Progress does not mean moving
In the culture that we breathe and consume, we easily equate two things that need to be kept separate – progress and moving. It’s a simple mistake to make. It might seem like equating the two makes all the sense in the world, but the conflation of progress and movement is secretly dangerous; it easily leaves us in a lost and disillusioned state. So here is the truth: progress does not necessarily mean moving. Moving does not necessarily mean progress.
Why is this important?
We live in a society where the ideas of progress and moving have become one. Any movement or change (of geography, careers, relationships, etc.) that seems to be ‘up the ladder’ (by financial, notoriety, or other worldly standards) becomes progress. Thus, we begin to think that any progress must include moving and large-scale change. Our goal becomes to progress, or really, just move. 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.
But what if progress is more complex than simply moving? What if progress can actually include not moving? What if progress can look like remaining? Most of the time in the Christian life, that is just the case.
“…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 (ESV)
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 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. If we aren’t feeling perfect content, we search for something new.
We easily celebrate the pastor that moves across the country. It must be good, we think, because it involves moving. We assume that it is especially good if that church is bigger, with a bigger budget and platform, than the one he left. And surely, good things come of moving. Surely, at times God will call you to leave your pastorate, your state, your career for a new one, etc.
If we think that anything that is good progress includes the leaving of one thing for another, then we will miss out on incredibly valuable blessings in life. With that mindset, we demonstrate that we have priorities that are extremely earthly: bigger budgets, bigger homes, nicer cars. We are never content, because we assume that good things are somewhere we have yet to reach. We assume that the happy life is at the next job, the next pastorate, the next wife, family, kid, raise, state, or city.
We are not called to value the same things the world does. We are called to have a value system that is utterly distinct from the world.
But what does this really look like? 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 even big enough to 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. Those things will never be enough. 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, unexciting, or hard.
What does this mean?
So this is how it plays out:
1. 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; you should focus on drilling the gospel deeply into yourself daily and then doing the same for every single one of your members with a radical, hellbent intensity and priority.
2. Students, you don’t need to move to a big city to be a success. You don’t need to make at least $60,000 a year. You don’t need to enroll in the prestiguous school. You need to evaluate the skills you have been given by God, and look at how you can best leverage them for His mission. If that includes a huge move to a new city, then by all means do it. However, you should not go through life thinking that you aren’t a success until you travel a certain amount of miles or raise your standard of living high enough. You need to be faithful to God, your family, and your local church, because that’s where God put you.
3. Men and women, you don’t need a bigger house in the nicer town. You need to be a disciple of Jesus. 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 a pay-raise so that you can brag to friends. 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.
Change your priorities. Instead of hoping for the new move to the nicer house or bigger budget, 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 that true contentment that God gives. 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 across the country. We need to celebrate the man who works a ‘humble’ trade for decades to support his family, while modelling Jesus Christ to them his whole life. We need to celebrate the virtue of faithfulness in the ordinary, messy, “non-progressive”, regular, everyday life.
We need to celebrate the virtue of living for the mission of God where we are, not where we wish we were.
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.
A big move and perceived progress will leave us horribly empty, unless it is the progress of a deeper knowledge of Jesus Christ and the Gospel. Anything else will leave us unfulfilled, looking for more ‘progress.’
“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 (ESV)