“From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.” John 6:66
Jesus hadn’t been active in His ministry long and, already, people were bailing! He seized the opportunity to sure up his leadership base, asking the disciples, “You do not want to leave too, do you?” (v67) Of course, this wouldn’t be the end of the sifting in Jesus’ ministry. Eventually, all but a handful would leave for one reason or another. Does this mean Jesus failed as a leader? Hardly. These were strategic seasons of sifting for a greater purpose.
Most leaders struggle with the reality that not everybody is going to stick it out. Plain and simple, people leave. From your inner circle to fringe followers, people will come and go even as you continue to cast vision and lead by example. Does this mean you are failing as a leader? In some cases, it might. Always begin with you and your lead team. Ask the hard questions and seek out the tough answers when there is a trending exodus. If you need to make some changes, own them, make them and move on. However, sometimes the Lord is doing you a favor. Consider some of the reasons for seasons of sifting in any organization, especially in the church.
1 – Change in vision (direction/target audience, etc) 2 – Change in structure 3 – Change in methodology 4 – Change in staff 5 – Change in coffee brand served in cafe 6 – Challenge brought about by change
Notice a trend? You can be sure that change prompts sifting, and this is often a very good thing. Sifting is God’s way of sorting, even weeding out those who may have never been with you in the first place, or no longer embrace your vision. When grain is sifted the chaff, dirt and stuff that you don’t want getting into the eventual mix finds its way out, and the good stuff stays in. In this way, the mix stays purer and will make for a better product when all of the other ingredients are added in the right measure and time.
I heard someone say, “People are always a blessing… some by coming and some by going.” With your blessing, you may need to let some people move on who don’t get it, don’t want to get it, and may eventually spread their opinions like the plague if they stay. Believe me, I failed to do this once. There was a leader I had made a substantial investment in. However, they shared their reluctance to continue several times over about six months. Each time I gave my best, “You can do it! I believe in you! Rah, Rah, Sis Boom Bah!” speech and no doubt guilted them into staying. What I was really worried about was how it was going to make me look as a leader. Well, they did stay… for a while. However, since I wasn’t listening (my wife tried to tell me!), didn’t want to look bad and lose anyone… I only succeeded in losing them and others who probably would have never left if I had swallowed my pride and recognized what the Holy Spirit was up to and just let them leave.
Sure, as leaders we want everyone to come, engage and stay in and for the God-thing that’s going. Besides, we cringe at the fact that when people walk, people talk. Notice in the following chapter that people began to whisper and debate as to whether Jesus was a good or bad leader (John 7:12, 32). Like Jesus, people will leave your ministry and still more will talk about it. Persevere. Be wise enough to recognize and embrace seasons of sifting. No, you don’t have to like it. And, yes, it may make you and the numbers look bad in the short run. The thing is, you aren’t in it for the short run. You and those truly with you are on pace to win the marathon that is life and ministry in Christ Jesus. Trust what God is doing as he sorts and sifts for your good and His glory. You’ll be glad you did.
Serving with you,