I hate this time of year. People leave. They leave London more than they leave our church. But that doesn’t make it any easier.
I’ve thought long and hard about the advice to give people who say that they’re moving on. ‘Don’t’ is always my first offering. Has been for years. After all, to grow a church in a London suburb like Balham you’ve got to stem the flow. ‘Why would you want to be part of ‘not London’ in the Venn diagram of life?’ is my next offering. And I’ve tried a similar vein of questioning in a number of different ways. But that hasn’t seemed to have worked either. It has, however, led to a number of people delaying their departure. Though on second thoughts that may have had something to do with the housing market and their failure to get a job. Still, it felt like a win.
But now having had to accept the inevitability of people eventually leaving I have, with some reluctance, turned my mind to the advice I give them about joining another church. Here’s some of the ground I cover.
Pick a good one. Not all churches are worth being a part of. There are bad churches. So check them out beforehand. Don’t move to an area where you get off street parking but there’s no one preaching the gospel. Why would we want to look after your car more than your soul? Find out about them from their website, from conversations with your current leaders, listen to a handful of the sermons they put online and perhaps go and have a recce before you move. Good churches teach and apply the Bible, all of it and not just the bits they like. They encourage every church member to use their gifts for the benefit of others in the church family. And they prioritise explaining the great news of the gospel to people who otherwise wouldn’t hear it. Find a church that ticks those kinds of boxes.
Pitch up frequently not just regularly. I reckon it takes about two years to feel as much a part of a new church as you did of the old one. That’s just a ‘finger in the air’ type of judgement. But the point is that it’s going to take longer if you’re not pitching up and actually spending time with your new church family. You can mope around for ages saying your new church isn’t’ like your old one. And you’re right. It’s not. But you left your old one. Get over it. God has now placed you in a new church with a whole new bunch of people to do the Christian life with. So do it. Learn to love this new collection of odd balls, misfits and sinners that God calls His family.
Pray for your leaders. There are a new set of guys running church life for you now. It’s not the blokes you knew at Balham. You knew that they loved you and had listened to you. And even when their decisions weren’t the ones that you would have made you trusted them and you backed them. But you don’t know the new elders. And they don’t really know you. But God has put them in spiritual authority over you. They have responsibility for your growth and development in the Christian faith. And God will require them to give an account for how well they’ve done that. Can you imagine what an awesome responsibility that is? Much of the time, trying to run church is like trying to herd cats. Pray for your new leaders. The odds are you’ve just made their job harder. You’re a ‘London type. You have views. Opinions. And those types of things can upset the apple cart of congregational unity. They need your prayers. And everything else tends to flow from that.
Participate in church life. Don’t keep everything at arms’ length until you’re more comfortable with what’s going on and have worked out how things operate. I know it sounds wise to look before you leap. But don’t spectate. That’s not good for anyone. Being a spectator often leads to you becoming a critic. Churches tend not to need critics on the inside. They’ve got enough on the outside. Churches need participants. They need people who’ll roll up their sleeves and get stuck in. So throw yourself into stuff.