A church member or friend comes to me and says, “I’ve got a job offer in another town,” or “I’m ready to do more education and have applied to a few different schools around the country,” or “We’re shopping for a home.” That's not surprising for a mobile society. In the 21st century, people often move for jobs, or education, or buying a new home. Long gone are the days when a person stays in the same town and maybe even takes over the family business. The average American is said to move as many as 11 or 12 times in his lifetime, most of which come before his mid-40s.
So for this mobile society I'd like to suggest two principles to consider before moving.
1. If you are considering moving, make sure there is a good church in your new location before you make the final decision to move.
Don’t make your decision to move based solely on criteria like:
- This new job will be good for your career.
- Education will give you better job prospects in the future.
- You’re dissatisfied with your current job so you need to move on to somewhere else.
- You’ve outgrown your current house, so you want to move to a bigger one.
- You want a bigger home just because you can afford it.
- You are about to start having kids and want to move closer to your family.
- You would rather live in a city or the country or where the pace of life is different.
Here is what’s troubling to me—folks are usually not making church a first priority in their decision to move. Either they haven’t thought about what church they would go to in their new location, or they just assume there will be a good church near them no matter where they move. After all, this is America, where a church can be found on every street corner, right?
What you shouldn’t do is pick a new career or apply for an education opportunity or buy a new home and not consider where you are going to church. To do that is to make your spiritual life secondary to your career, educational choices, or home purchase. As best you can, build your life around a church where you are prospering spiritually.
2. Consider, at some point in your life, committing to a church long-term.
If you’ve found a church where you are growing spiritually, then you’ve found a good thing. Why give it up? If you stay in your church over the long-term, you have the benefit of:
- Getting to know the leadership of the church much better and allowing them to get to know you.
- Getting to know the local community better (which will help your evangelism).
- Sitting consistently under preaching that is benefiting you spiritually.
- Building a kind of depth to relationships, which you achieve over 10 or 20 (or even 30) years that you don’t get if you move every 5 years.
- Being known by others who have had the chance to see your needs, challenges, and sin patterns over time, which in turn enables them to speak meaningfully into your life and care for you in a way that those you just met couldn’t.
- Earning trust among leaders in the church so that you might be assigned various responsibilities.
- Earning trust among leaders and others generally that you might speak into their lives in significant ways.
- Having the opportunity to minister to the children of others as they grow from infancy to adolescence to adulthood, and having the ability to help form in those children’s minds a model of godly adulthood.
- Building greater unity within the church by growing up with the church.
- Providing a kind of stability in the church by staying and giving an example of commitment through thick and thin.
- Being sanctified through being at the same church during different seasons:
- In life—single; married; with kids; retired;
- Personally—when thriving and when struggling.
- In relation to the church—contentment, discontentment.
- Witnessing long-term spiritual growth—what it is like for God to make people more like himself over decades.
I know this might sound far-fetched, but at some point, it is okay to say “no” to new job possibilities or education or a bigger home because you don’t want to give up your church. I’ve known folks who did that, even in their 20s or 30s. I have a friend who has turned down promotions because he knows the next level of responsibility will make it hard to stay involved in his church or force him to move to another part of the country. I’ve known college students who picked a school in their own community because they loved their church, or have said “no” to good schools because they couldn’t find a good church in the same town. I’ve known folks who stuck with the same home, even though they could afford a bigger one, so that they could live near their church and invest in the same community that their church resides in.
Because the local church is the way in which God plans to make his “manifold wisdom” known to the world (Eph. 3:10) and because a local church is a key to your spiritual growth, you should consider committing to one church long-term.