Stability: Love of Neighbor
by Scott Lyons
The discipline of stability says to move when we grow spiritually lazy, and it says to stay put when we grow restless. It binds us to a community and creates a foundation on which to build, whether we are interested in building a family or a church.
We are not a people who think much of our obligations to communities—we use them when they suit us and discard them when they do not. Christ, however, calls us to community, into communion with God and with one another. God desires that we be one:
"Always be humble and gentle. Be patient with each other, making allowance for each other's faults because of your love. Make every effort to keep yourselves united in the Spirit, binding yourselves together with peace. For there is one body and one Spirit, just as you have been called to one glorious hope for the future. There is one Lord, one faith, one baptism, and one God and Father, who is over all and in all and living through all" (Ephesians 4:2-6).
Yet even knowing the heart of God—a heart that creates union and unity, a heart that is one and binds our diversity into oneness—even so, we stray, we leave, we "neglect our meeting together" (Hebrews 10:25).
In this article, I am writing about what the discipline of stability has to say to us concerning our commitment to the local church—to our chosen community. Stability, quite simply, asks us to stay put, to commit ourselves to the people of our local body, for better or for worse.
For many of us, church shopping is typical even while we know that stick-to-itiveness is important. We figure loyalty will take care of itself when we find what we're looking for—when someone actually manages to get church right. Or gets close, for that matter. Even those of us who aren't discontent with our home church still from time to time find ourselves looking wistfully at other churches as we drive by. On occasion it occurs to me that this generation spends all its time looking for church. And while it is a good idea to seek the ideal of what Jesus envisioned for his church, stability demands a different response. Sure, we may offer valid reasons for switching churches every so often—unseemly politicking, poor preaching, or cultural irrelevance—but it remains an offense against stability, an offense against love of neighbor. Our beautiful-sounding justifications are banalities. You see, we all have our lists: we want a church that cares more about the poor and homeless, that is more concerned with abortion, that is more active in evangelism, or that is more concerned with literal interpretation or women in leadership or AIDS or the environment. And the rest. We reject what is for what might be. We think we see God's hand providing bread over there and miss the banquet he has prepared for us here. Stability does not look elsewhere for God; God is here.
God asks us to be faithful even when the rivers have run dry, even though the once-green pasture is now desert. Nevertheless, be of good cheer; the desert is an excellent place to find God. One of the best. Indeed, God seems to have some preference for it. We are here not for good times, but to be united to Christ, and, like Christ (though differently), to redeem our world.
I understand how one may desire a change of scenery every few years. I've been there. And I understand how you feel when you don't feel you're being fed. I've been hungry before, too. Yet stability persists. If you are underfed, go to the Good Shepherd and he will feed you with his Word.
Yes, there are legitimate reasons to leave your local church, and you know what those reasons are. But more often than not, we leave too early because of issues that are ultimately unimportant: the church has changed its eschatology or its carpet. And when we do, we are committing an offense against God by failing to love our neighbors.
Stability digs in its heels and hunkers down. It cares too much about its brother and sister to leave. It cares too much about God. Stability creates community; it makes the desert bloom.