We aren’t colleagues. We aren’t comrades. We aren’t neighbors. We are family. If we are to understand the nature of the relationship between believers, we don’t need to understand work, politics, or geography. We need to understand family.
The Bible displays this truth in any number of ways. Together we call God “Father,” and if he is Father, then we are sons and daughters. We call Christ our elder brother, making us his siblings as well as one another’s. Young men are told to relate to older men with all the respect of sons to fathers and to older women with all the love of sons to mothers. They are to treat younger women with all the purity of sisters and to relate to widows as if they are their very own mothers. We are to love one another with brotherly affection and to understand that whoever does the will of the Father is a brother, sister, mother.
We see it in another way as well—in the way pastors are to be evaluated for their suitability to the office. If the church is more like a family than a business or nation, then pastors are more like fathers than bosses or managers. There is a closer relationship between church and family than between church and corporation or church and country. This is why a pastor must be evaluated on the basis of his home life more than his work life or political life. A man may be a great boss or an electrifying politician, but if he is a poor father he has no business leading a local church, “for if someone does not know how to manage his own household, how will he care for God’s church?”
What is true broadly across all of time and space is true more particularly in the context of the local church—especially if that local church makes membership truly meaningful. While Christians who lived centuries ago and Christians on the far side of the earth are brothers and sisters, there is a special way in which the family relationship is manifested and displayed in the local church. It is there in the context of living and worshipping together that we see mostly clearly how Christians relate as members of the same family.
If all of this is true, there is an interesting implication that is especially relevant in these days of turbulence. We read often in the news about “The Great Resignation.” Beginning in early 2021, great numbers of people began to resign their jobs, some looking for new work and some content to quit working altogether for a time. Economists are divided on the reasons for the trend, but whatever the case, they seem to flow from a discontentment deep enough to have impacted churches as well. Churches are seeing a Great Resignation of their own in which an unusual number of people have resigned their membership to move to another local church (or sometimes to settle in with a distant church’s livestream). Almost every church has some seats conspicuously absent, and remaining members who dearly miss the ones who have departed—people they loved, people they ministered alongside, people they rejoiced with and wept with. Almost every pastor has some fresh wounds, some fresh sorrows, as he has learned that yet another person, yet another family, has decided to move on—precious people he has counseled, preached to, prayed for, and attempted to serve with love.
In those situations when we consider whether it’s time to pull up roots and move to a new congregation, there is something we ought to deeply ponder: To leave a church is more like seceding from a family than resigning a job. It is more like removing yourself from a household than emigrating from a nation. It is not like working your way up the corporate ladder by moving between companies as much as it is like revoking your participation in one family to establish yourself in another.
In few places do we see our inner individualist more clearly displayed than in the ease and carelessness with which we bounce from church to church. In few places do we see our predilection for selfish decision-making with greater clarity than when we think so little of removing ourselves from one family in preference for another. While granting that there are many good and legitimate reasons to leave a church, I’d wager there are far more that are unnecessary, unwise, or unkind. And I’d wager that the most common reasons are the least legitimate of all.
With all that being the case, it seems that when we are in any doubt at all, we ought to stay put. When we are uncertain, we ought to stay the course. When it is not perfectly clear that we must leave or when we haven’t received wide affirmation that it’s wise to leave, we ought to set aside thoughts of finding a new family and instead joyfully recommit ourselves to loving the family we are already part of.