I let someone go from the church the other day. Not an employee. A parishioner. And a friend.

We met in a coffee shop and she began asking about ways that she can get more involved in church.

But that wasn’t what she really needed. What she really needed was permission to leave.

She lives downtown. She has intentionally chosen to live in the poorest neighborhood in Burlington so she can love on and serve the residents there. She lives there so she can be the presence of Christ there. In order to fully live out her calling she needs not only to live there, but she needs to—must—worship there as well. It is obvious that our bedroom community church wasn’t right for her.

What amazes me though is how long it took for us to see the obvious. Or, more accurately, how long it took for us to say it. For me to say it.

I want our church to be able to meet the needs of everyone. In the end, however, trying to be all things to all people is a prescription both for schizophrenia in the short-term and heartbreak in the long.

A church must learn to be what it is. A pastor must learn to be what he or she is. We all must learn to be ourselves. If we try to be anything else ultimately it will destroy us. The wineskin will burst.

When I finally did say it—“Don’t you think you should go to church downtown?”—there was a sudden release for us both. The relationship suddenly seemed much more authentic. The pressure was off. The truth had set us both free. 

After she left I sat in the coffee shop for a long while. I knew that what had just happened was for the best. I had given the best pastoral advice I could give and she had taken it. It was the right thing. Yet I was heavy of heart. Sorrowful even.

And then these words from Jesus came over me as a soothing balm: “I have other sheep that don’t belong to this fold.”

May the shepherd lead you to your rightful fold, my friend.


Ryon Price is pastor of United Church of Colchester in Colchester, Vt. This column also appeared on his blog.

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