When God Says Stay


Though it has been nearly 50 years, I treasure my childhood days in my home church (Rolling Acres Alliance) in Akron, Ohio. Steady saints like Bill and Ruth Calvin, Frank Sawyer and Ethel Douglas changed my life. I gratefully recall the time they took to care about me, an ornery kid whose parents would not come to church. They were faithful, authentic people who seemed to show up whenever there was a kids’ activity at church. To me, they were the heroes of the Christian life.

You also may have memories of a few ordinary, yet extraordinary, folks like them in your church. They are probably people who served stints as the church bus driver, Sunday school teacher, kids’ club leader, treasurer, VBS leader and church board member. Many local congregations today are stronger because of these devoted people.

The example of their loyal lives motivates my wife, Marina, and me to seek to stay at the same Alliance church that we serve in suburban Chicago, 400 miles from my boyhood home. Two years ago Marina and I celebrated our 35th wedding anniversary and will soon mark our 35th anniversary as a pastoral couple at Bloomingdale Church. I can’t believe the congregation has endured us that long; surely they also must ask themselves how they have managed to tolerate our flaws all of these years.

Marina and I know our spiritual journeys have been wonderfully impacted by remaining at one church for more than three decades. Staying through the good times, the unsettled times and, yes, the lull times as well has refined our priorities and taught us about serving Christ for His honor, not for ours.

We are convinced that our family is better off, too. Staying has provided stability and deep roots for our two sons, Daniel and Joel. With our relatives far away in New Jersey and Ohio, folks in our congregation have been our sons’ spiritual uncles and aunts. Several are active mentors in their lives to this day. Both of our sons and their wives, Amy and Melissa, serve together enthusiastically in our church’s youth ministry. Amy and Melissa grew up in our church and were in my wife’s Sunday school class when they were fifth graders.

I know that staying in the same place for many years is not the ideal for everyone. There are times and places in which our pastors, international workers and lay leaders are prudent to make an appropriate and gracious exit. Yet, I offer two questions that anyone grappling with the dilemma of staying or going should ask:

Is moving on really best for the flock I currently serve, or am I seeking to fulfill my own dreams/desires?

Because we want to be productive leaders, the temptation is to blend what God is leading with what we want. We can easily confuse God’s will with our desire for a “greater” opportunity to serve.

Maybe there will be an enlarged ministry in a “better” setting, but maybe, in the long run, there will not. In fact, our most significant impact could be with the flock we are serving right now! I also think about the response one pastor gave to an invitation to move to a larger church: “Would a father leave his family for another because they have more children and a bigger house?”

Could God be saying “Stay right where you are” despite the disequilibrium I sense right now?

The temptation to leave can lure us when there are unsettled issues in our congregation. Church building programs can be a classic staging ground for discontent, especially when the exhausting project is finally complete and the pastor is wondering what is next. I have experienced it a couple of times. Or the precipitating factor can be a conflicted leadership team, a resistant faction within the congregation or a knotty church discipline process. Prolonged tension tends to incite restlessness and thoughts of fleeing to calmer, “greener” pastures.

I have seen how waiting and staying put through the unsettled times has eventually yielded breakthrough benefits to the church and to me as well. These times become the days (and the years) when staying teaches me endurance, enlarges my faith and grows His church. Perhaps God is whispering to you today, “I am not yet done with you in this place. Offer your willing heart anew, and stay right where you are.”

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