While writing the post, What It Means To Be Planted, I had an interesting conversation with my wife.
We were discussing some people at our church who seem to be very bitter towards all of the leadership, but for some reason they haven’t left the church. It’s actually happened several times. It seems like whenever there’s a long term member of our church who starts getting bitter, first they start making little remarks about things they don’t like, then they start openly telling people how much they hate certain people or practices at the church, then they start to convince other people to think the same way they do, then they leave in a hurry and a few other people leave shortly after. The whole thing usually takes a couple years.
My wife said something about this process that we’ve seen a number of times. She said, “why do these people stay around so long when they aren’t really planted at the church?”
I started thinking. The reason they leave isn’t because they aren’t planted. The reason they stay so long is because they are planted.
In the post, What It Means To Be Planted, I used the metaphor of a tree being planted, then it doesn’t move until it dies. It either gets blown over by the wind, it gets cut down, or it rots away on the inside until it dies and falls over. I didn’t mean for those three examples to be metaphors as well, I just thought it was sort of funny. But all of a sudden when I was talking to my wife, I realized that they are perfect metaphors for why people leave a church they are planted in.
Blown Over By The Wind
Some people get planted in a church, but before their roots can grow in deep and secure (or they never take the time and energy to do so) a big storm comes and blows them down. Usually this is when someone starts talking bad about the church and leaves, and the person with shallow roots goes too. But it can also be some kind of problem in their own life that takes them out. Maybe an illness or a divorce.
This is actually the most desirable way to go. When a tree gets cut down, it’s for one of two reasons. Either it gets cut down and turned into something useful like a house or bookcase, or it gets turned into firewood. When a Christian is cut down and turned into firewood, he’s dead. Like, he’s actually died. You’ve lived your life and were planted in this church, and now it’s your time to go. The other reason a Christian is cut down is to be turned into something useful. You might be sent out to start a new church, or be a missionary. Maybe even just sent across country to live there. But whether you’re cut down and burned or turned into something useful, your roots are still firmly planted in your church.
From my church we have had people planted, then die, and we have had people planted, then be sent out as missionaries. In both cases they left their roots here with us. I know people who have died in out church after spending their life firmly planted in the church. Those people left their roots. Their influence is still around in their families, the stories we tell about them and the love that is still felt for them. Their roots are still there and their kids have grown from those roots. People who leave as missionaries or sent out to start a church or just join another church leave their roots too. Just like someone who dies, they leave memories and stories, but the best part is when they come and visit. When they come back, it’s just like they never left. Their roots are still here so in some ways they haven’t left.
Rotting On The Inside
This is the one that I was talking about earlier. When someone is bitter towards the church, but can’t seem to leave, it isn’t because they were never planted in that church. The reason they can’t leave is because they are planted, but inside there’s a problem. At some point, somewhere, they got something deep inside them. Maybe a bug, maybe a fungus, maybe even just a little cut that never healed right. But whatever is was, it started to grow.
The problem with rotting on the inside is that no one knows until the rot has almost taken the tree all the way out.
My neighbors’ tree when I was growing up was old and big. But one night during a wind storm, one of the limbs fell off. My neighbors had a tree guy come take a look. The reason the limb fell off so easily was because the tree was rotted on the inside. They had to cut the whole thing down or else it was going to fall onto their house (or more likely ours). No one knew there was a problem because it looked fine on the outside, but for years this tree had been dying.
The same thing happens to some people in the church. Their roots are firmly planted. They seem just like everyone else. They’re probably leaders and well thought of. But inside something is growing. When you first start hearing the little complaints from that person, most likely the bitterness inside them has grown bigger than you can imagine. Whatever is rotting them has just finally gotten to the surface. But they’ll keep on coming to church, and they’ll keep on leading their Bible study. It’s going to be a long process. First one or two people think they might see some rot, then a few more know they see some rot. And after a while, suddenly everyone sees that rot for a short time, then they’re gone.
I’ve lost friends this way. Our church has lost people that were thought of as pillars this way. But here’s the worst part. They don’t leave and find a good church where they truly belong and live happily ever after. They die.
Some people actually die. I know stories of people who this happened to and within a couple years they got some sort of illness and they died. But that’s not the only way people die. A lot of people loose their marriage, most everyone looses their kids. It’s a horrible place to be.
Rotting on the inside feels fine while it’s happening. You think you’re right. You think you know better than the other people in the church. You think that when you finally leave you’ll find a great new place that thinks the way you do and everything is going to be perfect. But that’s not what happens.
If you have a problem with your pastor or how something at your church is run, you need to work that out. You need to talk to the person you have a problem with and work it out, or you need to pray and work it out with God. Because if you let it grow, even for a little while, it’s going to be the single most destructive thing to ever happen to you or your family.