In the world that we live in and the culture that we breathe and consume, we easily equate two things that need to be kept separate – progress and movement.
It’s a simple mistake to make. It often seems like the combination of the two makes sense, but a conflation of progress and movement is secretly dangerous; it can leave us with confused priorities, hopes, and goals.
I want to prove one simple truth to you, and to myself, as I write this: movement and progress are not necessarily the same. And, moving does not necessarily mean progress.
Why Is This Important?
We live in a society where the concepts of progress and movement have become one. Any movement or change (of geography, careers, relationships, etc.) that seems to be “up the ladder” becomes progress. Of course, the ladder seems to be scored on platform size, notoriety, income, etc.
Once we accept this standard, we begin to think that if we want progress we must include moving and large-scale change. Our goal is progress, so we assume it really is just necessary to always be moving. We put ourselves on a treadmill where we begin to find contentment in the next progression: the next movement, career change, city change, relationship change, financial change, etc.
It leaves us with a culture (in and outside of the church) where leaving is easier than remaining.
But what if progress is more than simply moving? What if progress can actually include staying? What if progress can look like remaining? Often in the Christian life, that is just the case.
“For this very reason, make every effort to supplement your faith with virtue, and virtue with knowledge, and knowledge with self-control, and self-control with steadfastness, and steadfastness with godliness, and godliness with brotherly affection, and brotherly affection with love.” (2 Peter 1:5-7)
The Faith to Remain
If progress in life, ministry, and career requires moving, then we will be quick to look for reasons and opportunities to move (often as soon as we face opposition). We think that difficult things aren’t meant to be, so we look for something to move on to.
We celebrate the pastor that moves across the country. Thinking, it must be good because it involves movement. We assume that it is especially good if that church is bigger, with a bigger budget and platform than the one he left.
I’m not here to say we should never “move.” At times God will call you to leave your pastorate, your state, your career for a new one, etc. I am gently pushing back against the “hyper-movement” culture in which we live.
We Miss Out
If we think that anything that is good progress must include the leaving of one thing for another, then we will miss out on incredibly valuable blessings in life.
With that mindset, we often demonstrate that we have wrong priorities: bigger budgets, bigger homes, nicer cars. This attitude damages our ability to be content because we assume that good things are somewhere we have yet to reach. We assume that the happy life is the next job, the next pastorate, the next wife, family, kid, raise, state, or city.
But what does this really look like? As I battle this in my own heart, it is a recurring lesson that God has put me where I am, and I need to serve and be faithful wherever that may be.
I need to be reminded regularly that just because my current context has resistance or obstacles does not mean that my context is bad and needs to be vacated. I need to be reminded that God is big enough to pull me through rough circumstances and do great things during those circumstances.
You and I won’t learn that lesson if we are looking to be fulfilled by the next career, kid, wife, husband, pastorate, church, job, raise, or house. We need to be fulfilled by Christ. We need to be content following His priorities wherever He has placed us. Even if following Him in our current context is difficult, boring, or unremarkable.
What Does This Mean?
This is how my lessons have played out in my mind:
- Pastor, you don’t need a new church with less difficult people. You need to be faithful where you are. God has sovereignly placed you exactly where He wants you to be. You don’t need a new church with less baggage, a bigger budget, or a nicer building; focus on drilling the Gospel into your mind daily and then doing the same for every single one of your members with a radical, ordinary consistency.
- Students, you don’t need to move to a big city to be a success. You don’t need to enroll in the most prestigious school. Evaluate the skills you have been given by God, and look at how you can best leverage them for His mission in work and life. If that includes a huge move to a new city, then do it. However, don’t go through life thinking that you aren’t a success until you raise your standard of living high enough. You need to be faithful to God, your family, and your local church, whether it is normal or extraordinary.
- Men and women, you don’t need a bigger house in a nicer town. Whether in a big house or a small one, in a big city or a small town, you need to serve your families. You need to leverage your work to reach people for Jesus Christ. You don’t need to measure up to the neighbors with the pool and the nice car. You need to be faithful to your family and your local church, because God gave them to you.
Instead of hoping for the new move, we need to pray that God would give us contentment and faithfulness where we are. As we grow in the grace and knowledge of Jesus Christ, we will find true contentment that God gives (with or without movement).
We need to celebrate the pastor that has the patience to remain in one church for 30 years instead of only celebrating the one who moved to a bigger platform.
Likewise, we need to celebrate those who work a humble trade for decades to support their families while modeling Jesus Christ to them with their entire life. We need to celebrate the virtue of faithfulness in the ordinary, regular, everyday life.
Much of life will feel like tests that we want to escape from by simply moving on. However, God wants to teach us, grow us, give us joy, and use us, even in the midst of remaining where we are.
Any progress that is not progress in the knowledge and likeness of Jesus will leave us empty, searching for more progress.
We need to celebrate the virtue of living for the mission of God where we are, not where we wish we were.
Count it all joy, my brothers, when you meet trials of various kinds, for you know that the testing of your faith produces steadfastness. And let steadfastness have its full effect, that you may be perfect and complete, lacking in nothing. (James 1:2-4)