What a pastor says: "The church is hurting my family." What a congregation hears: "You are not worth sacrificing for."
What a pastor says: "I sense the Lord moving us elsewhere." What a congregation hears: "God is not moving here."
What a pastor says: "I don't see God blessing this church until..." What a congregation hears: "God won't use this groups of sinners; He prefers the group of sinners in (often the fancier) church building X down the street."
What a pastor says: "God has opened a door that we shouldn't turn down." What a congregation hears: "God has closed the door on this church."
What a pastor says: "God has used this time to prepare me for the next season of ministry." What a congregation hears, "You were my stepping stone to bigger and better things."
Some of these statements arise from honest intentions. Others are cruel shots across the bow designed to sting or to lay blame on someone or something else rather than shoulder personal responsibility. I really don't like it when we pastors spiritualize our lives so much that it comes across as throwing the church under the bus. Can't we be honest sometimes that the reason we are leaving is because there's some issue with us (good, bad, or otherwise)? We're struggling spiritually and we hope a change of venue might help. We are having issues with certain people. We want a new adventure. The pay isn't meeting family needs. We've dug a hole we can't get out of. I'm not sure where God is leading me, but I thought I'd give something new a chance. I'm not fulfilled. Maybe there's a better way...
How not to throw your church under the bus:
We know from the example of Moses in Exodus that God sometimes opens doors that people are NOT supposed to walk through. After the doubters grumble and refuse to enter the Promised Land, we read in Numbers 14:11-12, "The LORD said to Moses, "How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the miraculous signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they." If this isn't a clear opened door by God, I don't know what is. But Moses cared more about God's glory than His own. He'd rather stick with his grumbling church than start over with a new crowd. He was willing to be run under the bus so that the people were not (not the only time he ever did this, btw).
Moses did, however, flounder in his own faith (cf. Numbers 20). He wasn't a perfect leader. He's just a guy like most pastors I know who are in need of forgiveness and grace. But there was a shepherd who remained faithful even unto death. This is the Great Shepherd, Jesus Christ, who laid down His life for the sheep (John 10:11). We can find life in believing in Jesus Christ. Then, as we gaze on Christ Jesus, and are changed more and more into His image, I think we'll take a few more buses for our people rather than throw them under so we can move on to greener pastures. SDG
This was inspired last Tuesday when I was reading about the dangers of ambition in Spiritual Leadership by J. Oswald Sanders