Oh, the dreaded relationship phrase, the one that no one wants to hear, the one that many of us have heard: “It’s not you, it’s me.” Yes, that one. That one little phrase which seems so self-deprecating for the speaker, feels like a knife as it is twisted into the proverbial gut. You let yourself think for a moment that the problem really does lie with the other person, and that you really are the victim here, but delusions only last so long. The emptiness of that verdict eventually shows itself. It is an easy out for the moment, but it is deceptive, self-serving, and more harmful than helpful.
Unfortunately, however, it is an out that people choose when seeking to extricate themselves from the various relationships that they no longer wish to maintain. In a divorce culture, it is the primary excuse for seeking that new start that the new relationship promises. The subtle deception at the heart of this excuse for quitting–for that is what it is, an excuse–is that the central focus still remains on the self. Think about it, “I’m not right for you, I would be better suited for someone else because I just don’t deserve you.” It sounds noble, right? But what is lurking at the heart here? I am! The main variable in the equation is me and what I feel is right or acceptable. The speaker is ultimately saying, “I’m not happy and I want to find what will make me happy.”
As a pastor, this is an all too familiar conversation. You are informed that a family is leaving your church and they bend over backwards to compliment the preaching, speak of the sweetness of the fellowship, and praise the love and support they have received. Naturally, you think, “so, why are you leaving?” When pressed, they affirm your ministry, but ultimately they are choosing a different direction. People come and go, that is the way of it, but those types of dishonest conversations shouldn’t be commonplace in the church, yet they are. What is at the heart of it? At the heart of it is a deep misunderstanding about what it means to be committed to and connected with a local church.
I often counsel people to view their church membership like a marriage or a parent/child relationship. Within those relational contexts, things happen that we don’t like. We get hurt, we give hurt, we do and say stupid things, and we bear the brunt of stupid words and actions. We laugh together, we cry together. Its not perfect, but it is what we have promised. No church is perfect. Every last one of them has a litany of issues, but they are our churches. These are the people who celebrate births with us and grieve deaths with us. These are the people who celebrate our prosperity with us, and they help shoulder our burdens when we are lean. They encourage us and rebuke us. We are known by them and we know them. Nothing is perfect in a local body, and our presence there makes it all the more imperfect. Leaving is often not the answer, but leaving under the guise of, “it’s not you it’s me” only adds insult to injury. We need to avail ourselves to the Spirit because often times the real problem is a personal sense of failed expectation, and where in the Bible is the promise found that the church will always meet our personal expectations? So, perhaps you who say, “it’s not you it’s me,” are right, perhaps it is you because you have failed to understand the nature of covenant, commitment, and community.