As a sports fan, I should know better. But at the end of every season, I’m always surprised at how quickly the pundits start talking about off-season changes.
Just this week, the NBA season wrapped up as the Cleveland Cavaliers won an improbable championship, and the very next morning, I found myself reading about all the projected shake-ups that we could expect in the coming months. This player will be a free agent. That player will go looking for a higher salary. Other players will be traded. At the end of every season, movement is the name of the game. No team’s roster ever looks the same from one season to the next. And if your favorite player is the one headed to a new team, well that’s just too bad.
Love it or hate it, this perpetual transience in sports is simply a reflection of a broader cultural restlessness that influences all of us. In olden days (so I’m told), it was typical for someone to grow up, get an education, raise a family, work a career, and retire—all in the same town. Those days are long gone. In fact, statistics suggest that the average American will move twelve times during his or her lifetime. And whereas it used to be normal for a worker to stay with a single job for two or three decades, most Americans now will have moved on to new positions within four or five years.
We seem to be continually in flux. And it raises an interesting question for those of us who follow Jesus: How can the church maintain a sense of community in a world where everything is in constant motion?
The Bible repeatedly calls God’s people to be champions of love and commitment. We’re not just passing strangers. We’re brothers and sisters in Christ. And given that familial bond, there’s an expectation that the quality of our relationships will be of a certain depth—a depth that likely won’t be attained by simply waving at each other as we scurry along in a hundred different directions.
In a culture defined by transience and change, the church needs people who will consciously—and often sacrificially—plant roots. While the church must never lose sight of its role as a sending community commissioned to launch people all over the globe for maximum kingdom impact, the reality is that we still need people who will dig in, make a commitment, and give themselves to the slow but significant labor of building a Christ-shaped community right where they are.
So if you’re one of those people, how exactly do you do that? Let me suggest a few quick ideas:
1. Plant geographical roots. I realize that there are all sorts of valid factors that can necessitate a move from one town to another. But what if the church as a whole became a community of people marked by the counter-cultural desire to stay put? What if we settled in and really invested into our neighborhoods and our city over the long haul? Imagine the possibilities of such radical commitment!
2. Plant vocational roots. For some, it might not be realistic to live in the same city for a long time. But perhaps you can still plant deep roots in the workplace. While most people are jumping from one job to the next, Christians could be people known for their resilience and commitment in their careers. Even if your job takes you to another city, you can have a big impact through faithfully serving your employer and your colleagues.
3. Plant relational roots. Let’s be honest; some change is inevitable. It simply may not be possible to stay in the same city or the same job for your whole life. But even if God moves you, don’t use a change in location as an excuse to start over relationally. Continue to encourage and pray for the believers from previous chapters of your life. Continue to invest in and show love toward the unbelievers. Be an enduring friend, regardless of where you’re living.
From my vantage point, the world is only going to get more transient. But that doesn’t mean we need to be swept away into a disembodied Christian existence.
The church has no off-season, no free agency, and no trade clauses. So unless (or until) God directs us elsewhere, let’s plant roots in whatever soil we can find, building up communities that are strong enough to withstand change, faithful enough to make a difference, and long-lasting enough to have stories to tell.