I think it is safe to say that every person in our body who has moved into the community has given up a lot of worldly comforts. In fact, I am quite convinced that if it wasn't for the Holy Spirit and my wife, my secret idol would be wealth and I would be ministering to very wealthy people and showing you theologically why there is nothing wrong with that. To be clear, there is nothing wrong with ministering to wealthy people. The question we have to ask is “what does our old sinful nature gravitate toward”? For example, imagine we are in a room of fifteen Christians who are each given the opportunity to minister in either the inner city of Detroit or the plush environment of Grosse Pointe (or pick the nicest suburb around where you live). Most likely we would get an overwhelming response to serve in the suburbs. Actually, a more real picture would be one of silence because we would all want the suburbs, but it would seem un-Christian to blurt out that self preserving request. Therefore, we would probably have to cast lots with everyone in their hearts hoping to get placed in Grosse Pointe. Sadly, we don't cast lots in this area as Christians. Instead, we have built a Christian culture that doesn’t want to expose itself. Instead of being honest about our flesh, we let the subject of where you live and what you do with your money be a pardonable sin (meaning a sin the church will excuse) since we all struggle in this area. You can do what you want with your life, and how you spend your money and where you live is totally up to you. We appeal to the motto of life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness. To ask questions in this area has become judgmental in American Christianity. There are a few scenarios that we see played out in and around the community of faith. Which one are you?
These are people who will never put themselves in harms way. American Christianity has told them it is okay to feed your sin nature while assenting to the facts that Jesus lays out in the scripture. These are the people who actually get upset that people are moving into our neighborhood. They appeal to such worldly reason like better school systems, safety, people who are similar to them, better opportunities for them and their family, etc. It seems clear that all these reasons are merely worldly attempts to preserve their lives and enjoy their desires. God is way more gracious than me, so I wouldn't be surprised if they are trusting Christ and his grace for salvation (so they might be Christians), but at best they are killing the desired biblical witness that Christ wants for the church. They are spitting in the face of important models and teachings of Christ like eternal perspective, biblical grace, unity, image bearing, selfishness, pneumatology, and missions, just to name a few.
These are people who actually admire what we are doing, but God has them in another area serving Jesus. Our body would not be doing what it does if it were not for God's people in this area. We are very thankful for people in other communities who help to mobilize us in this community for Christ. However, It gets a little hairy when Jesus begins to introduce people to destitute and needy areas, because now people have to make sure they in faith can stay where they are after seeing what they have seen and knowing what they know. Although many good people are serving faithfully where they are, many times this timeline is a convenient timeline for people never to consider why they are where they are. They just appeal to the fact that I minister where I am, and I can't help it if it is in a place with great churches, awesome malls, great family life activities, etc. They would say, “I guess I will carry the burden of ministering where I am at.” Oh how convenient! These people must examine if they are really worshipping God’s created things versus the creator.
These are people who come into our community to serve, and then, for many reasons, the emotion wears off and it becomes too hard. They start to long for a "regular" life, not one as a missionary. These people then feel pressure because they know they have committed to a community, so they start to go through a time of guilt. Because of the guilt they begin to view their friends, those who have fought with them and for them, as unsafe, so they begin to not share their hearts as much. They begin to isolate themselves and not share of themselves as much. Finally, the nail in the coffin is that they begin to find fault with the ministry or the leaders. Self sabotage is usually the last stage before exit. Very rarely do people leave without demonizing individuals or a ministry as a whole. Someone has to be the scapegoat right? Could it be that it wasn’t the church's or the leadership’s fault? Could it be that the person is actually worldly and giving in to the flesh?
These are people who are serving in the ministry and believe they have an opportunity to expand God's kingdom somewhere else. They might be considering their home town, another country, or another area in the city. Their motivation is not to leave the hood or whatever hard area they are in, but the motivation is to take ground for Christ elsewhere. With great joy and sadness do we send these people off. Great joy because we are accomplishing part of God's mandate to subdue the earth. Sadness because we are sending away dear friends and family that we love.
These people are similar to timeline three; the only difference is their response to the flesh. Instead of blaming others for their own convictions, they renew their minds. Many times they feel conviction because they realize that they desire their own benefit and not God's Glory first, which Phil. 2:3-4 speaks clearly against. After they realize this is conviction from the Spirit, they can begin to ask themselves hard questions and remain in an environment where people that love them and love Jesus can ask hard questions as well.
There are a few questions you have to ask when discussing location and Christian service. Where do you get your joy? What reward are you searching for? There are many worldly answers to these questions: comforts, healthy friends who agree with your way of life and thinking, being in a community where selfishness is a way a life, etc. After replacing lies with truth we fight to remain in a place that our flesh and old sin nature desperately is looking for a way out. That seems to be the normal ebb and flow of believers in our body, but I applaud the fight and praise God for his grace to remain a fighter for Christ our great reward.
I am humbled by the people who fight and renew their minds for God’s glory. At the same time, I have seen many people choose to lie to themselves and leave because it is simply too hard for them. As if it is not just as hard for those who choose to stay and fight. It is surely as hard for them too. If the Holy Spirit raised Jesus from the dead and empowers people for supernatural tasks daily and made all of us who know Christ newly human again, then how is he not enough to allow us to fight until the end. I don't buy the conclusion that people just can't do it. Well, let me say that another way. I know people can't do it. But we don't rely on our own strength. We trust God to empower the weak and all praise goes to Jesus. In my opinion, do you know what has been the consistent variable in people leaving our community? They simply stop trusting Jesus.
I only wish the Lord would give us the grace to not blame shift toward others and to not abuse grace for a relief to gratify our selfish desires. I wish people who leave would just say, “I am too wimpy to stay and I don't trust God on that level. I need to process with the Lord and his people as to why this is the case and repent and ask God to work in my heart.” Is it too much to ask of people to answer honestly about why they don’t want to fight for Christ sake or why they won’t even attempt to put themselves in harms way for the gospel? Once they admit that the main issue is that they aren’t trusting in Christ, they can begin working through that with the people of God. Seems like a long shot, huh? I am still going to pray toward that end.