I am a big fan of local ministry. To me all ministry is local. I believe in it and I act on it.
It has become very popular to redefine of what it means to be in ministry in a local setting, especially among those under 35 like myself. You might have heard it but the narrative goes something like this:
“My spouse and I prayed for God to show us where to invest our lives in a community. After much prayer and research we felt we should move to x part of town. So we bought a home in a neighborhood there. We buy at the local stores. We get our food from local farms or farmer markets. We participate in local public meetings. We are part of the local schools. We volunteer at the local social justice space. And we attend (or plant) a local congregation.”
This is probably a very common theme in any missional book you have read. You have probably met a pastor or other practitioner who has done this very thing. The premise is based on Luke 10:1-12.
Two years ago my wife and I also chose to do this.
I am a big fan of local ministry. To me all ministry is local. I believe in it and I act on it…when I feel I am being “biblical.”
We own a small starter home in a transitioning neighborhood mixed with long-time residents, first time homeowners, renters in transition, and ethnic diversity. I volunteer at my daughter’s elementary school. We buy produce and flowers from a long established local farm that refuses to sell its land to the growing city around it. We shop and dine locally when possible. We are regulars at the local goodwill. We know all the neighbors that touch our property and few others in the neighborhood. And have shared the peace of Christ with others in all these settings.
I am a big fan of local ministry. To me all ministry is local. I believe in it and I act on it…when I can offer something and still have a sense of control.
However, lately I feel like a failure. Because this form of ministry seems to be hung up on one single personality driven aspect. Sitting in the front yard. If you don’t sit in the front yard and engage every single person as they pass by you fail. All the other connections from the school, social justice avenues, and local church don’t matter if you prefer your back yard.
I don’t want to sit in my front yard.
It has less shade, it’s on a hill, there is less room to play with my kids, and I feel exposed and vulnerable. I have less to offer there. And perhaps that is the point.
My back yard is nice. It has a great tree, a great deck with furniture, our wiffle ball stuff is back there, and the ice tea is close at hand. It is more comfortable. My back yard has low chain link fences so I still see and engage up to 5 other families on a daily basis. I know all their names, interests, their dogs, faith choices and vocations current or retired.
I am a big fan of local ministry. To me all ministry is local. I believe in it and I act on it…when I’m comfortable.
I don’t want to be in my front yard. And this bothers me. Because the front yard is where practitioners of this ministry all claim is where the “action” is. It is how they build relationships in their neighborhoods. But I don’t want to be in my front yard and I don’t know why. I want to love my neighbors. If I see them I say hello, I have snow blown their drives and borrowed tools and latters. But I don’t know them like I know my back yard neighbors and I am okay with that right now. And I can’t decide if that means I am failing as a Christian or if I just want the comfort of my home with just my family after a long day or if I am playing into my introvertedness. Or if I just don't want to be that vulnerable.
What am I to do? Am I failing in my journey because I prefer my back yard over my front yard? Do I have to know every single person in my neighborhood? What is the difference between doing for Jesus and being with Jesus as Skye Jethani points out in his book With in this situation?