I increasingly have these meetings. Church members notice and wonder and lament and need someone with whom to process. We are a church that is saying goodbye with much more frequency to some good brothers and sisters. It’s never easy. Especially when you see godly people in your life go. These goodbyes are the hardest. So we sit and lament together while we see some good friends and gospel partners go.
Some of us are better at goodbyes than others.
Some are quick to say goodbye. Rip off the Band-Aid. Fare thee well. That’s life.
Others say goodbye several times, intended or not. Like saying “good night” before you both realize you’re actually headed toward the same elevator, this may or may not be a gift of anything but awkwardness.
Then there’s the couched-in-familiar “see ya later” final greeting, both of you pausing for a moment after you say it, realizing that in all honesty, well, you probably won’t.
We are all somewhat clumsy with our farewells. Probably because they reintroduce us to the fact that we are not in ultimate control of our lives or of anyone else’s.
Yet, saying goodbye is the way of the sending church.
In my own heart, I'm very prone to want to keep my community to myself and not share them. The book of Acts presses me on this preference.
A few years ago, I got to Acts in my Bible reading plan and, though I didn’t go in looking for this, a repeating pattern was revealed to me: As Christ builds His church, He brings His people together in groups for a time, for seasons, to accomplish kingdom work.
Some stay together to nurture the work. Others are called out to start still other works.
Two thousand years later, this is still the ebb and flow of healthy Christian community.
Godly people hold one another with an open hand. What God showed me in Acts caused me to consider anew the Great Commission of Christ in Matthew 28. By His Word, He gently began to pry my tightly closed fist open, me screaming all the way, "These are my friends, God. This is who I need with me to follow you. They speak into my life. We've been through a lot together. I'm not letting them go."
In His grace to me, He began leading these people out of my proximity. This continues today for me, and I’d guess for you, too. He still leads friends away to other kingdom work. He grows me to be quicker to say, "O God, these brothers and sisters don't belong to me. I'm not the master of their days; Jesus is."
Even in the community of my own family—my wife and my son—I must recognize Jesus commands their destinies. "God, they are not mine to do with and to direct as I please. Under your leadership, I will lead them, but Lord, you have your way with them."
Godly people who are about the gospel say goodbye often, confident in our union together as the family of God and confident that we will celebrate again. We WILL see one another again at the marriage supper of the Lamb. We will be with God together. For all time.
But now, just for a little while, we have little time to waste. The Great Commission overrides any attempts to build our own little castle of community we want to rule over. God is so much greater. We're called to hold one another with an open hand. This is the legacy of disciple-making into which the first disciples were called—a call that still resounds.
It still resounds.
We are part of an age-old, ongoing, epic work of the Creator God, whose image we bear, who is transforming us still by His work in Christ through our Christian community. It says something about who we are as the body of Christ that we have said many gospel goodbyes. Christians living rightly consistently say goodbye.
No one in our lives is with us constantly, save for the Lord Jesus by His Holy Spirit.
It is in this that we trust, as we say our goodbyes with great hope. And that’s the point we always come to in those meetings together. For a gospel people, there’s no alternative.