Keeping Up With Old Friends While Attending a New Church: Big Ideas and Practical Methods

Reposted from http://www.sarahjoyalbrecht.com
 
This is a response to my friend Tara’s recent post on her blog, Considerable Grace. (Click here to read.)

I started to reply in the comments, but I realized it was a post in-and-of-itself :)

The question was,

…a friend of mine is leaving her (beloved) church to
join a new one that is significantly closer to her home. No conflicts
or theological disagreements, just a great opportunity to save a ton of
driving while still remaining in the same denomination, involved in the
same outreach and mercy ministries, etc… Her question for me was
something to the effect of, “How do I make this move in the most loving
and gracious way so as to AVOID causing any conflicts?”…


Big Idea: The Body of Christ is Bigger Than a Single Congregation

I believed this in my heart, but my eyes were opened when I went to Mitaka Evangelical Church in Japan for the first time. We struggled to communicate with words,
but I instantly identified with the worshipful hearts of the members
there. I learned that the body of Christ is even bigger than language
barriers!

From the more academically focused churches, to the church for
simpler folk in the country, to the Christian websites, to the
evangelists, to English speaking churches to Japanese speaking churches
- God’s Truth is being proclaimed to the nations, to people of all
walks (and talks!) of life, and we need to rejoice over this!! We all
need each other, and we’re all in team ministry with one another.

Applying the Big Idea: Freedom to Stay Involved With Your Former Church

If God’s plan is for you to move to a new church, He will not leave
you nor your former congregation hanging. It is possible that your
church back home may change in a positive way when you leave - think
about it, if you were a church leader, formally or informally, someone
else will now fulfill the role. Your former church may grow in new ways
because of your move. Your new church may need the very
gift/talent/personality set that God has given to you, and it may be an
adjustment as you get accustomed to your new home and it gets
accustomed to you. Growing pains produce growth. The transition might hurt at first, but God promises He will not leave His work incomplete.

When we catch the big idea here is that God is at work in every
place, we can break free from sins like jealousy or coveting. It frees
us from doing things like measuring people’s abilities as they fill in
the role we left behind, or having the false idea that there is only
one way to run a women’s ministry and critically comparing it to the
one from your “perfect” former church. It frees us because our hearts
are focused on praising God for His vastness. It frees us to appreciate
each body of Christ for it’s uniqueness and beauty, and to praise God
for the variety in the Church. It frees us to love and maintain friendships with our former church members without fear.

It is important beyond words to commit yourself to your local
church. By being a member of our local church, we have the support and
a foundation in place so that we can go forth to minister to other believers
— in our former church and in the churches around the world! In many
ways this commitment is similar to marriage and a family unit. Just
like you wouldn’t let your own family go hungry so you can feed someone
in need, do not take away your resources or your involvement in your
local church to give to former church. That being said, I can’t think
of a single person who doesn’t have time to pray for the needs of
friends or to send a quick email of encouragement.


Maintaining Personal Relationships: Hints and Ideas

Just because you leave doesn’t mean that relationships have to die.
I live in Japan, and I daily communicate with my loved friends, family
and church members back home. It is important to me to do this, and
therefore I make it a priority. Think of all the churches the Apostle
Paul encouraged just through writing letters - which are still
preserved for us to read today, I might add!

Communication can be done through good old-fashioned snail mail, the more recent invention called the telephone (with Vonage, long distance fees are history!), or even via the Internet. In addition to email, the Internet offers Facebook, Twitter, blogging, Skype,
and more! By “stay in touch”, I mean showing love, caring for, praying
for, etc. Annual family newsletters are great tools, but they cannot be
the only communication with someone if you want to maintain a
friendship with them.

If you find staying in touch with a number of people to be
overwhelming, invest in a good address book program for your computer
(because if you’re reading this, you probably have one!) that includes
fields for notes, anniversaries, birthdays, how you last contacted them
and when, and planned follow-up contact. While it’s romantic to think
that you’ll remember all the important dates and to follow up on
something, chance are, you’ll forget. The end result of planned contact
is the same as spontaneous contact: you let the important people in
your life know you care. The same tools for maintaining business
contacts can be used to helping maintain personal relationships. This
is the very reason caved in and I joined Facebook: to make it easier to
maintain relationships with people I care about. I like it because I
can keep up with my friends’ status updates, photos, notes, profiles,
birthdays and other special events (with reminders!) and more — all in
one place.

More Ideas for Staying Involved

  • Listen to sermons from your former pastor. From Japan, I am still listening to and growing from Gregg Strawbridge’s sermons at All Saints Presbyterian.
  • Ask to receive church newsletters in the mail.
  • Subscribe to any email groups related to your church and participate in the discussion.
  • Ask to know what people are studying in Bible studies. Buy a copy
    of the book and follow along and discuss them on the email group or
    with individuals.
  • Ask to know about church fund raising and give a special financial
    gift to your old church. We give to other Christian organizations, why
    not give to a congregation that has made a difference in your life ?
  • Attend special events, such as service-project days, bridal and
    baby showers, annual picnics or retreats. Even if you can no longer
    commute to the church regularly, visit once in a while to encourage and
    be encouraged by them. They are part of your family, just like the
    out-of-town relatives you make a priority to visit!
  • Ask to remain on the “prayer chain” so you can pray for the needs
    of the individual members and the church body as a whole. Remember to
    follow up with cards or emails, or even by sending flowers, as you may
    not have the chance to follow up in person.
  • Stay active in the meals ministry or other niche ministry groups.
    Offer to be a once-a-month backup for meals ministry in a pinch. If the
    ladies make quilts to welcome new babies in the church, and each lady
    makes a square, find out the dimensions and contribute a square. There
    are endless possibilities!
  • Ask for an up-to-date church directory, and asked to be kept in the directory as a “Friend of the Church” :)
    Missionaries are in the directory, and people can stay in touch with
    them… so it’s possible that you can be in the directory, too!
  • Communicate with the church body as a whole. Recognize that they
    miss you as much as you miss them. Encourage them as a congregation, as
    someone who knows their particular needs first hand. Send updates
    addressed to the whole church as to how you are doing, and how you are
    growing. Let them know of your prayer requests — and most importantly, how much you love them.
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