Abraham the faithful lived during an exceptionally transitional era of human history. It was a time between the times, when so many people had begun accumulating enough personal possessions that it was difficult to live the nomadic, hunter/gatherer lifestyle that the world had experienced in previous generations. The word for “rich” used of Abraham’s socio-economic status has the same meaning as the word “heavy.” Some people had begun to accrue so much personal property that it became too heavy for them to carry as they travelled from place to place. In addition, the population of humans and the animals they owned had swelled to the extent that it was increasingly difficult to coexist in the land together. Not enough food grew naturally to feed everyone and every living creature off of smaller parcels of land. It was necessary to move around just to feed families and flocks. Eventually, horticultural and agricultural practices were employed, and with the stimulus of these new economies, people learned a new way of living together with the land, but this was a newly emerging paradigm.
Abraham, his wife, Sarah and his nephew, Lot, were God- ordained nomadic people for part of their lives. Genesis 13 is an account of the family’s travels. They went from Egypt to the Negev desert, carrying all of their possessions, and leading large herds of livestock as they moved. When they arrived in Bethel, they decided to stay. Abraham and Lot both had such large herds of cattle that the Bible says that eventually the land could not support them all. It simply could not produce enough food for the two men’s livestock. When the cattle did not have enough food to eat, it caused strife between uncle and nephew. Abraham knew that in order to solve the problem and live well together, they needed to part ways, each choosing a separate parcel of land. It was a loving and practical solution.
This account from Genesis is usually interpreted in light of an avoidable argument between family members who should have known better than to live in strife with one another. However, sometimes separation is a loving and practical situation. It can be the right decision for churches, too. A nucleus breaks from an existing church because its second or third generation is linguistically and culturally different from its roots. A burden for a new neighborhood without a church births in the heart of a few people who drive so far to their home church that they can’t imagine it as a good choice for their neighbors. A church planting church becomes infused with reproductive DNA. Intentionally or not, they raise up indigenous church planting leaders, and they discover that apostolic gifts are given to more than one individual in a congregation. Sometimes, such as in the case of Abraham and Lot, parting ways physically is the kindest and most practical solution. And like in the Genesis story, our church stories can be interpreted as a family feud or a good way to feed flocks.