It’s a fact of the faithful life that gospel people say goodbye, some leave the familiar for the unknown as the Lord leads. But not all of us are headed for the ends of the earth.
Some of us are right where we are supposed to be. And we’re going to be here awhile.
That may thrill you or fill you with discouragement. But take heart and know that some believers aren’t called away to be the tip of the gospel spear. Some of us are called to stay together and stay behind to nurture the work.
This is the template of the Book of Acts. The people of God are brought together for a time, in a place, to accomplish a work beyond any of their individual capabilities—world-changing stuff. And then some of them are led away to the next adventure. Others stay behind to cultivate the local Christian community in the quietly unfolding epic of the day-to-day.
Charles Haddon Spurgeon speaks of this legitimate necessity that some stay behind:
“Fiery spirits may dash forward over untrodden paths to learn fresh truth, and win more souls to Jesus; but some of a more conservative spirit may be well engaged in reminding the church of her ancient faith, and restoring her fainting sons. Every position has its duties...”
Staying Behind Is Dangerous
After the car pulls away or the plane departs, we walk back into our familiar surroundings and fight the feeling that we’re stuck. The departure of friends makes us sad; happy and prayerful for them of course, but they will be missed. It won’t be the same as it was.
Know the inherent dangers of staying behind. It’s far too easy to get nostalgic about our world as it once was and fail to acknowledge all that God is doing in the world now.
Also, watch for the seed of envious defeat. It feels like the brothers and sisters who left are making more important decisions and facing greater challenges in their lives. We consider our choices, what led us here, and we reflect. We must guard against an unhealthy introspection that inhibits our taking action on the homefront.
This is the danger of staying behind. We won’t endure a frontal assault, but we will sometimes feel as though our position is surrounded. Like David in Psalm 55, we may long to sprout wings and fly away from what are often very personal attacks. These aren’t some distant native peoples rejecting us. They’re often friends. In this, staying requires a special brand of courage to aid, over the course of time, the doubting, desponding, wavering, joyless souls of others—and a Holy-Spirit-aided bravery to fight our own unhealthy introspection in the middle of it all.
Staying Behind Is Crucial
What do we do if we stay behind? We learn to say goodbye in a different way. An active way. A joyful way.
We consider why we are where we are. We ask God to inform and superintend the mission He has for us in this place, being ever mindful that we, too, are a crucial part of the coming of Christ’s coming kingdom.
Has God called you to stay behind? Be faithful in the so-called mundane (as if there were such a thing in the life of a child of God!). Challenge yourself in your daily schedule. Pray for the Lord to bring a friend whom you can mentor/disciple into your path. Ask for friendships with people that don’t think, look, or believe as you do. Dig in with them. Show them the reality of the community of God’s people. Cultivate it in your church and small group as you would a garden season after season. Invest deeply in your local church. Lean into the lean years and let them be anything but ho-hum.
Challenge yourself to get out. Visit gospel-preaching churches and church plants and see how the Lord is moving in your city, state, and country.
Take charge of the common grace of modern communication. Encourage your friends who have left for uncharted waters. Write them. Skype them. Get the word out to others in your community about the work your friends are doing. Use it as an opportunity to talk of God’s gospel going forth and how others may join in.
Support those who have gone. Support them with your prayers; support them with your resources. Show hospitality to them when they return for a visit. Do not grow weary of doing good on their behalf. Let it be said of those who stayed behind that we contended for the gospel with the same zeal, with the same kingdom mindset, with the same faithfulness as those who said goodbye.