By Brian Boyles
She was a key leader in the college ministry and had served there for almost a decade. The entire church knew who she was, where she served, and everyone seemed to speak of how great of a job she did.
Not only did she serve faithfully for years, but she always had a smile on her face and never seemed to be upset about anything regarding the church. That is why it was so surprising when she didn’t show up one Sunday.
We heard she was attending another church. We were shocked, disappointed and unsure of what to do.
Sure, there were some thoughts of letting her know of our disappointment in her, and letting her know that she was leaving us with a void to fill, and how “the least she could do was help to find a replacement.”
But I couldn’t help but wonder if there were some signs we missed that could have helped us avoid this situation.
Had we upset her?
What went wrong?
Where had we failed to be there for her?
If you’re paying attention to those who are serving in your ministry, it’s not hard to notice when their interest begins to wane. Maybe they miss a leadership meeting, and then they miss another one. Maybe they seem disengaged on Sunday mornings.
You notice they stay out in the hallway or lobby chatting or scrolling through their phones during the worship service, they’ve missed more Sundays than normal, or their kids start making posts about another church’s student ministry (This last one actually happened to me recently!).
These could be signs of a person losing interest in your ministry. If they’re skipping your meetings, it could mean your meetings aren’t worth attending. If that’s the case, make your meetings worth attending and see if they return.
Or, it could be their interest level in your ministry is truly declining. There are many reasons why this may be. They could be burned out from being in a certain ministry for a long time, or there could be some level of offense that they’ve experienced within the church.
Regardless of the reasons, be careful how you choose to respond.
The easiest and first reaction is almost always the wrong reaction, which is to point the finger at the one waning and begin to tear them down and criticize them—even if in your own mind. Not only is this not a Christ-like response, it’s simply not helpful. It does nothing to improve you, your team, nor the ministry, and it certainly won’t keep the person engaged.
As you begin to notice a leader from your ministry begin to wane, there are things you can do to make a difference—for them, as well as for you.
1. Treat them as you’d want to be treated.
Imagine being the one who is starting to wane in the ministry you lead. Do you want the person to be offended and upset at you, or do you want them to be understanding and helpful? Have you ever served in a ministry, but knew it was time to transition?
Approach the one beginning to wane the way you wish someone had approached you.
2. Don’t make assumptions.
Don’t treat them like they have betrayed you, or like they’re turning their back on the people you’re serving. In fact, don’t assume anything at first.
I recommend finding a time when the two of you can speak in a non-confrontational way, maybe over coffee or a meal. Or, even on a Sunday or Wednesday when they’re already at the church.
You may say something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed that you’ve seemed like something is on your mind lately. What’s on your heart?”
3. Be intentional about understanding their struggles.
Sometimes when I’ve noticed a person seeming to wane, it’s because of something going on their personal life that’s occupying their mind—and their time.
One way you can help the person is by giving them freedom to take some time away until they feel they’re able to return. Be a servant-leader by serving them for a time.
Yes, allowing a leader to take time away means you’ll have to find someone else to cover their area, but it’s more important that you care more about the person than you do about their contribution.
As the leader over a ministry, your focus needs to be on those serving under your care. If you do this well, more people will want to serve under your leadership.
4. Give them space to make a needed change.
Another point to consider is that the person may not actually be upset about anything or with anyone, but they just need to make a change. It would show great maturity to tell that person if they feel like it’s time to make a change that you support them completely, you celebrate all they have done for the kingdom, and you’ll continue to love them and be their friend.
You may be wondering how to say these things when you don’t really feel that way. If that’s the case, then I think we’ve identified the problem: you.
You may have pushed the person away by treating the ministry as a job rather than as worship. This will almost certainly lead to burnout and hurt feelings.
It’s not a matter of whether you can make a case of why a person should stay. Don’t focus on facts in a time like this. Often, as a ministry leader, you’re not managing facts; you’re managing emotions.
The people serving with you are likely not struggling with the concept of the Christian disciplines of sacrifice or service. If their heart is wounded, your facts will not reach them, but your care will. And if you ignore their emotions, they’ll ignore your facts.
Consider helping the person transition to a ministry that better suits them for a time. I once recommended a different church for a person to attend where I thought they would be able to rekindle their passion for God.
This was not a person I wanted to part with; in fact it was quite the opposite. But I cared about this person and their walk with God. That has to be the priority. When you value people more than their contributions, the better off they’ll be—and the same goes for you and your ministry.
BRIAN BOYLES (@brian_boyles) is the Senior Pastor of First Baptist Church of Snellville, Georgia, and serves as a consultant for Revitalized Churches.