When People Leave


If you have been leading for longer than ten minutes, then you have had someone leave you.   I’ve had quite a few people leave my teams over the years.  The first time I had someone leave me that I really cared about and had invested in, I didn’t handle it particularly well.

I had been working with this young guy since he was a teenager.  He was a super talented musician, sweet natured, humble and gentle.  He felt called to ministry, and he had the raw potential to do something significant for God.  When a gifted, older man joined the team and began to connect with this young guy, I felt uneasy.  This man had very strong opinions and began to negatively influence my young protégé.  About a year later, this young man decided to leave when a small church offered pay to come do their music.

I was angry and disappointed, and I made sure this young man knew it.  I felt like he had short cut his destiny and abandoned his team for a side gig and a handful of cash.  My response wasn’t particularly loving.  I cut off the relationship.  I made sure he understood that I wasn’t releasing him into ministry; he was leaving us.

Every leader struggles to let valuable people go.  We needed them and invested our best in them!  Us female leaders seem to get particularly hurt when people leave.  The maternal instinct in us connects to people, and when they leave us, it feels like one of our kids has just abandoned us.  How do you walk away from family?  If someone you loved leaving has hurt you, it can be very hard to trust again.  It makes us very slow to let new people into our inner circle.  When the betrayal is bad enough, those doors may close permanently.

If we succumb to this instinct for self-preservation, we keep our leadership impact small with fewer authentic relationships.  It is possible to have people leave us without being hurt or ending friendship.  One of the most valuable leadership skills we can develop is to release people instead of rejecting them when they leave.


I’ve been a Christian serving in church for about twenty years.  About a dozen different leaders have invested in me in different seasons of my life.  They all contributed to who I am today.  I needed what each gave me, just like I needed my kindergarten teacher as much as I needed my 12th grade English teacher.  God trust leaders with people for a season of their life.  The fact that it’s only temporary a in no way reduces the value of our influence in their lives.  The residue of our investment continues to build people’s lives long after we are gone.

We tend to want people draw clear lines of where their loyalties lie–in or out, black and white.  Paul challenged this thinking.  “For when one says, “I follow Paul,” and another, “I follow Apollos,” are you not mere human beings? What, after all, is Apollos? And what is Paul? Only servants, through whom you came to believe—as the Lord has assigned to each his task. I planted the seed, Apollos watered it, but God has been making it grow. So neither the one who plants nor the one who waters is anything, but only God, who makes things grow. The one who plants and the one who waters have one purpose, and they will each be rewarded according to their own labor.” (1 Corinthians 3:4-14 NIV) Paul reminded us that we are all on the same team!

With this in mind, I don’t need to hang on to people so tightly.  I’m not developing people for my thing; I’m developing people for God’s thing.  The quality of what we have built into people’s lives will speak for itself.  This passage continues on to explain how fires test what we have built in people’s lives.  The true quality test of what we have invested is not proven by how long people serve on our teams building our ministry.  The character revealed when those team members go through hell later proves the quality of what we have built.


Leaders can feel really awkward around people who have left them.  The relationship changes, and we have to change with it.  When your kids grow up, you have to figure out how to relate differently.  You aren’t going to spank or hold your adult son’s hand to cross the road.  In the same way, your relationship has to change when people leave you.  Feeling the awkwardness, we often just let the relationship go, but this may be a mistake.  A new season in someone’s life doesn’t have to sour the old season.  Sometimes the reason people move on is as simple as God bringing them a new season.  It’s not always a personal rejection.

Transition is always awkward, and change is hard, no matter how good the relationship is.  It’s the most difficult when we are convinced someone is making the wrong decision, or when people leave badly and hurt us.  Jesus expects us to forgive, again and again.  This is easy to teach, harder to put into practice.  I have to take these moments to Jesus and ask him to help me and give me grace for the person who has disappointed and hurt me.  If we are honest before God about our hurt and dismay, he will help us and heal us.

Sometimes we feel like we need to justify ourselves to our church or our teams and talk way too much about the circumstances surrounding someone’s departure.  This is especially true when people are leaving nastily and publicly.  When we bleed all over the rest of our team it just adds fuel to the flames.  This is totally unnecessary most of the time.  It’s better to verbally honor and value what that person brought, answer any questions privately, and move forward without excess drama on your end.  God will replace them in our ministry when we just move on.  Let’s keep our spirit sweet and show the love Christ commands us to.


I’m not suggesting that we run after people who leave us.  We have to stay focused on the people with us and the work God has called us to, absolutely.  What I am saying, however, is let’s not use ministry busyness as an excuse to cut relationships out of our life when the real reason is that they hurt or disappointed us.

Leaders love to take the credit for the success of someone who trained under them, but if they fail it’s because they left us.  Ha!  We have a responsibility to train people, but Paul said that it’s God who actually grows them.  We have a part in their fruitfulness, but we don’t own anyone; they belong to Jesus.  This heart helps us release people into new seasons of fruitfulness with joy, knowing we had a part in their development, and that what we built in them is lasting.

A few weeks ago I had coffee with a young leader I released a few years ago.  I had handled his departure very differently, and kept this relationship intact.  I was so pleased to see his growth since he left.  He is flourishing, and adding incredible value to his church.  That day, he wanted to chat about a leadership issue he was struggling to navigate, and we talked it through together.  It was so good to be able to invest again into his world in a different season, in a different way.  I believe this is the way Jesus wants kingdom relationships to be: without awkwardness, hurt, or unspoken issues.  That way we can be unclouded and proud of the investment we make in people’s lives.  Our lives can become more significant through building someone else.

Finding New Courage: 7 Ways To Be Brave

TRYING TO BE BRAVE WHEN FACING SCARYBrave woman greeting stormy ocean

Have you ever wished you were braver?  Maybe you saw an outfit or haircut you liked and wished you had the courage to pull it off?  Or have you ever wished you had the guts to talk to the guy you liked without imploding?  Have you ever wished you were braver when it comes to public speaking.

I have never had a loud, big personality.  As a kid, I was laid back, a soft talker.  It’s not that I was shy, but just never liked to interrupt or talk over someone else.  I was definitely not particularly brave or courageous about putting myself out there.  My husband wishes I were still more like that, because he hates it when I interrupt him.  I have, however, grown up into a more forceful, strongly opinionated, yet often reserved, contemplative person.  As I am still relatively quiet, it often surprises people that I have spent most of my career up in front of people.  It’s not usually the personality type one associates with the stage.

My parents got me music lessons when I was very young.  I was just focused (or obedient) enough to keep with it, and enjoyed it enough to keep me interested.  Average talent combined with lots of practice hours granted me some ability, and eventually the worship leader recruited to play in our church.  This was no cakewalk for me.  As a pre-teen, playing with the adult band terrified me to the point that I used to turn my amp so far down I couldn’t even hear myself, just to make sure no one else could!  When I went from playing to singing in church, the nerves only got worse.  My heart would somehow suddenly be up in my nose, choking me.

In high school, my buddies and I started a band that we lovingly dubbed, Curious George.  Sadly, Curious George had just one performance before folding.  We played for our youth ministry, and this was the first time I had ever sung a legit solo to a packed house.  I got out on stage and heard my own voice coming out of the speaker in front of me and was completely thrown.  It was totally disorienting for me because it didn’t sound like the me in my head.  We were playing a Cranberries cover, and my face was probably looking pretty much like a Cranberry too.

I felt like God was calling me to ministry.  In those days, female preachers weren’t really celebrated, barely tolerated.  Twenty years ago, being a pastor’s wife, a secretary, or a worship leader was the most typical female ministry role.  With these options available, I decided that I was going to major in music in college and become a church music pastor, in spite of my nervousness.  This decision shifted something in me.  Before I felt that call, I got normal performance jitters, but afterward, it turned into something more like terror of failure.  I really wanted to be useful to God.  I felt inadequate frequently, and scared that I would not be good enough.  As a teenager, it didn’t help when well-meaning pastors in my life gently encouraged me to pursue something else.  I was just stubborn enough to keep trying.

Because God is faithful to me, he made room for me when I wasn’t looking for it.  I had settled into a behind-the-scenes role as a youth pastor’s wife and was happy there when my pastors pulled that comfortable rug out from under me.  They asked me to lead the worship ministry.  I was floored.  To begin with, I was younger by several decades than most of the amazing singers and musicians I was being asked to lead.  Many of them sang or played professionally.  To top it off, these were church services of a couple thousand people.  I struggled to say yes to that opportunity.  I had to ignore the churning in the pit of my stomach, swallow hard, and try to find my brave face.  I knew God was asking me to be obedient, but it was the scariest thing I’d ever done.

brave woman on ropeBE THE HERO OF YOUR OWN STORY

People aren’t born with courage.  It’s not a personality trait, it’s a heart-wrenching choice.  Courage is closely related to faith.  I find courage when I quiet all the good reasons in my head not to do something and let my heart lead instead, propelled forward by the hope for something greater.  Sometimes courage is letting go of our common sense and the internal security measures we all have.  We can become the heroes of our own story if we decide to face down what intimidates us.

My daughter, Sharayah, loved the Divergent series, so I downloaded it for a series of long flights I took recently.  It’s an entertaining and easy read, with the added bonus of being thought provoking—good vacation novels.  One of the books’ major themes is bravery in the little things.  The author, Veronica Roth, chose the word “dauntless” to describe her lead characters, which means bold, unintimidated, daring, brave, or courageous.  Her story illustrates how courage can take many forms.  You don’t have do extreme acts like walking barefoot over hot coals to be brave.  Courage is sometimes the strongest in small, every day acts.

It takes courage to commit, to trust, to hope, especially when you have experienced rejection before.  The older we get and the more life we have seen, the more courage that those risks require.  Bravery isn’t the absence of fear, but acting in spite obrave1jpgf your fear.  Courage begins with the first step forward.

How can you become the hero of your own story?

1. Be brave in the little things first.  

Financial struggles can be one of the most daunting challenges we face.  Because it feels so overwhelming, it’s easy for us to stick our head in the sand and avoid dealing with it.  Facing this can be one of those small acts of extreme courage.  Start by being brave enough to open the bill you know you can’t pay.  That little act of opening an envelope may be the bravest thing you can do.  That first step gets you on your way.

You can either try to ignore failure, be overwhelmed by it, or try to tackle it.  If you don’t have the courage to tackle the whole thing, try another small but brave step first: Ask for help.  Be brave enough to eyeball the area of failure you have fought for years and put up your fists again.  If you can be brave enough to be free of secrets, you can get free of just about anything.

brave22.  Be brave enough to hear your own voice.

For the most part, worship teams are cover bands.  We listen to great songs and then play them for our church.  If it’s a popular song, people want it to sound like the recording.  When you are covering a song it’s not that hard to duplicate guitar tone, keyboard sounds, or beats nearly perfectly.  What you can’t replicate is the voice.  Your singer will never sound like the guy on the record!  Voiceprints are absolutely unique.  Nobody can sound exactly like anyone else.

The same thing applies to our communication.  You won’t ever preach just like Chris Caine or Joyce Meyer, because Jesus never meant for you to sound like anyone else.  He gave you a unique voice because he gave you something to say that no one else can!  Finding your voice is perhaps more about having courage than anything else.  Be brave enough to believe that you have something valuable to say!  Ask God to lead you, and speak up when you feel strongly about something.

3. Be brave by being different.brave3

It takes a little bit of courage to be okay with being different.  The best version of me isn’t when I look and act just like the people I respect, but when I get comfortable in my own skin.  The more comfortable we are with who God designed us to be, the easier it is to access the unique gifts God gives us.  You aren’t meant to blend in, but to stand out!

We aren’t just out here naked on our own, hoping it’s adequate.  God told Moses, “See, I have chosen Bezalel son of Uri, the son of Hur, of the tribe of Judah, and I have filled him with the Spirit of God, with wisdom, with understanding, with knowledge and with all kinds of skills.” (Exodus 31:2-3) God chose Bezalel, and he gave him exactly what was needed to do the job God called him to do.  The Holy Spirit makes us more than we are!

brave44. Be brave by having faith in God when things aren’t going as expected. 

After Moses led Israel out of captivity in Egypt, in Exodus 32, they paused at Mount Sinai to hear from God about the next step.  While Moses was up on the mountain talking to God, everyone else got tired of waiting.  They pooled their valuables and made a statue of a calf and worshipped it as their god.  For a long time, I read this story and felt a little superior.  How could they be so dumb after God rescued them?  The truth is, unfortunately, that I’m really not that different.  When I feel like God is taking a little too long, I can be pretty quick to transfer my trust from Jesus to what I can make happen with my own skills and resources.  We all can be tempted to make things happen on our own, just like Israel did.

The first step toward faith in challenging seasons is courage.  God loves and rewards faith.  We can access that favor by daring to believe God when things aren’t looking the way we want.  That kind of bravery is a true act of courage.

5. Be brave by dreaming about taking Abraham journeys. brave5

I grew up in a remarkably courageous family.  Sometimes I think about it and am amazed at the brave choices they have made.  My father left his well-paying and prestigious career at IBM, and at over fifty years old, moved across the country to become a pastor.  At twenty-one years old, my sister left America, all her family and friends, and moved to a third-world country to be obedient to the call of God on her life.  My brother moved to China to marry a girl he fell in love with online.  My mother got her doctorate at fifty-five years old and started a brand new career.  I have enormous respect for these kinds of risky, dream-chasing, courage choices!

I recently got to chat with Taya Smith.  She told me her story, about how she grew up in a tiny town in New South Wales, Australia, and moved to Sydney after high school.  She got involved at Hillsong Church in the youth ministry leadership team.  She had a dream to sing, and decided to audition for the Voice.  She made it to the finals, and the producers told her that she was about to be offered a record deal.  That same week, the Hillsong music producer asked her to come in and lay some background vocals for the new United album.  She hadn’t been involved in music at Hillsong, but said yes anyway.  When she arrived, they asked her to go ahead and record the song, “Oceans.”  That very next weekend, she was leading worship for one of the campuses.  The following week, Hillsong hired her as one of their worship leaders, and the rest is history.  She had no idea when she left her hometown that this would be her journey!  In just one wild, crazy week, God put her on the road to his purpose for her life.  What if she had never left that little town?

God must really like something about journeys of faith.  God asked Abraham to take one of these make-no-logical-sense journeys.  When Abraham was obedient, it literally changed history.  We can’t see the end result of these risky moves, but God does.  That kind of bravery starts by asking yourself the question, what matters so much that it’s worth letting go of what is safe for the chance it might succeed?  Dare to dream, and see what God does!

“Because of your shameless audacity, he will surely get up and give you as much as you need.  So I say to you: Ask and it will be given to you; seek and you will find; knock and the door will be opened to you.” (Luke 11:8b, 9 NIV)

brave66. Be brave enough to trust people.

Pastor’s wives in particular seem to be a magnet for betrayal.  I have met many who have mostly closed their emotional doors.  They trust their family and maybe a few key friends, but most of the rest of the world gets held out at arms length.  I suspect that this is true for many other women too.  Only a brave woman will choose to trust people when she has been hurt in unimaginable ways many times before.

Risk assessment will always keep your world small when it comes to relationships.  The famous passage in 1 Corinthians 13:7 says this about love. “It always protects, always trusts, always hopes, always perseveres.”  That divine kind of love never ceases to be a force pushing forward, even in the face of rejection, of neediness, or betrayal.  Its God-like selfless quality is what makes it so special.  That kind of love marries heart with action.  It risks the pain for the hope of what is greater.

Can you be brave enough to keep pushing your circle out rather than shrinking it in?  It just takes a little bit of courage to be like Jesus, and give someone another chance.

7. Be brave because Big Brother is watching. (not the government)brave7

In our fight to get through this life, Jesus isn’t sitting at the judge’s table, no matter who else might be. He’s in our corner, behind us, coaching us and cheering us on!  He promises to be our Advocate, the attorney on our side.  He is the big brother who protects us from bullies.  It’s way easier to pick a fight with our problems when we know who we have backing us up!

Christians have an extra net below them when they venture out bravely.  God promises he will help us do the scary things in our hearts.  “You’ll take delight in God, the Mighty One, and look to him joyfully, boldly. You’ll pray to him and he’ll listen; he’ll help you do what you’ve promised. You’ll decide what you want and it will happen; your life will be bathed in light. To those who feel low you’ll say, ‘Chin up! Be brave!’ and God will save them. Yes, even the guilty will escape, escape through God’s grace in your life.” (Job 22:26-30 MSG)

Peter made a famous and courageous walk on water a long time ago.  He evidently thought the goal was worth the risk, and he trusted that Jesus had his back.

What courageous act God is asking from you?

Bethel Music recently released the song, “You Make Me Brave,” about stepping out onto the water.  Hillsong United’s “Oceans” and “You Make Me Brave” make great soundtracks while you reflect on that question.