In my more than fifty years in the ministry, the Lord has brought in and taken away many friends and coworkers. As hard as it always is to lose those I have mentored and developed—both staff and laypeople—I try to affirm their decision to follow God elsewhere. That’s what the church in Ephesus did for Apollos when he sensed God’s leading to leave:
And when he wanted to go across to Achaia, the brethren encouraged him and wrote to the disciples to welcome him; and when he had arrived, he greatly helped those who had believed through grace, for he powerfully refuted the Jews in public, demonstrating by the Scriptures that Jesus was the Christ. (Acts 18:27–28)
Please observe, when he was led to leave, they “encouraged him” to go. We pastors need to realize that God does not intend for all the faithful folks to stay at our church. We want that, but God’s plan is greater than ours. We never need to pour on the guilt or try to manipulate someone who senses the need to follow God elsewhere.
We don’t own them. They belong to the Lord, not us. Don’t ever call the congregation, “my church,” or refer to the flock as, “my people.” They’re God’s people. We are simply shepherds. Our purpose is to help them reach their full potential, whatever it may be . . . and wherever it may lead.
I have a long-standing commitment never to talk anybody into coming or out of leaving the church—whether a staff person or layperson. If an individual is led to leave, I find a way to help make that happen. If an individual is led to come, I find a way to help them make the change. Hold everyone loosely.
“Move ahead,” the Christians encouraged Apollos. “Of course, we don’t own you here in Ephesus.” And you know what happened? Paul would later write to the Corinthians:
I planted, Apollos watered, but God was causing the growth. (1 Corinthians 3:6)
I love it! The Lord took Apollos back to Corinth, and he became so effective that he watered the seed that the apostle Paul had planted. The Christians in Ephesus get part of the credit for that success. Why? They recognized that God’s work extended beyond their own church . . . and they released Apollos.
We pastors must do the same.