Nov 16, 2015


Count Your Casualties

Steve Lutz gives great help for dealing with your ministry’s casualties – students who walk away.

“What do I do when a student just stops showing up, won’t respond to me, and won’t even let me know why he stopped coming around? He was involved…now he’s not. What do I do?”

There’s no easy answer to that question. Nor was there an easy way to alleviate my friend’s pain. He was dealing with a ministry casualty. They happen to all of us. You know what I mean: People you’ve invested in just…fall away. Often with little to no warning. And often, with out much of an explanation.

I’ve had them. If you’ve been in ministry for any amount of time, you’ve had them too.

We rarely talk about our casualties, especially outside our immediate circle. It’s certainly not the kind of thing you put in an update to your supporters. “Let me tell you about the student who is no longer walking with Jesus!” Nah, maybe not.

So we don’t really talk about it. It’s too hard. We have a sense of shame about it. “Did I do something wrong? What did I do?” What makes it harder is that we know we may never get answers to our questions.

But this shame and avoidance, if we’re not careful, will keep us from God’s good purposes for us, even in the midst of the grief, shame, and loss.

Just like no commanding officer with any character is flippant about their own casualties in battle, neither should we be flippant about casualties in ministry. Especially since we are engaged in a spiritual battle (Ephesians 6; 2 Corinthians 10).

So what should we do when faced with a casualty? How should we handle it? Here are several things I’ve learned over the years:

1. Expect it to happen

Expecting it doesn’t make it easier, but it does make it more comprehensible.

Jesus tells us to expect it in the parable of the Four Soils (Matthew 13). For many people, the college years are a four soils determination phase for them.

Not only that, but we should expect it because it happened to Jesus. To know Christ is to share in the fellowship of Christ’s sufferings, which includes casualties (Philippians 2:10). Jesus knew that Judas would betray him. He expected it. It also happened to Paul (John Mark; Demas).

So if it happened to them, how much more should we expect it?

2. Grieve the loss

It’s tempting to just move on. But resist the urge to microwave your grieving process. You invested in that person, and you feel something for them. You need to treat it as the real relational, emotional, and vocational loss that it is. So take time to grieve, so that you can move on in a healthy way.

3. Get on your knees

Let this loss drive you to pray more deeply, to pray more often, and to pray more earnestly. Let it drive you to pray for rootedness and growth in your ministry as a whole, and in those you personally disciple. And stay on your knees, because it’s in prayer that we can receive comfort from “the God of all comfort,” (2 Cor. 1), the one who knows our suffering and meets us in it.

4. Take time to process

Any loss will present an opportunity for learning and growth, if we open ourselves up to the process. Let it force you to ask good, hard questions about what you’re doing, how you’re doing it, and anything you need to change. Resist the urge to put it all on the other person. Even if the breakdown is 90/10, that’s still 10% of something you can learn from for the future.

5. Get back to work

You’ve grieved, prayed, and processed. For many of us, getting back to work is therapeutic in itself (that’s why we’re tempted to skip the preceding steps and jump right to this). At some point, you have to get back up and get back to work. Let your experience, and what you’ve learned from it, inform your daily activities with greater holy urgency, weight, and purpose. You may not be able to do anything about the casualty that happened, but you can use it to focus on a better future.

Hopefully you won’t be forced to spend much time counting your casualties. But be assured of this: they will come. Counting your casualties is part of counting the cost of following Christ.

But also be assured of this: God is greater than our situation. He’s writing a far greater story than we can imagine, and he’s brought glory out of loss before! So remember that we do not grieve as those who have no hope, because we have the hope of Christ!

about the author

Steve Lutz

Steve Lutz is the lead pastor of Wellspring Church in State College, PA Penn State University. He is also the author of two books, King of the Campus (2013) and College Ministry in a Post-Christian Culture (2011). He frequently speaks and writes on college ministry-related issues, and consults with college ministries across the country.