One of the blessings of the contemporary world is mobility as the world has never before seen it. If opportunities for work run dry, it is not difficult to pack up and move to another city—even another country. The invention of cars, trains, and airplanes—along with the effect of globalization in uniting the world—make moving cross-country and across countries easy. But what if this freedom of mobility has damaged the effectiveness of the local church?
The Bible never says, explicitly, “don’t move churches,” but I want to argue briefly that constant shuffling of church membership is detrimental, even devastating to the effectiveness of the Church. To be clear, I am not saying moving is always wrong—the Bible clearly endorses moving vast distances for the sake of the Gospel. My point is this, if the effectiveness of the Church relies on long-term faithfulness, stability should be a Christian priority. By stability I mean, long-term commitment to accountability to and service within a local Church and its leadership. When it comes time to make a move, this should be done in prayerful consideration of the cost it will have on our own spiritual life and the effectiveness of the Church we are leaving.
I think three lines of Biblical evidence emphasize the need for stability in our churches: 1) without stability, there is no accountability; 2) without stability, individuals will not experience long-term growth; 3) without stability, the church’s ability to function is impaired. I will look at each of these three in a seperate post; first, let’s consider accountability.
Without Stability, There Is No Accountability
The modern Western world is not a fan of accountability, yet the Bible does not share its antipathy to authority. In the New Testament, one of the marks of a healthy church is healthy leadership acting to keep the congregation accountable in their walk with the Lord. The leaders of the local church are charged with shepherding their flock. They are to protect them against falsehood, see that they grow in sound doctrine and equip them for ministry, and rebuke them when they are in sin (Acts 20:28-35; Eph 4:11-14; 1 Tim 4:11-16, 6:2c; 2 Tim 4:1-5; Titus 2:1; Heb 13:17; 1 Pet 5:1-5). In sum, they are charged with “keeping watch over [our] souls, as those who will give an account” (Heb 13:17).
In fact, the whole church, under the authority of its leaders, functions to keep its members accountable. For example, in Matthew 18, Jesus anticipates the formation of the church and instructs Christians, after bringing a brother’s unrepentant sin to the brother sinning and then several brothers, to bring their case to the church. If the man refuses to listen to the church, he is to be excommunicated in order that he might see the error of his ways (Matt 18:15-20; cf. 1 Cor 5:9-11, 2 Thess 3:6).
I do not see how this is possible without stability—long-term commitment to accountability to and service within a local Church and its leadership. That is, if Christians move often, how will the church keep them accountable? Think about the above examples: if leaders are charged with keeping watch over the souls of their sheep and will give an account to the Lord Jesus Christ for their success or failure in this regard, they need to know their sheep. They need to know the current state of their souls in order that they can shepherd them into maturity. Teaching the fullness of the Word of God is a life long endeavour, and if it is charged to specific leaders over specific sheep, this implies a life-long relationship.
Considering the role of the whole church in excommunication, this is only a meaningful punishment if a local church is an irreplaceable part of its members lives. If the role of one church can be replaced by going to another, excommunication will have no meaningful value. Only by being stable in a single church will we build the relationships that make excommunication an appropriate tool to bring someone to repentance. If we flip this around, if moving doesn’t feel like brutal punishment that would produce repentance if the source of separation was sin, you are not attached to your church enough.
If we are going to be sufficiently accountable to our church leaders, we need to be stable—committed for the long-term to our church. This implies, on the other hand, that a church’s leadership needs to be committed for the long-term to their congregation.
Photo by Emile Séguin 🇨🇦 on Unsplash