One of the costs of being a church committed to multiplying disciples and sending people to start new groups, campuses, and churches is saying goodbye again and again. The local church is a community where members share in both the triumphs and disappointments of life (Romans 12:15). Together we bare our souls, carry one another’s burdens, encourage perseverance, and celebrate progress. Parting ways with those types of relationships is painful.
Goodbye for the Sake of the Gospel
In Acts 20:17-38, the Apostle Paul and the leaders of the Ephesian church wept together as Paul set sail to continue the task God had given him. Their tears were the evidence of a treasured companionship, and their separation was evidence of a commitment to obedience. The mission of the church to make disciples of all nations (Matthew 28:19-20) requires all believers to either send or go. That means many goodbyes, all for the sake of advancing the gospel of Jesus Christ. We willingly say goodbye knowing our ultimate joy is not in the people we love, but in the Savior whose love changes everything.
Goodbyes Are Hard
Let’s face it. Most goodbyes are awkward. I can still vividly remember my parents dropping me off at college. When the time came to part ways (which was long overdue in my opinion at the time), my parents had finally surrendered the fight of holding back a flood of tears. I tried to keep the hugs short so that our blubbering circle didn’t stain the self-reliant persona I hoped to display before the other eighteen-year-olds I now had to live with.
The temptation is to downplay goodbyes and find ways to make them feel less drastic. Even among superficial relationships, when the likelihood of a future encounter is near impossible, I’ve still heard myself saying, “See ya!” to an Uber driver or flight attendant. Saying goodbye is hard. And the closer you are to someone, the harder it is.
Tips for Good Goodbyes
Several months ago I came across an article that provided 10 Tips for Good Goodbyes that I have often recommend to those being “sent out” from our church.
Influenced by those original ten tips, along with others I’ve picked up along the way, here are three ideas to help you have an edifying goodbye.
- Say your goodbyes early.
Waiting until the final days before departure is not a good idea. If the person moving is relocating geographically, those days are filled with toil over logistics. There are too many things on the mind of the goer as he or she prepares to enter a new context. Even when the move is to start a new group within the same church much of the mental energy shifts to the new group weeks ahead of time.
So plan a dinner or meal a few weeks ahead of the actual departure in which you share past memories together. If it’s a group meal, notify everyone ahead of time why you’re getting together and ask everyone to take turns sharing how they’ve been encouraged by the person being sent out.
- Write down your thoughts.
Even when I’m only going to be gone a matter of days on a short-term mission trip, saying bye to my family is hard. But my family has used those occasions to write letters to one another that are only to be opened after departure. I would rather lose my passport than those letters.
Take time to articulate what your relationship with the person has meant and send those thoughts with them. Or if you’re the person going, write your notes ahead of time, but wait and put them in the mail on the day you leave. What a fun surprise for friends and loved ones to receive your words of affirmation when they least expect it!
- Use objects as memory bonds.
I’m not a fan of traditional keepsakes—those objects someone meaningful in your life gave to you but have very little practical use. I feel too guilty to throw them away, so they continue to harbor in the attic. But shortly before one Mercy Hill family moved to Orlando, Florida, to help start a new church, they shared a recipe for “baked oatmeal.” Now every time I smell it baking in the oven I think of them. And I love the easy opportunity to share their story of why they moved for the sake of the gospel with my kids again and again.
Goodbyes don’t need to be avoided. If done well, goodbyes can be powerful moments that encourage and edify one another as we obediently send and go.
-Bryan Miller (Connections/Missions Director)