Are You Leaving Me Too?

June 30, 2013

Are you leaving me too?
On December 7th 1941 President Franklin D.
Roosevelt addressed the people of the United States and referred to the
previous day as “A Date Which Will Live in Infamy”.  Most of you know what he was referring to, on
December 6th Japan had attacked Pearl Harbour. 
There are other days that people remember, and most are
generational.  Can you remember where you
were when JFK was assassinated, or when John Lennon was shot, I remember where
I was and what I was doing when the Challenger went down in 1986 and when I
heard about the Twin Towers falling in 2001. 
Each of those events was a pivotal point in history.  Most of us have pivotal points that we can
remember in our personal histories. 
Times when things changed, when they suddenly became different than what
they had been.   The birth of a child,
the death of a parent, losing a job or ending a relationship.
If you have been a part of Cornerstone forever then you
might recall the “Spring of Tuesdays”. 
Which technically it wasn’t all spring and it wasn’t always on Tuesdays
but it was close enough and it was catchy. 
And there aren’t many here today who know what I am talking
about.  Ian and Sylvia Richardson, Karen
Wickwire, Mike and Sajonna Kneebone, Heather Stubbert and Paul Caza were there,
and Angela and I of course.
So here is the background, Angela and I moved to Bedford in
1994, 19 years ago this month to begin what was called a “parachute plant” or a
“catalytic church plant”.  Which meant
that we were it.  You’ve all heard us
joke that when we started there was Angela and I, our two kids, the cat and a
hamster and then the hamster died.   Cornerstone
began worshipping together as Bedford Community Church on April 9th
1995.  And by then we had a core of
around 50 people who would consider Cornerstone their church home, that meant
that on an average Sunday we had about 35 men, women and children present.  Through the course of the first year and a
half we saw that number grow to about 100 who called us home and were averaging
about 75 or so in our services. 
There had been a number of changes, we had brought a second
staff member on, we had moved from the LeBrun centre in Bedford to the Empire
Theatre in Bedford.  For those of you
with a blank stare there used to be a six cinema complex where the Lawton’s is
now in the Mill Cove Plaza.
And life was good, the church was growing, lives were being
changed and the world was our oyster so to speak.
On Christmas Eve 1996 we had our service in theatre three,
it was really cool because there were movies being shown in the other five
cinemas and we were celebrating the birth of 
Jesus in the theatre we called home. 
And that was when it started. 
Greg Hanson, who was our worship pastor had put together a teen band who
performed a very rocky rendition of  “We
Three Kings”.  And as they rocked the
house I looked up and caught the eyes of a family who had been with us for
about a year and I thought “they are not happy.” 
A week later on Tuesday December 31st I received
a phone call from the family letting me know that they felt God was leading
them to another church.  And thus began
the spring of Tuesdays.
Between January 1st and the first of May our
average attendance fell from82 to 43.  In
that five month period 12 families who had called our church their church home
moved on to other churches, and those who contacted us about leaving always
called on Tuesdays.
And they took their money with them, what’s with that.  Our offerings fell by forty percent.  The small salary we were giving our assistant
got cut, we moved out of the office we were renting on the Bedford Highway,
Angela and I were in the process of building a home in Kingswood and weren’t
even sure we would be able to afford to make the mortgage payments because the
church couldn’t afford to pay my salary and so I began looking for outside
work.  And I had no idea what had
happened or how to stop it.  At times I
compared it to a snowball rolling down a hill. 
Or on my more carnal days like rats leaving a sinking ship. 
And when I talked to the people who left they all seemed to
have good reasons for leaving, at least they seemed to be.  And when they couldn’t find a good reason
they used the trump card, “God is calling us to another church.”  It’s kind of hard to argue with that.  But most of them told me to not take it
personally.  But that was kind of tough.
In April of that year I was helping out with Keswick a group
that hosted special church services each spring, they still do.  Our guest speaker that year was a preacher by
the name of David Mains.  No, not that
David Maines the other David Mains.  Most
of you are thinking that I’m talking about the Host of 100 Huntley Street, but
I’m talking about the David Mains from Chicago who was the host of “Chapel of
the Air”.
And I was asked to take David and his wife Karen out to
lunch.  And as we are driving along David
asked me how life was going and how the church was doing.  And I said “fine”, and he told me to stop
lying to him.  He said he had been a
church planter and knew some of the struggles and invited me to unload on him
because he was going back to Chicago the next day and I would never see him
again. 
And I did.  As we
drove along I told him of people leaving, of the personal impact it was having
on me and my family, the impact that it was having on the church, some of my
doubts about what I was doing.  Not sure
if that’s what he expected but he smiled and nodded and said sympathetic
things.  And then my phone rang and I
answered it, that was when you were still allowed to talk on your phone while
driving.  When I hung up I told David about
the conversation, it was a lady calling to tell me that she felt that her
family needed to find another church. 
Did I mention it was Tuesday?
And David looked at me and said “You must feel a lot like
Jesus.”  And that kind of confused me
because I definitely wasn’t feeling very messianic right then. And I must of
looked confused because he added, “You know, when he said in John 6:67 “are you leaving me too?”
Well, we survived the Spring of Tuesdays, and in the 16
years since people have still decided to move on from time to time, but I
realized that we weren’t alone, that it happens in all churches.  A few years after that I heard a pastor by
the name of Antony Graham preaching and he said “Pastoring a church is like
driving a bus, people get on and people get off.”    But it doesn’t seem to get easier. 
And of course it’s not restricted to churches, I was getting
my hair cut one day and my stylist was telling me about someone who had stopped
coming and started going to another stylist, no explanation, she didn’t know if
she had done something wrong or said something.  And it hurt. 
And she took it personally. 
Last week I was speaking to a business owner who had just
lost two contracts and the impact that would have not only on their business
but on them personally.  And then there
are those who have lost friends and spouses.
This is week 3 of our Red Letter Summer series, and we are
focusing on those words that are printed in many of our Bibles in red, the
words of Christ.  And so this week we
find ourselves in the book of John.
From the early part of John’s
Gospel we read about the crowds that were flocking  to Jesus in order to hear his message.  John 2:23 Because
of the miraculous signs Jesus did in Jerusalem at the Passover celebration,
many began to trust in him., John 4:1 Jesus knew the Pharisees had heard
that he was baptizing and making more disciples than John¸ John 6:2 A
huge crowd kept following him wherever he went, because they saw his miraculous
signs as he healed the sick.
 And it was an awesome message.   Jesus spoke about the grace of God, his love
and his forgiveness.  And people embraced
the message.  But then Jesus began to
speak about obedience to God, about extending grace and forgiveness to others,
about loving your enemies and doing good to those who do bad to you. 
And we pick up the scripture
that was read for us in John 6:60 Many
of his disciples said, “This is very hard to understand. How can anyone accept
it?”   And Jesus goes on to tell
them just how hard his teaching could be and apparently there were those who
couldn’t accept it because by the end of the conversation we pick up the story
in John 6:66-67 At this point many of
his disciples turned away and deserted him. Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and
asked, “Are you also going to leave?”
We can understand people
leaving a church, or not going back to their hair stylist or changing their
service providers, but it’s hard to understand people leaving Jesus, he is
Jesus.  And I’m sure that each of those
folks who left Jesus all had good excuses for leaving. And they probably told
him to not take it personally. 
So what happens when people
leave?  We’ve been worshipping together
as a church for 18 years and there are times that people still decide to move
on, for all kinds of reasons, most of them valid. 
People will still find other
hair stylists to go to; other people to design their websites, other mechanics
to fix their cars and people who they prefer to hang around with.  
Probably the first question and
maybe the toughest one to ask is:  Is It Me?  Now to be truthful I
think most people in ministry are a little insecure because the first thing
that crosses your mind when someone decides to leave the church is: “Was it
something I said or did?”  And sometimes
it is.  There are times that I have
unknowingly hurt someone, it might have been something I said.  I can be a jerk sometimes, not intentionally,
well sometimes intentionally but mostly not. 
I heard someone say one time “If Denn hasn’t offended you yet, you just
haven’t been coming long enough.”     Once
I heard through the grape vine that someone had stopped coming because I had
snubbed them in the lobby one Sunday. 
And maybe I did but I can assure that it was done because my mind was
somewhere else.
The truth is sometimes I blow
it as a pastor and sometimes Cornerstone blows it as a church.  But we don’t do it intentionally to drive
people away, we do it because we are people. 
 And sometimes expectations are
too high, we had a couple who left and they told me they were disappointed
because I didn’t do more to keep their teenage son from getting in with a bad
crowd and leaving the church. 
Sometimes we just aren’t what
the person is looking for.  Back during
the spring of Tuesday we had a couple of those comments, someone said they were
looking for a church with more traditional music and another couple said they
weren’t in agreement with what we believed as Wesleyans.  We had people leave because our service only
goes an hour and I don’t preach long enough. 
How many folks here have ever
sold a house?  Before we moved into the
house we live in now we owned a two story salt box further into Kingswood.  It was a two story with three bedrooms, two
and a half baths and no garage.    And
sometimes after it was shown the people would tell their agent, “Oh we were
looking for something with a garage.”  Or
“We are really interested in a bungalow” or “We need at least five bedrooms,
and a pool, on city water with sidewalks.” 
Really?   If you check out our website or read our promotional
material it is very clear who we are, and who we aren’t.
Maybe as a company you have
priced yourself out of the market or you haven’t kept up with technology.  Perhaps you are no longer offering what that
customer needs.  Maybe you’ve outgrown
them.   
When I had to go to work
outside the church in 1997 I went back to Tip Top Tailors and they had just
done a dramatic shift in who they were and the product they offered.  And as a result they lost some
customers.    It wasn’t a bad shift, as a
matter of fact many people felt like it was a positive shift, but not everyone
agreed.
And if you look at yourself and
discover that maybe you are at fault then you need to correct those
things. 
Part of what we did in 1997 was
to examine our service style and I had felt really good about what we were
doing, but it wasn’t working and we had to make some midcourse
corrections.  Sometimes the church will
overload a willing volunteer and they feel overwhelmed yet they feel they will
let the church down if they ask for less to do, so it’s easier to go somewhere
else.  And we need to be careful of
that.  If you find yourself in that
situation please talk to us before you make any decisions.  I think everyone should serve somewhere in
the local church but you don’t have to serve everywhere. 
Sometimes it is what it
is.  There were some things that we were
committed to as a church and we truly felt that was what God was calling us to
do and who God was calling us to be.  We
couldn’t stop being Wesleyans, we were committed to keeping our music fresh and
new, Denn was the pastor.  
Sometimes you lose friends
because of  your behaviour,  something you said or did and it doesn’t have
to be negative, often when you become a Christ Follower you lose friends,
because you no longer share a similar life style and interests, and that’s
fine.  It was something you did, but it’s
not something you should undo.
Now in one sense Jesus didn’t
do anything that would have justified people leaving, after all he was Jesus.  He was offering them eternal life.  Like who wouldn’t want that?  But he was also asking them to give up some
of their behaviours, he was telling them they would be persecuted, he wanted
them to forgive people who hurt them. 
And maybe it’s not you, so then you have to ask,  Is it
Them? 
This one is easier, or at
least it’s where we’d like to go most of the time.  It’s not me it’s them.  Kind of like that book I wanted to write as a
follow up to “I’m ok, You’re ok.”  My
book was going to be “I’m ok, you’re a jerk.” 
And sometime it’s not us, sometimes it is them.
In the scripture that we read that was the case.  People decided that they weren’t ready to
make the sacrifices that Jesus was asking of them.    Maybe they didn’t understand what Jesus was
calling them to and when they discovered the reality they decided it wasn’t for
them, or maybe they thought they were willing but when push came to shove they
decided that it was just too much for them to take on.  And that is valid. 
We are told that at that time in history there were others
who claimed to be the Messiah so maybe some of those who left Jesus found
someone else who was more exciting or who wasn’t asking them to give us so
much. 
Some folks who left Cornerstone through the years left
because we weren’t growing fast enough, and then some left because we were
growing too fast.  Some decided that the
church down the road could do for them what we couldn’t.  And there were some who didn’t like being challenged
about their behaviour.  And some who
didn’t like Denn.    And I discovered a long time ago that you
can’t please everyone.  We’ve had this
discussion before, people sometimes ask if there is anything God can’t do?  And that answer is yes; He can’t make
everyone happy.  
And for some people we were just a way point.  They had attended five churches before they
got to Cornerstone and five after they left. 
And that might not be healthy but it doesn’t make a person a bad person,
but if they keep blaming the churches they might want to look a little
deeper. 
John Maxwell teaches the Bob Principle which says “When Bob has a
problem with everyone, Bob is usually the problem.”  Sometimes I will meet with folks and
they will tell me about the abuse that they suffered at their previous
churches, not church but churches.  If
you go to a church and you have problems it’s a tragedy, if you go to two
churches and you have problems it’s a coincidence, if you go to three churches
and you have problems it’s either a conspiracy or you are the problem.  And I really don’t believe in conspiracies,
except that entire moon landing thing.  And the problem might simply be that you are
picking churches that just aren’t a fit for you. 
And some people were simply moving on because they were
moving.  We discovered early on in our
adventure that new churches attract people who are new to the community, and
many of those folks have jobs that brought them to our community and jobs that
took them away from our community. 
In our personal lives when a relationship ends it isn’t
always about something you did, or who you are. 
Other times it rests with the other person, maybe you’ve outgrown them,
or maybe they’ve outgrown you.  Through
the years we have had friends that aren’t a part of our lives now.   When we were single most of our friends were
single, and we noticed that as our friends started having kids we didn’t share
a lot in common with them anymore.  They
wanted to talk about their kids and how little sleep they were getting and what
they were finding in diapers and we drifted apart. 
Sometimes it’s work you have in common or church and when
things change the relationship changes. 
It’s not bad, it simply life.
In business it sometimes the same, the customer’s needs have
changed and you can no longer provide them with what they want.  Or they feel that another company can do a
better job or provide a better price or maybe they simply got wooed away by the
other company.  
Sometimes it’s as simple as they don’t feel any loyalty to
you.  I am horrible when it comes to who
provides my phone and internet services, no loyalty at all, I hope that doesn’t
make me a bad person. 
So what happens when someone leaves our church family, or
leaves your business or stops being your friend?  I mean after you’ve asked yourself if it was
you or them and if it was you corrected the problems?
This might sound simplistic and cold but We Need to Get Over It  And it’s tough.  It hurts when you feel either right or wrong
that you’ve been rejected.  Even if they
tell you that it’s nothing personal.  
But you can’t stay there forever. 
Because the more you think about it and dwell on it the more it
hurts.  If you feel that you’ve been hurt
or done wrong then you need to forgive the person that you feel hurt you, or
did you wrong.  Jesus taught that over
and over again.
And the toughest thing for me to come to grips with was the
acknowledgement that the trump card I mentioned before, “We feel that God is
calling us to another church” is valid. 
A believer might be needed somewhere else.   When we left Truro and moved to Australia it
was because we felt that’s were God was leading us, and when we left Australia
19 years ago to come and start a new church in Bedford we did it because we
felt this was where God was leading us.  
And we can understand God calling people to Cornerstone, we
just can’t understand him calling them away. 
 
If we continue to focus on yesterday then we will miss out
on what God has for us today and tomorrow.  
At the end of the Spring of Tuesdays the core group of our
church met together to evaluate what had happened, and we determined that regardless
of what had happened in the past that God had a great future for us and that we
would pursue that without casting blame on those who left.  It wasn’t easy and I didn’t always get it
right but we did move on. 
When Jesus asked the question
in John 6:67 Then Jesus turned to the Twelve and
asked, “Are you also going to leave?”   Listen
to Peter’s response John 6:68-69 Simon
Peter replied, “Lord, to whom would we go? You have the words that give eternal
life. We believe, and we know you are the Holy One of God.”
The HRM is full of great
churches, churches where the truth is taught. 
And when someone leaves our church or any church to go to another
church, it changes relationships and often leaves a gap in the church family
but life will go on.  But when someone
leaves Jesus it is a tragedy because he truly is the Holy One of God.