One of our church members is moving away next week -- she's moving to New York because she's young, unattached, and this may be the best time in her life to try such an exciting adventure. I'm both excited for her and sad to see her leave. We've had to say goodbye to a lot of our young adults over the past couple of years: the couple who moved to Michigan for a job opportunity, two couples that moved away to go to grad school, the fellow who moved away to be closer to home. Each move carries with it this strange blend of joy and sadness.
How are we as a church equipped to handle this state of itenerancy that has come to characterize America. A generation ago, most people stayed close to home and laid down roots there. Now, a significant part of our population is transient. Yet oftentimes in the church, we operate as though we expect everyone who comes through our doors to lay down roots and be with us for the rest of their lives. Sometimes the pain of saying goodbye causes us to hold off on committing to relationship.
I suggest that we need to have an understanding of both settling and wandering. God oftentimes calls his people to be wanderers (consider the peregrinations of Abraham, the wilderness wanderings of Israel, and the itenerancy of Paul) -- but he also at times calls them to be settlers (Israel in the land, the established communities that Paul ministered to).
So let me take a tentative shot at this -- simply throwing some thoughts out there to see if they stick:
Those of us who settle have a calling to lay down roots; become deeply involved in the community; pray and work for the blessing of where God has planted us. And we're called to open our hearts in hospitality to the wandering saints. To love them and nourish them as though they were going to be with us a long time. And when it comes time for them to leave, we send them with blessing and prayer and thanksgiving (and an exchange of email addresses).
The wanderers on the other hand bring important news, ideas, and ways of being. They are key components of cross- pollenation. Wanderers have a calling to be encouragers, exhorters, and equippers. They're called to commit quickly (the luxury of church shopping for a year and a half is not fully theirs) and to live intensely with the congregation to which God has called them for this season of their lives.
For both -- they bring gifts. The wanderers have a perspective on the truth that this world is not our home. They live out in parable the truth that we're all pilgrims and that we shouldn't get too comfortable in this sin-sick world. The settlers on the other hand, have a perspective on our eternal home. They live out in parable that there is a place called home where we're loved and accepted in our relationship and commitment to the living Lord Christ. They give us a foretaste of what we long for in eternity.
Soli Deo Gloria