Over the next several months, we will be sending away several families because of job changes, family needs and (praise God!) to follow God's call to serve as missionaries. We live in a mobile area, so this is not unexpected, but it is always hard. It feels like losing. But when God is behind it, we get the privilege of sending. Let me explain why.
The Right Kind of Leaving
First, it's important that we think about the reasons for leaving. When we join a church, we covenant together to live as saints, in community. This commitment requires that we pursue relationships with one another, seek out opportunities to serve one another, and strive to grow together toward Jesus. It also means that we commit to dealing with conflict, we let love cover a multitude of sins, and intentionally bear up with all the rough edges that go along with this community life.
Sometimes people leave because they don't want the commitment or the work to follow through on this commitment. Sometimes people leave because of unresolved hurt. Sometimes people leave because they're bored. These leavings are losses, indeed, because they leave unfinished work in the household of God, and because they may cause more damage in their leaving.
But there's another kind of leaving that is solid, though sad. It's the kind where God clearly works to move a family to a new location. Where the Lord has made it clear to His people that He has plans and intentions, mission and a purpose for them away from here. This is the leaving we are talking about here.
So how do we respond to this kind of sending?
Joy in Sending
On the one hand, we celebrate in faith. When God moves a faithful family from our city to another, we know that He is going to continue working in and through that family! Consider the opportunities for gospel-influence they will have; think about the opportunities for mission God will create; think about the ways this dear family will invest in and serve another local church, building it up to be healthier and healthier!
If we have been blessed in knowing these brothers and sisters during their time here, how much more can we rejoice knowing that God will bring just as great a blessing to another local church?
Grief in Sending
At the same time, we acknowledge that we are losing the immediate presence of people we have grown to love. Sure, we will stay connected through various means -- but we will dearly miss the weekly interactions we've come to treasure.
So it is right and good to grieve their departure (cf. Acts 20:36-38). To express this ache to God. Not in a spirit of bitterness of course. Rather, we lament while trusting that our God is sovereign and good. And we lament in warm love for the saints we are sending, and with a compassionate heart that also recognizes their pain in leaving.
Hope in Sending
As we say our goodbyes and give last embraces, we must do so in hope. Hope that God will do great things through our brothers and sisters. Hope that God will cause our paths to cross again soon. Hope that one day the covenant community of God will be united together in the forever life Jesus forged.
And so, as we prepare to send off those we love this spring and summer, let us do so with our blessing, our tears and with hearts rooted in hope and confidence that our God is working all things out according to His will.