All Christians are missionaries, as long as we’re obeying the Great Commission (Matthew 28:19-20). Viewing ourselves as missionaries helps us as we look at the world around us. Like missionaries, we must understand our context, our communities, the people among whom we live. We must listen to the story of our community.
All too often, we tend to neglect our communities for the sake of ministry or life. This is unfortunate, because we are placed in our communities for a purpose. The church is part of a specific community in order that the people of that church can participate in God’s work of changing that community. We sing, “this world is not my home, I’m just a passing through,” but truly this world is our home, at least for now. It’s time we take a redemptive look at our community, listen to their story, and engage them with the gospel.
Here are some suggestions on listening to the story of your community.
- Pay attention to people. One pastor, Brad House, put it this way: “the best leaders become students of their mission field.” You must be a student if you are to learn. You must learn if you are to minister. You must minister if you are to be a missionary. And we must all be missionaries for Jesus Christ. This process begins with paying attention to people, the very substance of your community story. Listen to them and learn from them.
- Move beyond acquaintances, and dive into friendships. We give lip service to the idea of forming relationships with people in our community, but how difficult it is to actually do it! Sure, we may make smalltalk with the coffee barista, hail the mail carrier with a friendly “howdy,” and smile at familiar faces during our morning jog. We have acquaintances, but do we have friendships? Acquaintances are easy, uncomplicated, clean, and maintenance-free. Friendships, by contrary, can be sometimes messy, complex, time-consuming, and unpleasant. That’s where we need to go — to the point of friendships, where the real work of relationship begins.
- Become an active member of your community. Are you involved in your community? Not everyone is an extrovert, and not everyone needs to be a member of the HOA board or a little league coach. But surely we can become better involved. A neighborhood is not merely a place to stay. It is a place to live — to put down roots, and become part of the fabric of the community.
Once you listen to the story of your community, you are better able to articulate the story of the Bible, the most important story of all time. We’re missionaries, and missionaries must understand their context to make the necessary adaptations. Our message remains the same, but our methods adjust to the nuances of our community. Let’s get involved in the community story, and help to transform it