This is a response to my friend Tara’s recent post on her blog, Considerable Grace. (Click here to read.)
I started to reply in the comments, but I realized it was a post in-and-of-itself :)
The question was,
…a friend of mine is leaving her (beloved) church to join a new one that is significantly closer to her home. No conflicts or theological disagreements, just a great opportunity to save a ton of driving while still remaining in the same denomination, involved in the same outreach and mercy ministries, etc… Her question for me was something to the effect of, â€œHow do I make this move in the most loving and gracious way so as to AVOID causing any conflicts?â€…
Big Idea: The Body of Christ is Bigger Than a Single Congregation
I believed this in my heart, but my eyes were opened when I went to Mitaka Evangelical Church in Japan for the first time. We struggled to communicate with words, but I instantly identified with the worshipful hearts of the members there. I learned that the body of Christ is even bigger than language barriers!
From the more academically focused churches, to the simple country church, to the Christian websites, to the evangelists, to English speaking churches to Japanese speaking churches – God’s Truth is being proclaimed to the nations, to people of all walks (and talks!) of life, and we need to rejoice over this!! We all need each other, and we’re all in team ministry with one another.
Applying the Big Idea: Freedom to Stay Involved With Your Former Church
If God’s plan is for you to move to a new church, He will not leave you nor your former congregation hanging. It is possible that your church back home may change in a positive way when you leave – think about it, if you were a church leader, formally or informally, someone else will now fulfill the role. Your former church may grow in new ways because of your move. Your new church may need the very gift/talent/personality set that God has given to you, and it may be an adjustment as you get accustomed to your new home and it gets accustomed to you. Growing pains produce growth. The transition might hurt at first, but God promises He will not leave His work incomplete.
When we catch the big idea here is that God is at work in every place, we can break free from sins like jealousy or coveting. It frees us from doing things like measuring people’s abilities as they fill in the role we left behind, or having the false idea that there is only one way to run a women’s ministry and critically comparing it to the one from your “perfect” former church. It frees us because our hearts are focused on praising God for His vastness. It frees us to appreciate each body of Christ for it’s uniqueness and beauty, and to praise God for the variety in the Church. It frees us to love and maintain friendships with our former church members without fear.
It is important beyond words to commit yourself to your local church. By being a member of our local church, we have the support and a foundation in place so that we can go forth to minister to other believers — in our former church and in the churches around the world! In many ways this commitment is similar to marriage and a family unit. Just like you wouldn’t let your own family go hungry so you can feed someone in need, do not take away your resources or your involvement in your local church to give to former church. That being said, I can’t think of a single person who doesn’t have time to pray for the needs of friends or to send a quick email of encouragement.
Maintaining Personal Relationships: Hints and Ideas
Just because you leave doesn’t mean that relationships have to die. I live in Japan, and I daily communicate with my loved friends, family and church members back home. It is important to me to do this, and therefore I make it a priority. Think of all the churches the Apostle Paul encouraged just through writing letters – which are still preserved for us to read today, I might add!
Communication can be done through good old-fashioned snail mail, the more recent invention called the telephone (with Vonage, long distance fees are history!), or even via the Internet. In addition to email, the Internet offers Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Skype, and more! By “stay in touch”, I mean showing love, caring for, praying for, etc. Annual family newsletters are great tools, but they cannot be the only communication with someone if you want to maintain a friendship with them.
If you find staying in touch with a number of people to be overwhelming, invest in a good address book program for your computer (because if you’re reading this, you probably have one!) that includes fields for notes, anniversaries, birthdays, how you last contacted them and when, and planned follow-up contact. While it’s romantic to think that you’ll remember all the important dates and to follow up on something, chance are, you’ll forget. The end result of planned contact is the same as spontaneous contact: you let the important people in your life know you care. The same tools for maintaining business contacts can be used to helping maintain personal relationships. This is the very reason caved in and I joined Facebook: to make it easier to maintain relationships with people I care about. I like it because I can keep up with my friends’ status updates, photos, notes, profiles, birthdays and other special events (with reminders!) and more — all in one place.
More Ideas for Staying Involved
Listen to sermons from your former pastor. From Japan, I am still listening to and growing from Gregg Strawbridge’s sermons at All Saints Presbyterian.
Ask to receive church newsletters in the mail.
Subscribe to any email groups related to your church and participate in the discussion.
Ask to know what people are studying in Bible studies. Buy a copy of the book and follow along and discuss them on the email group or with individuals.
Ask to know about church fund raising and give a special financial gift to your old church. We give to other Christian organizations, why not give to a congregation that has made a difference in your life ?
Attend special events, such as service-project days, bridal and baby showers, annual picnics or retreats. Even if you can no longer commute to the church regularly, visit once in a while to encourage and be encouraged by them. They are part of your family, just like the out-of-town relatives you make a priority to visit!
Ask to remain on the â€œprayer chainâ€ so you can pray for the needs of the individual members and the church body as a whole. Remember to follow up with cards or emails, or even by sending flowers, as you may not have the chance to follow up in person.
Stay active in the meals ministry or other niche ministry groups. Offer to be a once-a-month backup for meals ministry in a pinch. If the ladies make quilts to welcome new babies in the church, and each lady makes a square, find out the dimensions and contribute a square. There are endless possibilities!
Ask for an up-to-date church directory, and asked to be kept in the directory as a â€œFriend of the Churchâ€ :) Missionaries are in the directory, and people can stay in touch with them… so itâ€™s possible that you can be in the directory, too!
Communicate with the church body as a whole. Recognize that they miss you as much as you miss them. Encourage them as a congregation, as someone who knows their particular needs first hand. Send updates addressed to the whole church as to how you are doing, and how you are growing. Let them know of your prayer requests — and most importantly, how much you love them.