I grew up with a great dad. When my brother and I were young, he and a friend of his started a Boy Scout troop for their boys, primarily so they could take us camping a lot. For several important years as I was growing up, we went camping eleven months out of every year.
During the first few years, we were pretty enthusiastic, but not at all skilled. But before long, we developed some actual skill at camping. After a few years, our monthly camping trips got to be less of a trial and a whole lot more fun, our meals more interesting, and we no longer worried about coming back wet, cold and defeated, and we looked forward to the week-long 50- or 70-mile trip in the summer. We didn’t earn as many merit badges as some troops did, but we camped more, and probably had more fun.
One of my friends in the troop was an Assistant Patrol Leader named Bill. He was getting pretty good at cooking over a fire and converting a flat spot in the woods into a comfortable campsite for the weekend. But Bill was not content: his goal was to advance to the rank of Eagle Scout. We’d never had anyone in our troop who was real focused on advancement before.
Before long, Bill figured out that he was among a band of brothers who were fun to camp with, but who had different goals and values from his. He needed to either realign his goals to match his circumstances, or realign his circumstances to match his goals. He chose the latter, and Bill left our troop to join another one that didn’t camp as much, but which raised up Eagle Scouts by the dozens.
Before King David became king, he ran for his life from Saul and hid in the Cave of Adullam. But while he was there, a whole bunch of people left someplace else and joined David’s troop.
1 Chronicles 12:1-2,8: Now these were the men who came to David at Ziklag while he was still a fugitive from Saul the son of Kish; and they were among the mighty men, helpers in the war… Some Gadites joined David at the stronghold in the wilderness, mighty men of valor, men trained for battle,
It’s possible to look at this as disloyalty: “I can’t leave my own people and join with another group, because that’s abandoning my people.” We see wars built on “These are my people and they’re better than another people.” Think of Northern Ireland or Somalia or Iraq.
Sure, there will always be flakes – self-centered opportunists – who wander like cows from one pasture to another, always grazing and never leaving more than manure behind. Get over them. Jesus said, “You will always have the poor among you.” Those people are not “ours” in the first place, they’re just spiritually “poor” and unwilling to change. I’m talking about people who know who they are in Christ, and who have a clue about following His leadership.
If I’ve always been part of the chess club, and I begin to develop more of an interest in backpacking than chess, then maybe it makes some sense for me to depart the chess club and join with the backpacking club.
If my church fellowship is great on teaching the Word, but doesn’t care about worship, then maybe it doesn’t qualify as the be-all end-all supply of God’s resources for me. Maybe I can help them develop a value for worship. Maybe I can start a home group that worships passionately, and so fan the flame in my own heart. Maybe I can visit another group on Friday nights who worships passionately, and maybe I can help my church value worship. But if they decide that they’re happy the way they are and don’t want to grow or change, then perhaps I need to join a troop that values worship.
Or should I stay there, ignore the paucity of spirit growing into spiritual apathy and complacency, simply because I have always been part of that group?
If I do leave the chess club and join the backpacking club (like when Bill left our troop to be part of the troop that understood about advancement) I will leave a set of established relationships and I’ll be starting over with new relationships. It’ll take years to develop good relationships. I’ll be leaving a house where I am known and presumably trusted, and I’ll be joining a group that I have common interests with, but no history of relationship. I’ll be starting over. That’s a real cost, and I need to weigh the cost.
But if the president of the chess club, or some of the young nerds in that club, were to prohibit me from leaving the club, that would be a problem. If I tried to keep Bill from leaving our troop to join the other troop, then I’m screwing up on several levels: I’m abusing Bill’s trust in me, I’m putting my interests above his and demeaning him. More than that, I’m condemning his dreams to the abyss. I may tell myself and him “Hey, our troop has more fun,” but his goal is not fun; it’s advancement, and frankly it’s a higher goal.
Obviously, I’m not writing about Boy Scouts or about chess clubs. I’m writing about the church. We can see the abuse clearly when we talk in terms of Boy Scouts or chess clubs, but sometimes we justify the same abusive behavior when it comes to churches. God is the Commander-in-Chief of the Church, and He has the right to re-assign His soldiers as He sees fit, and who in Heaven’s name do we think we are if we try to hinder His servants from obeying Him?
(Obviously, the question arises of whether the departing church member is in fact hearing God, and hearing Him correctly. I would argue that if we have taught her to hear the Master for himself, then we best not stand in the way of her obedience; if we have not taught her to hear God’s voice herself, then we’ve demonstrated our self-centeredness and affirmed the wisdom of her departure. It’s her decision: her opportunity to succeed or fail. That’s the main lesson of Philemon.)
Someone will bring up the question of the tithes of the family leaving, and since church budgets (and therefore pastors’ salaries) come from tithes, that’s a hot-button issue. “We can’t let them leave because I have a car payment and a kid in college.” Wait a minute, who is my provider? Is it this brother or sister who believes they’re obeying God in leaving, or is God my provider? And do I really believe that? What right do I have to put my budget ahead of her obedience to God?
Enough of the rant. This is a season when we’re approaching the front lines of the battlefield, and General Jesus is transferring soldiers – and high ranking officers – from one battalion to another. We’ve lived with separate streams for a while, and He’s cross-training among the streams now. He’s moving leaders from within a stream that’s strong in worship, but weak in mercy and he’s putting them in a stream that has a need to understand worship and the need for intimacy with God. He’s moving teachers to groups that understand intimacy, but lack a Biblical foundation.
When they (or you, or I) hear the call to a new assignment, certainly it’s appropriate to confirm the matter by the testimony of two or three witnesses. And if I just want to leave because this congregation is challenging me in a place that’s uncomfortable, then I’m in danger of becoming one of those cows wandering from pasture to pasture. That would be a mistake.
But when God is leading, let’s be quick to obey. And let’s encourage our brothers and sisters to obey. If we’re going to err, let’s err on the side of extravagant obedience, not on the side of timidity and security and fear. Let’s look at the bigger picture.
So are you in the right troop? Are they obeying their Master’s call? Can you help them follow their call? Can you become who God has made you to become while you’re there? Or has it just become comfortable? Are you being lulled to sleep?
Wake up! It’s time to be about His business! Plug in with people who are passionate about the stuff God is calling you to! If the people you're with aren't going where you're going, then don't go with them. Find a people going where you want to go, and go with them.