When people in your church move away….

Several of the families that my wife and I consider close friends are being transferred out of state. That means we won’t be seeing them much anymore. And that is sad for us. And it is sad for our church not only because we loved them for who they were, but because they brought their gifts and passions to Redeemer. We’ll miss them personally, as well as their gifts.

Two nights ago I pondered this “exodus” for a bit. Is it worth getting close to people who may very well move in a year or two? Should we protect ourselves from this potential heartache? Should we be careful to befriend those who are more likely to stay in the area for a while?
Here are some thoughts
1.) Love vs. Self Protection: Much of what passes for love these days is nothing but self-protection. In other words, we say, “Yes” to some people and “No” to others to protect ourselves from their displeasure.  But if love keeps no record of wrongs (I Cor 13), it always opens itself to being wronged or hurt. Sometimes this hurt is not caused by any intentional or even unintentional sin (though this is often the case). Sometimes its caused by a job transfer. And if we let the “well this person could move and then I’d be hurt” mentality to creep in, we’ve protected ourselves but not loved. And love that Christians have for another ought to appear unique before the world: by this all men will know we are His disciples, if we love one another (John 13:35).
2.) God’s love moves toward people. That has to be our definition of love. This quote from Ed Welch’s When People are Big, God is Small, offers much to the challenge of befriending people who may move away from us.

In light of Hosea, such a strategy (never allowing oneself to get hurt by someone who could leave) is no longer an option for the Christian. God’s love is a costly love. It never takes the easy path away from relationships. Instead, it plots how to move toward other people. It thinks creatively of ways to surprise them with love. 

3.) Losing people?  I hate “losing” people whom I love and who love me, and support and serve the local church. I’ve “lost” friends time and time again due to moves (I still keep in touch with some, but its obviously a different relationship). But I have to remember that they are not MY sheep. They’re not yours either. They’re Jesus’ sheep. I’m just an “under-shepherd”(I Peter 5). So if He sees fit to shuffle sheep by moving them out of state, He has that right. I don’t have to like it, and I can be frustrated and saddened, but I do have to recognize His right. And He seems to know more than I do, so that really helps too.
4.) A mindset of sending, as opposed to hoarding. Naturally we tend to hoard our blessings instead of sharing them, whether it be a good dessert, friends, family, or finances. Pastors and parishioners alike can be guilty of this when it comes to people in the church. But hoarding products or people is really contrary to the purpose of blessing (Gen 12:1-3). After a season of being blessed with good relationships and fellow laborers in the gospel, do we even consider that God may want us to bless others by sending our dear friends out or releasing them? Are we really quick, or even open, to send out families we love to serve as missionaries, or plant churches, or to move?

When people are “sent” in the traditional way missionaries are sent, that’s one thing. We have a category for that. Yet often God sends people to serve in different places via a job change. They are still sent, as God determines the exact places where we live (Acts 17:26). And that’s how the gospel really went out in the beginning: some were commissioned to go, but others were “sent” or “scattered” by persecution (Acts 8:1-4).

5.) It is always better to have loved/been loved and “lost” than not to have loved/been loved at all. When people love us and we love them, we and they are always better for it. One lad told me the other day that he had a “mini-revival” while at Redeemer. I’m glad for HIS SAKE that he was here. And I’m glad for MY SAKE that somehow I, and the rest of the church family, played a part in that. Despite the sad departure, loving them and being loved by them was worth it. It always is and always will be.

Just some things to think about when friends leave your church family. Simply writing these down has helped me look at people leaving in a different way.

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