"We love because He first loved us" (1 John 4:19). We don't serve because it is our "job" or because church leadership expects this from us. Rather, our goal is "to prepare God's people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up" (Ephesians 4:12).
This applies to all those things we do relationally to build another believer up toward maturity: Reading the Bible together, praying together, sharing our struggles, confessing sin, exercising together, getting coffee together, finding out when each other's birthdays are, attending each other's kids sporting events, and hanging out at each other's houses. We do these things because it is the lifestyle of a disciple, not because it is our job. People are not a project. The end goal is not the church institution. The end goal is an ever expanding love for God and others.
Does it still hurt when someone you have connected with leaves? You bet! But it's important for us to see our investment in that relationship for its eternal impact, not just for the impact here and now.
Here some ways to avoid losing site of that:
• Stay focused on the mission and vision. Someone close to you leaving doesn't mean your calling to relational ministry is somehow illegitimate. Ultimately, we are called to love and be faithful in planting seeds and watering. God provides the quantity and quality of the harvest.
• Focus on Kingdom wins, not your personal win. Just because someone you've done life with has moved out of the picture doesn't mean you have failed. If the individual remains faithful, he or she will still have an impact for the Kingdom wherever they go. The discipleship lifestyle they experienced while with you can be a model they can take to their next field of ministry—possibly impacting even more than if they had stayed.
• Remember, God never wastes anything. Your disappointment could be a significant tool God can use. What you think of as a devastating blow to your ministry could be the necessary stimulus you need to seek the Lord in a deeper way. Disappointment is natural, but in your disappointment ask the Lord what needs to die in you to fully depend on him more. Discover adjustments that you need to make in your own leadership that can help you be more effective as you lead others going forward.
• Don't lose the relationship. You still can have an ongoing impact. You may lose the advantage of proximity and scheduling convenience to stay in touch, but if possible, keep encouraging, asking questions, and praying for one another. By staying in contact, you can still see how the Lord is at work in and around both of you. Because after all, Stew is my friend in the Lord, not my project!
—Dan Lentz is an Editorial Advisor for SmallGroups.com and the author of Let's Get Started: How to begin your small-groups ministry (Standard, 2007). Copyright 2009 by the author and Christianity Today International.