Why You Can’t Always Get Closure In Ministry

Editors’ note: 

For more reading on long-term faithfulness in ministry with practical wisdom from veteran pastors, see Faithful Endurance: The Joy of Shepherding People for a Lifetime from The Gospel Coalition.

It hurts when people leave the church. And pastors can often feel the relational pain more than anyone else. In this video, Dave Harvey gives advice to pastors who find themselves in this situation.


The following is a lightly edited transcript provided by a transcription service. Please check video before quoting.

Should a pastor seek resolution when friends leave the church, and if so how?
I would say that I would hope that any pastor who has people leaving or has people who have left would be able to point back and say that he pursued them, that he was reaching out to them, that he has experiences that he can list where he was reaching out and attempting to meet with them. And in those meetings with them he was patiently listening, he was humbling himself to hear, he was asking good questions, not reacting, and pursuing forgiveness where it might be necessary.
So I would hope that pursuing and listening would be a starting place, and then in the present I would hope that pastor would also have a heart disposition that is wide open to reconciliation, if that’s necessary. He should be wide open to any kind of resolution. In other words, he is continuing to tenderize his heart with the gospel as it relates to that person so that he’s in a position where, should any doors open, he can move because his heart is already there, his heart has already expressed or pursued forgiveness.
So I think there is a sense where each and every pastor should be leading and loving in a way where as far as it’s possible for them, as it says in Romans twelve, they should be at peace with all people. But there is a sense where I think the question recognizes that that’s not always possible, and you don’t have to pastor long before you realize that there are going to be situations that just seem to remain unresolved and there’s there’s no apparent lack of closure.
I can think of not that long ago sending out different text messages to different people to wish them Happy Easter on Easter morning. And I sent a text to somebody who had left the church who I knew was very disappointed with me and disappointed with my leadership. I had sought to reach out to them and meet with them. So I sent them a text anyway, and they sent me back a text and basically said, “Hey, don’t text me anymore, I don’t want to hear from you. I don’t want this to be a thing.” I wrote back just said, “Hey, should it ever become a thing where you’d ever want to hear from me, I’d love to hear from you. Please let me know if you feel like I’ve sinned against you.” You are going to have those kind of situations where it’s open-ended, it’s unresolved, and there’s no resolution.
A pastor has to prepare himself for the reality that while he wants to do everything possible to live at peace and while he wants to be able to walk people to the door if they’re leaving in a way where they’re going to kiss him goodbye or kiss the church goodbye, there are these situations that don’t seem to be resolved. That pastor needs to ensure that he is understanding God and the Gospel in such a way that he can live wanting resolution but not needing resolution. In other words he’s not dependent upon resolving some situation with any particular person in order to live at peace with God, in order to live at peace in his home with his spouse if he’s married. He needs to be able to to serve the church and to be able to not wake up in the middle of the night and be tormented by the fact that this one area of his life doesn’t have some kind of closure or isn’t all buttoned up. So I think that to pursue ministry is to pursue a kind of life where things are going to remain very open ended at times and a pastor is going to learn, by the grace of God, to live that way and to lead that way without it driving him nuts.