“I’m fairly local. I’ve been around. / I’ve seen the streets you’re walking down.”
-Twenty One Pilots
There's a new grocery store that's opened up by us. One of their selling points is that the fruit and vegetables are sourced from local farmers in the Midwest - so we can trust the quality and we can trust that we are supporting our local agrarian economy. I can tell myself it's like a farmer's market all year round as I shop there. In the summer, sure, I can visit any number of farmer's markets around me and feel good about supporting them as well, but for now, this grocery store is my go-to.
Somehow, in my mind, the Twenty One Pilots song I quoted above, and the grocery store I visit frequently will not leave my mind, because I think both are a great picture of what the local church should be like. That makes sense, right? Church, pop music and grocery shopping? Let me explain:
There's the Church - as in, the body of Christ, right? Universal, far-reaching, very, very cool. But then there's your local church. Smaller, community-reaching, very, very cool.
I believe many Christians would say God has put people in the church who have spiritual gifts, who can work together to build the church. How often do we think about the "fairly local" part of this? In today's celebrity culture, how easy it is to attach ourselves to big names, pretty facades and presentations as we consume their message via perfect images on Instagram, via soundbites, via books we can consume in three hours, via the fact that, honestly, we just don't have to stick around them.
You know what's hard about being in a local church? You get to know each other. I grew up in small churches, and had more than one older lady give me advice, give me a small gift or -as one did -tell me she was glad I had started combing my hair when I visited home from college. You know what else those older ladies did? They hugged me, encouraged me, asked how I was doing, checked out my boyfriend - "Are you a Christian, young man?"and they knew me.
As an adult, there are people I've gotten to know through Worship Teams, student ministries, serving outside the church in our community and small groups. Once we get over that initial "yay, everything's great!" time, you start to get to know each other. You share vulnerable stories. You ask for help. You share a verse or two. You minister to each other. You see emotions, or reactions. You have to ask forgiveness. You start to be able to encourage, uplift and come alongside them as they struggle with difficult things. What a privilege. And what an undertaking. The problem is, if we don't show up, if we don't support the local church, if we keep looking outside to those who are doing so much better/bigger/downright-miraculous, we do not ever develop these deep brother/sister/family relationships with our fellow believers.
That local church is invested in you and you in them.
Have you thought about the current "buy local" sentiment and how that affects your consumption of the Church?
-If the Lord says He has given each spiritual gifts, how are you utilizing those gifts of others in your ministries? Are you watching and asking people to be involved? Are you giving them a chance to contribute? If not, there's a serious possibility you're overlooking a chance to grow your local body of Christ.
-If you are in a position of leadership in a church, are you using those whose gifts are right there or are you spending your resources on those who don't know your congregation, who aren't there for the long haul or depth of relationship your church needs?
-If you say you believe people are there for a reason, give them a reason to be there.
-As one being ministered to, don't leave at the first sign of trouble. Stick around. Work through the hard stuff. Forgive. Grow. (To paraphrase a quote I once heard, "Stick around long enough for someone not to like you."
-You know your church in a way that an outside author or speaker or consultant does not. You know what people are going through and what might be needed to minister to them. You know because you know them and are known. Use this knowledge to build up.
-(Oh, and yes, you're just as much a pain to be around as you find everyone else to be.)
-Fairly local means knowing kids in the church long-term and being an encouragement to them in each step of their lives. Follow-up. Stay in touch. Encourage their gifts as they grow in them. And this also means being extra super patient with those who are growing - sure, that first solo or teaching/message might be painful to sit through, but hey, they did it and they hopefully did it with the idea of serving Christ. Guess who can encourage them in that? Yep, you.
-Don't be quick to follow the latest guru with the pretty packaging, it's prettier in the moment, but does little to edify.
Just as I believe there's a difference between one-click ordering online and buying and supporting local businesses and economies, I also believe there's a difference between consuming short quips from celebrity Christians online and being encouraged by those who actually know you. It's not easy, and sometimes it does cost us more, but supporting local is always better. Yes, even the local church.
Now you are the body of Christ, and each one of you is a part of it. 1 Corinthians 12:27