Why staying in your church longterm is good for you

September 27, 2018

In my experience, it usually takes about three to four years to really start to get to know people. Then they leave the church. They move away or have a disenchantment of some kind and are gone. We are still Facebook friends. We may text from time to time, but we are not in each other’s lives anymore. And so they must reset the relationship clock at a new church.

I have pastored one church in a city-center neighborhood of Chicago for 14 years. Yet in reality, I have overseen about seven different churches. Graduation, marriage, a job transfer, cost of living, or just “the itch” causes recurrent waves of people to ebb and flow. I have heard other pastors call it “the churn” or “hugging a parade.” We are in the beginning stages of remodeling our building, and I have wondered if we should install a revolving door at our entrance for an object lesson.

Sometimes a curious thing happens right before people’s departure—a significant new detail in their story comes out. For example, “Pastor, I have to confess, I’m drinking every night to deal with the stress.” We start to address that together. Then, they move. Or, a friend in your church confesses a secret pornography addiction. When you try to go deeper into the heart and provide accountability, their family decides to check out another church because they don’t believe their needs are being adequately met. This is discouraging. And the sad fact is that they have to start the process of being known at that level all over again.

It seems like there’s often a transition just when I start to piece together the deeper interplay of personal sins, past hurts, and personality quirks that can only be achieved after years of walking with each other. They are gone just when the real work of community is beginning.

A simplistic understanding of Christian community

We often mistake Christian community for the fresh excitement of friends with whom we seem to click. The world knows that experience. You do not have to have the Holy Spirit to feel it. But that glow wears off over time and gets overshadowed by the darkness of sin and the weight of real life. Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote perceptively about this inevitable phenomenon in relationships when he said, “Only that fellowship which faces such disillusionment, with all its unhappy and ugly aspects, begins to be what it should be in God’s sight . . . The sooner this shock of disillusionment comes to an individual and to a community the better for both.”[1]

As I’ve mentioned, I have found this kind of community happens around the three-or four-year mark with people. And when we enter that phase, the reflex is to withdraw. Yet, if we do not get there and then push through it with others, how can our churches really obey the passages that call us to bear with one another in love (Eph. 4:2, Col. 3:13)?

We often mistake Christian community for the fresh excitement of friends with whom we seem to click.

Sometimes people will point to biblical characters like the Apostle Paul and hold up his example of constant movement as a model of spirituality. However, people like Paul were anomalies with unique callings. Paul’s goal was to establish stable, local churches where the ministry could continue over time. When he wrote to these churches, he assumed there was a baseline of continuity. When Paul and Barnabas returned to their sending church in Antioch, it seems that there were familiar faces who were eager to hear what was happening. Sometimes our church’s missionaries, on the other hand, hardly recognize anyone when they visit on furlough.

What is more, Paul’s general advice to members of the churches he founded was, “Seek to lead a quiet life, to mind your own business, and to work with your own hands” (1Thess. 4:11). This presents a very different picture than that of a rolling stone. U.S. Census data shows that geographical mobility is actually on the decline. And an encouraging LifeWay research study of Protestant churchgoers recently showed that “most are committed to staying at their church over the long haul.”  But the fact remains that each year over 11 percent of the country’s population will move, and over 20 percent of American Christians have only been at their church one to four years.

Will you consider staying put?

If that’s you, would you consider staying put and pushing through the disillusionment barrier in order to grow spiritually? It may mean a smaller house or a less-than-ideal job, but the spiritual benefit (to you and others) would be great. Or, if you have been at your church a while, are you proactively going deeper with fellow members?

There are innumerable good (yet bittersweet) reasons for people to leave a church.  But oftentimes the motivation, whether purposeful or unconscious, is to avoid accountability and escape what the ancients called acedia (that listlessness and loss of energy we all feel over time). A large part of what the Bible means by perseverance involves longevity in church relationships.

Some people say that life is too short to stay in one place too long. But if getting to the point of profound community that leads to deeper sanctification is hindered every time you move, then perhaps life is too short to keep uprooting every few years. Maybe what we really need is to settle down in order to go somewhere.


  1. ^ Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together, trans. by John W. Doberstein (New York: Harper & Row, 1954), 27.

Article 12: The Future of AI

We affirm that AI will continue to be developed in ways that we cannot currently imagine or understand, including AI that will far surpass many human abilities. God alone has the power to create life, and no future advancements in AI will usurp Him as the Creator of life. The church has a unique role in proclaiming human dignity for all and calling for the humane use of AI in all aspects of society.

We deny that AI will make us more or less human, or that AI will ever obtain a coequal level of worth, dignity, or value to image-bearers. Future advancements in AI will not ultimately fulfill our longings for a perfect world. While we are not able to comprehend or know the future, we do not fear what is to come because we know that God is omniscient and that nothing we create will be able to thwart His redemptive plan for creation or to supplant humanity as His image-bearers.

Genesis 1; Isaiah 42:8; Romans 1:20-21; 5:2; Ephesians 1:4-6; 2 Timothy 1:7-9; Revelation 5:9-10

Article 11: Public Policy

We affirm that the fundamental purposes of government are to protect human beings from harm, punish those who do evil, uphold civil liberties, and to commend those who do good. The public has a role in shaping and crafting policies concerning the use of AI in society, and these decisions should not be left to those who develop these technologies or to governments to set norms.

We deny that AI should be used by governments, corporations, or any entity to infringe upon God-given human rights. AI, even in a highly advanced state, should never be delegated the governing authority that has been granted by an all-sovereign God to human beings alone. 

Romans 13:1-7; Acts 10:35; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 10: War

We affirm that the use of AI in warfare should be governed by love of neighbor and the principles of just war. The use of AI may mitigate the loss of human life, provide greater protection of non-combatants, and inform better policymaking. Any lethal action conducted or substantially enabled by AI must employ 5 human oversight or review. All defense-related AI applications, such as underlying data and decision-making processes, must be subject to continual review by legitimate authorities. When these systems are deployed, human agents bear full moral responsibility for any actions taken by the system.

We deny that human agency or moral culpability in war can be delegated to AI. No nation or group has the right to use AI to carry out genocide, terrorism, torture, or other war crimes.

Genesis 4:10; Isaiah 1:16-17; Psalm 37:28; Matthew 5:44; 22:37-39; Romans 13:4

Article 9: Security

We affirm that AI has legitimate applications in policing, intelligence, surveillance, investigation, and other uses supporting the government’s responsibility to respect human rights, to protect and preserve human life, and to pursue justice in a flourishing society.

We deny that AI should be employed for safety and security applications in ways that seek to dehumanize, depersonalize, or harm our fellow human beings. We condemn the use of AI to suppress free expression or other basic human rights granted by God to all human beings.

Romans 13:1-7; 1 Peter 2:13-14

Article 8: Data & Privacy

We affirm that privacy and personal property are intertwined individual rights and choices that should not be violated by governments, corporations, nation-states, and other groups, even in the pursuit of the common good. While God knows all things, it is neither wise nor obligatory to have every detail of one’s life open to society.

We deny the manipulative and coercive uses of data and AI in ways that are inconsistent with the love of God and love of neighbor. Data collection practices should conform to ethical guidelines that uphold the dignity of all people. We further deny that consent, even informed consent, although requisite, is the only necessary ethical standard for the collection, manipulation, or exploitation of personal data—individually or in the aggregate. AI should not be employed in ways that distort truth through the use of generative applications. Data should not be mishandled, misused, or abused for sinful purposes to reinforce bias, strengthen the powerful, or demean the weak.

Exodus 20:15, Psalm 147:5; Isaiah 40:13-14; Matthew 10:16 Galatians 6:2; Hebrews 4:12-13; 1 John 1:7 

Article 7: Work

We affirm that work is part of God’s plan for human beings participating in the cultivation and stewardship of creation. The divine pattern is one of labor and rest in healthy proportion to each other. Our view of work should not be confined to commercial activity; it must also include the many ways that human beings serve each other through their efforts. AI can be used in ways that aid our work or allow us to make fuller use of our gifts. The church has a Spirit-empowered responsibility to help care for those who lose jobs and to encourage individuals, communities, employers, and governments to find ways to invest in the development of human beings and continue making vocational contributions to our lives together.

We deny that human worth and dignity is reducible to an individual’s economic contributions to society alone. Humanity should not use AI and other technological innovations as a reason to move toward lives of pure leisure even if greater social wealth creates such possibilities.

Genesis 1:27; 2:5; 2:15; Isaiah 65:21-24; Romans 12:6-8; Ephesians 4:11-16

Article 6: Sexuality

We affirm the goodness of God’s design for human sexuality which prescribes the sexual union to be an exclusive relationship between a man and a woman in the lifelong covenant of marriage.

We deny that the pursuit of sexual pleasure is a justification for the development or use of AI, and we condemn the objectification of humans that results from employing AI for sexual purposes. AI should not intrude upon or substitute for the biblical expression of sexuality between a husband and wife according to God’s design for human marriage.

Genesis 1:26-29; 2:18-25; Matthew 5:27-30; 1 Thess 4:3-4

Article 5: Bias

We affirm that, as a tool created by humans, AI will be inherently subject to bias and that these biases must be accounted for, minimized, or removed through continual human oversight and discretion. AI should be designed and used in such ways that treat all human beings as having equal worth and dignity. AI should be utilized as a tool to identify and eliminate bias inherent in human decision-making.

We deny that AI should be designed or used in ways that violate the fundamental principle of human dignity for all people. Neither should AI be used in ways that reinforce or further any ideology or agenda, seeking to subjugate human autonomy under the power of the state.

Micah 6:8; John 13:34; Galatians 3:28-29; 5:13-14; Philippians 2:3-4; Romans 12:10

Article 4: Medicine

We affirm that AI-related advances in medical technologies are expressions of God’s common grace through and for people created in His image and that these advances will increase our capacity to provide enhanced medical diagnostics and therapeutic interventions as we seek to care for all people. These advances should be guided by basic principles of medical ethics, including beneficence, non-maleficence, autonomy, and justice, which are all consistent with the biblical principle of loving our neighbor.

We deny that death and disease—effects of the Fall—can ultimately be eradicated apart from Jesus Christ. Utilitarian applications regarding healthcare distribution should not override the dignity of human life. Fur- 3 thermore, we reject the materialist and consequentialist worldview that understands medical applications of AI as a means of improving, changing, or completing human beings.

Matthew 5:45; John 11:25-26; 1 Corinthians 15:55-57; Galatians 6:2; Philippians 2:4

Article 3: Relationship of AI & Humanity

We affirm the use of AI to inform and aid human reasoning and moral decision-making because it is a tool that excels at processing data and making determinations, which often mimics or exceeds human ability. While AI excels in data-based computation, technology is incapable of possessing the capacity for moral agency or responsibility.

We deny that humans can or should cede our moral accountability or responsibilities to any form of AI that will ever be created. Only humanity will be judged by God on the basis of our actions and that of the tools we create. While technology can be created with a moral use in view, it is not a moral agent. Humans alone bear the responsibility for moral decision making.

Romans 2:6-8; Galatians 5:19-21; 2 Peter 1:5-8; 1 John 2:1

Article 2: AI as Technology

We affirm that the development of AI is a demonstration of the unique creative abilities of human beings. When AI is employed in accordance with God’s moral will, it is an example of man’s obedience to the divine command to steward creation and to honor Him. We believe in innovation for the glory of God, the sake of human flourishing, and the love of neighbor. While we acknowledge the reality of the Fall and its consequences on human nature and human innovation, technology can be used in society to uphold human dignity. As a part of our God-given creative nature, human beings should develop and harness technology in ways that lead to greater flourishing and the alleviation of human suffering.

We deny that the use of AI is morally neutral. It is not worthy of man’s hope, worship, or love. Since the Lord Jesus alone can atone for sin and reconcile humanity to its Creator, technology such as AI cannot fulfill humanity’s ultimate needs. We further deny the goodness and benefit of any application of AI that devalues or degrades the dignity and worth of another human being. 

Genesis 2:25; Exodus 20:3; 31:1-11; Proverbs 16:4; Matthew 22:37-40; Romans 3:23

Article 1: Image of God

We affirm that God created each human being in His image with intrinsic and equal worth, dignity, and moral agency, distinct from all creation, and that humanity’s creativity is intended to reflect God’s creative pattern.

We deny that any part of creation, including any form of technology, should ever be used to usurp or subvert the dominion and stewardship which has been entrusted solely to humanity by God; nor should technology be assigned a level of human identity, worth, dignity, or moral agency.

Genesis 1:26-28; 5:1-2; Isaiah 43:6-7; Jeremiah 1:5; John 13:34; Colossians 1:16; 3:10; Ephesians 4:24