The Lost Mission of Staying Put
A few weeks back I was drinking a good cup of fresh-roasted coffee at a local café, waiting for a friend to arrive. I watched the folks at the bar, who obviously frequent the place. They were sharing about a friend having health problems, passing around a card for him. They were organizing meals and getting the word out to visit him. The folks who frequent that café have developed into a caring community. They’re locals.
Perhaps our churches need to take a lesson from the locals.
For a long time now, mission has been framed as a far-off endeavor, a trip requiring a passport, a plane ticket, and a lot of packing. But God’s mission is active everywhere, which means God’s mission is active among your family, friends, and community.
For God’s work to become tangible, it must first become local, invading our everyday thinking and the places we inhabit. The ideas and dreams you have are good; they just need to be connected to actual living, breathing people with souls. This is why we pray, “Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.”
God’s mission of drawing wanderers into his family always takes place in the midst of ordinary places and relationships. This can take just as much energy, finances, and careful planning as a trip across the ocean. In some ways it might be more uncomfortable than sleeping on a dirt floor and eating strange food.
Our mission trip started the day we were born; it ends when God calls us home. Our mission with God plays out in how we walk, talk, eat, commute, party, pray, participate, communicate, spend money, make money, and invest our time wherever we are.
There are three key aspects to a life of faithful presence.
Jesus’ ministry plan was to move “into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, MSG), to move from being “above” us to being “among” us. Jesus became a local among humanity; he locked into people’s lives, stories, and fears when he ministered to them.
Incarnational ministry moves us from “above” our places (where we have no meaningful connection) to “among” the people, within the community. Living incarnational lives requires us not just to stay physically but to remain patiently, locally, and personally engaged in the spaces, opportunities, and lives around us.
Faithfulness involves sticking something out. People are wary of “supernova ministry” that burns bright and then burns out, people who go door-to-door only to leave behind nothing but a prayer and a brochure. The longer you are active in relationships with people who are far from God, the more they will believe you truly care about them, and the more they will open their lives to you. Your care can remind them that God is relational, drawing people into eternal relationship. Longevity will reveal faithfulness.
#3. Ground-level connection
We can talk about incarnation and longevity all we want, but if we are avoiding the pain, joy, questions, and doubt of those around us, we fall short of faithfulness. Humans are designed for ground-level connection, and this is how we must minister on Jesus’ behalf. There are no incarnational strategists, only practitioners.
We often mistake busyness in ministry for joining the mission of God, and we equate much surface-level interaction with ministry success. But we see in Jesus’ example — a firm commitment to be among rather than above, a lifelong connection to the same general area, and an authentic concern for the ground-level struggles of the people around him — that the soil in which faith grows is richer in the trenches. The soil only gets richer the deeper we go.
Here’s the reality: this is hard. It’s countercultural. I don’t jump out of bed on a snowy morning wanting to rush outside for coffee with my neighbors. I tried to escape my city a few times. Staying in the same church is hard because relationship is hard. All those things are true.
But I will also tell you it’s all worth it. I am voluntarily stuck, and I wouldn’t go back even if I could. Not only is it worth it — rootedness is something we crave. Without longevity and commitment, we flounder. We stop growing closer to Jesus when we disconnect from his bride and stop serving those around us. Let’s not forget Jesus charged us to be salty and luminous.
Whether you are a Millennial who wants to urbanize, a Boomer wanting to downsize, or a Gen Xer wanting to upgrade, you need to deal with the root of your longing: discontentment. I don’t care how appealing the Instagram photos are or how perfect your friend’s life sounds, I can promise you the grass isn’t greener simply because it’s on the other side. The next season, group of friends, neighborhood, or city will come with its own issues.
The season, place, and relationships you are already in have great potential if you are willing to battle the menace of discontentment. Staying isn’t just for those who don’t have a better option, couldn’t find upward mobility, or can’t afford something else; it’s for those who are willing to embrace the adventure God has waiting for us in the here and now. Want to swim upstream in a world where everyone seems to want to be on the go? Make staying the new going.
Written by: Alan Briggs