many of the best Jesus followers I’ve ever met and spent time with. They worship, lead, give and serve tirelessly and accomplish more for others than churches 5 times our size with 5 times our budget. BUT…we are an older, getting smaller, rural, Mennonite congregation.
Over my almost 20 years at MMC, I’ve witnessed people who were raised by this congregation leave here as they head to the congregation(s) down the road(s) The music is hipper, more people my age, varieties of programs a smaller church can’t accomplish, and so on and so on.
Here’s the comment:
Pastor, I just want you to know that I still consider Metamora Mennonite my church home.
It’s not always those exact words, but the sentiment is nearly always that. “I still consider Metamora Mennonite my church home.” Those seem like encouraging words. Sometimes they are – especially when the person saying it lives in another community or state or country. But when the person saying it lives near by, and they are choosing to go to another congregation, the positive sentiment is down-right frustrating.
When I hear it I often want to scream, “THEN COME HOME!” There are a lot of people at home that would love to throw you a welcome home party. They are the same people that changed your diapers when you were in the nursery, taught your Sunday school classes, played games with you at VBS, taught you the hand motions to “Deep and Wide”, led you on service trips, introduced you to Adam and Eve, Moses, Noah, Jonah, David, Mary, countless others and – most importantly – Jesus. They are the same people that pledged to have your back when you were baptized. And, by the way, you said you would have their back too. They still have your back and would welcome you back.
I guess I wonder what the sentiment accomplishes? “Pastor, I want you to know that I still consider MMC my church home.” To me, that would be a lot like me saying to my wife, “Melissa, I want you to know that I still consider you to be my wife,” as I leave her. And, to make matters worse, reminding her of that every time I happen to run into her. I think we’d all be better off just telling the truth. I’m choosing to be somewhere else with someone else. Yes, such truthfulness inflicts a deeply personal wound. But the wound is no less deep by pretending it isn’t happening. Why can’t we do that with our “home” church? Own the reality. Sometime I think the sentiment is intended to cover up the fact that leaving a church also inflicts a deeply personal wound. It is a way of pretending that it isn’t a big deal – but it really is. It would have a lot more integrity to say, “Pastor, I’m choosing to be somewhere else with someone else.” Then I could say, “I’ve noticed. We will miss you deeply. I wish you God’s best, and hope you are an engaged member of your new community for the glory of God.”
In the end, a faith community is not a group of folks that consider that community their home, but a group of folks that make that community their home by their presence.