by John Ellis
Moving to a new city and/or state is often stressful, yet it also brings the excitement of newness and adventure. Whatever excitement exists, though, is quickly overshadowed by the mountain of stuff to get done. With all the whirling parts involved in changing residences, moving is basically a full-time job. While packing and planning for the move, checking off items on the to-do list frequently reveals that the to-do list is incomplete; the list seemingly never gets shorter, only longer. More boxes are needed, forgotten closets that are crammed full of stuff are discovered, yard sales and utilities and doctors and schools and the DMV and changing your address and on-and-on-and-on, and no matter how organized and prepared you are, it will inevitably be revealed that you forgot something.
Sadly, one thing that many Christians fail to account for when moving from one area to another is church. The thought process is frequently that a new church can be found upon arrival. That is a mistake – possibly a tragic mistake.
God has not called His people to live in isolation. Through faith in Jesus, the Holy Spirit is creating a new people to praise, worship, and serve God. The well-known verse Hebrews 10:25 instructs God’s people to “not [neglect] to meet together.”
Many Christians attempt to exegetically squeeze informal gatherings out of Hebrews 10:25 to justify their lack of involvement with a local church. To their own spiritual detriment, they are wrong.
In Getting the Garden Right, Richard Barcellos points out that in 1 Corinthians 11:17-22 the Apostle Paul differentiates between “the gathered church, the house of God, and [the Corinthian Christians’] own home.” Throughout Paul’s divinely inspired epistles he gives instructions to the local church, assuming an organized, structured entity existing to proclaim the gospel and order the lives of Christ’s followers as they worship, praise, and serve God as a community of Believers. The New Testament does not have a category for Christians that exist apart from the local church. That priority, the centrality of the local church in the lives of Christ’s followers, should dominate the variables Christians consider when making major life decisions like moving.
To that end, when moving, one of the most important decisions facing Christians, if not the most important, is which local church to covenant with in membership.
Having gone through the process of transitioning to a new church family, not to mention, currently in that process again, I’d like to share three encouragements for brothers and sisters in Christ who are moving or praying about moving.
Prioritize Finding a New Church Family
Whenever a member of my church mentions the possibility of their moving, the first words out of my mouth are always a variation of, “do you know where you would go to church if you move?” If they respond in the affirmative, I press further for information about the church or churches they have in mind. If they answer in the negative, I admonish them that unless they are aware of a Bible-believing, gospel-preaching church in the area, I don’t think they should consider moving (with the understanding that there are circumstances like being in the military and loss of employment that may push the decision to move out of a person’s control).
Many will find my directive overly prescriptive if not downright legalistic. However, the truth is that followers of Jesus should prioritize growing in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. And whether we want to admit it or not, the local church is the institution that God has ordained to be the primary means where our sanctification is worked out. I have a difficult time believing that the Holy Spirit would direct someone from a church where they are being fed the Word and are growing to an area that is a spiritual wasteland devoid of a Bible believing church. Too many times, I’ve watched people move without knowing if a good church is in the area only to suffer spiritually in the long term.
No job promotion and no raise are worth more than your sanctification. When confronted with the possibility of moving, prioritize researching churches and, by God’s grace, finding a church family you can join.
There are many resources available to help find like-minded churches. I recommend and use the 9Marks church search. I’m not assuming that everyone reading this has the same confessional distinctives as I do, and there are many online resources beyond 9Marks that help people find a church, but utilizing 9Marks helps me begin and organize my search.
For example, this past November, when the possibility of moving presented itself to my family, the first thing I did was look to see if there were any churches in the area that I would be comfortable having my family join. If the answer to that had been “no,” we wouldn’t have pursued the move any further. When, after prayer, discussion, and counsel, it became apparent that the move was probably going to happen, I began systematically going through the churches on the list.
After a couple of weeks of perusing church websites, reading statements of faith, and listening to sermons, my wife and I narrowed the search down to just a handful of churches. By God’s grace, after digging further into our short-list of churches and through prayer, we believe that the Holy Spirit is directing us to a church family to join.
I don’t believe that everyone has to go the route of my wife and I and decide on a church before actually moving. Having a short list (a very short list) of churches to visit, though, will help prevent you from church shopping. Moving to a new place will bring frustrations, discouragements, and longing for the relationships left behind; plugging into a new church family as quickly as possible is a necessity of necessities during the season of transition.
Frankly, compiling a short list of churches is the easy part. The hard part is the transition from one church family to another. During the moving process, praying for your current church family and your future church family is a must.
Leave Well by Praying for Your Current Church Family
Deep relationships are formed within church families. The Bible uses the language of family for a reason. Christians are brothers and sisters adopted into God’s family through faith in Christ. We are commanded to love and serve each other, to rejoice with each other, and to mourn with each other. In Galatians 6:2, Paul commands, “Bear one another’s burdens.”
It’s no wonder, then, that it’s painful when a member of your church family moves away. With that in mind, it’s important to leave well.
There’s no way around the fact that “parting is such sweet sorrow,” but that doesn’t mean that you can’t be an encouragement as you leave. Be an encouragement as you cling to Christ during the transition. Be an encouragement by pointing others to God’s sovereign goodness; God knows what your church family needs to continue to grow and serve Him and He will provide that need. As I tell those of my current church family who express dismay that we’re moving, if we still needed Arlington Baptist Church and if Arlington Baptist Church still needed us, the Holy Spirit wouldn’t be moving us on. Furthermore, be an encouragement by throwing yourself into the life and ministry of the church during the busy season of moving. Whatever ways you’ve been serving, serve more and find news ways to serve. Don’t leave before you’ve left.
Above all, pray. Pray for the Holy Spirit to continue to work for God’s glory through the ministry of your current church family and that your fellow members will continue to be sanctified through the ministry of the Word. Pray for individuals. Often. Pray that your love for them will grow during your remaining time with them.
Yes, when the time comes to say that final earthly “goodbye,” it will be painful. But devoting yourself to the ordinary means of grace as you leave is a means through which the Holy Spirit will use you to encourage the hearts and minds of your current church family as you leave.
Arrive Well by Praying for Your Future Church Family
Unless you’re leaving a dysfunctional church characterized by disunity and lack of charity, you will be tempted to compare your new church family to your old church family. You will be tempted to compare how so-and-so prays versus this new individual. You will be tempted to contrast the preaching and teaching styles at your new church with that of your old. Doing so will make it harder to arrive well and be an encouragement. To combat that, begin praying for your future church family before you even move.
For starters, thank God for the ministry of your future church family and pray that He will be pleased to glorify Himself through their labors, even if you don’t yet know which church the Holy Spirit is leading you to. Pray for the Holy Spirit to bind your heart to your future church family with love. And begin praying for the humility and desire to serve in ways that they need and not in ways that you believe best utilizes your “gifts.” Just because you’re the primary adult Sunday School teacher at your current church doesn’t mean your new church needs you to serve in that way. They may need someone to stand at the front door and help direct visitors to the nursery. Do that. Be willing to serve how, where, and when they need. For most of us, we will need God’s grace to swallow our pride and serve in a manner that demonstrates love.
Above all else, pray that the Holy Spirit will use the ministry of your future church family to continue to grow you in grace and the knowledge of Jesus Christ. And be thankful that the Holy Spirit has a church family prepared as a means to continue to conform you to the image of the Son.
Soli Deo Gloria
 Richard Barcellos, Getting the Garden Right (Cape Coral, FL: Founders Press, 2017), 222.