Boston is a transient city. There’s 8 million colleges here, a wealth of cool job opportunities for young adults, and we’re on the East Coast, which means population density. It seems like everyone has lived in/gone to school in/passed through Boston at least once. And though there’s an abundance of colorful locals, the great conversation starter in Boston is “So where are you originally from?” Because you’re not from here.
Two years ago two dozen Californians, after a year or more of serious prayer, moved to Boston to plant a church. I was moving back to Boston for the third time at that time, and when I found out about their plans I knew that was my church. (I watched the announcement video, cried, and was like, “Yup!”) We all arrived in Boston around the same time, them from California and me from New York, along with a few others from different parts of the country to help plant Reality Boston.
Two years later and we’ve already seen half of the original California crew move on, either back to California or on to other things. The majority left in the first year, and more are still trickling out. We’re losing three more in the next month, and I know others who have said that they’re here until God lets them go back to California. Yet we’ve had more Californians move out here since the launch. And in the meantime we’ve had other friends come and go, moving to different places pursuing different things. There’s been a lot of in and out.
What about those of us who are called to stay?
When I moved back to Boston I knew was here. I mean, permanently, loving this city, seeing myself here in forty years, long term commitment, here. I love this city so much. I still get that wispy breathlessness when I ride the Red Line over the Longfellow Bridge and see the city. I get a kick out of legit Bostonians and their Patriots sweatshirts and Dunkin’s. I love going to games at Fenway and love the atmosphere. I love how the city was like family after the bombing last year. I love how we don’t have celebrities but local heroes. I love the neighborhoods. I love the North End. I love all the runners on the Esplanade. I even love the T. I love my church and I love what the Lord is doing here in this city.
But then my friends have said, “Well just wait, God will move you!”
Why? Why do we as Christians feel that we’re not necessarily following the Lord unless He moves us every few years to a different place, a different job, a different community? We’re very unfamiliar with the concept of being called to stay. It’s ironic that people feel comfortable saying to me, “God will move you someday!” Have you ever said to someone who is moving, “Maybe God is asking you to stay and dig in?” Isn’t it interesting that there’s almost always a defense that’s given when we do? As if it’s unthinkable that God could actually be asking any of us to sacrifice and stay. I’m reminded of Mark Driscoll challenging Francis Chan on his decision to leave his church. (He at one point asks, “Who’s going to pastor your church and take care of your people? When are you going to get bored with this new thing?”)
I’m not saying that God doesn’t call people away. He does. He absolutely shifts seasons. But I’ll also say that it’s easy to move when things get a little rocky, or things get a little boring, or the circumstances aren’t ideal. We see it in school transfers, switching jobs, divorce, and just plain moving to another state. There’s too many who have this idea in our communities today. As Tim Keller well put it (in a great article from Relevant on just this topic), “I’ve never seen a generation more interested in community, more desirous of it, [but] the younger generation doesn’t want to make the sacrifices that enable community to happen, which means you have to limit your options. You can’t just move every two years.” Another Keller quote that just popped up in my newsfeed: “We need more Christians living long-term in cities, creating a dynamic counter-culture.”
That’s why the call to stay is the hardest. It means having to deal with the rocky things. It means digging deep in relationship. It means planning for the longterm. It means getting bored and having to deal with the boredom because you made a commitment. It means getting active because you need to change the things you’re not happy with because there is no option to walk away. For me, it means creating stability for those around me. I’m really big on commitment and presence, especially in the church, and in the area of teaching and discipling – which involves doing life with one another – there has to be the commitment to presence. Spiritual parents need to be present for their spiritual children; church planters need to be present to grow and develop community. Understandably that is not the call of everyone, but it is the call of many. Could it be your call too? Why are we so quick to leave? The church today is at a lack of healthy leadership and stable community. Is that because we don’t make the sacrifice to dig in?
I think of the man possessed by demons who was saved by Jesus in Mark 5. “As He was getting into the boat, the man who had been possessed with demons begged Him that he might be with Him. And He did not permit him but said to him, ‘Go home to your friends and tell them how much the Lord has done for you, and how He has had mercy on you.’ And he went away and began to proclaim in the Decapolis how much Jesus had done for him, and everyone marveled.” Jesus told him that he couldn’t come to far-off places or new towns with Him; he must stay. Think that was the harder thing to do? But he stayed, and his ministry was gloriously fruitful, too.