What you are about to read is meant to assist you in living as a local missionary. There are a few things you will need to understand first.
When I was a kid I was shaped by two things: habits and haters.
We’ll start with habits. My parents are among the most consistent creatures of habit. As I was growing up, our lives were like watches, incessantly tick, tick, ticking our way to the same places, in the same rhythm, time and time again. Our Sunday lunch routine might occasionally experience a little spontaneity, but it was only between the three or four restaurants we frequented. Any diversion from our norms felt like interplanetary travel, discovering worlds we never knew existed … and, much like a dream, forgetting them shortly after. The monotony of these childhood habits produced in me a permanent sense of cabin fever. Ironically, I still crave and create structure, rhythm, and regularity in my life, but I’m irreversibly stir crazy, itching for movement, newness, and diversion from routine. I often find myself needing to get out and get away, to retreat from regular relationships, scenery, and responsibilities. I’m no psychologist, but I suspect much of my wanderlust and drive to meet new people stem from this, too.
The point is: though I, like my parents, am a creature of habit, I have an insatiable impulse to simply go somewhere else. And I’d imagine I’m not the only one.
Now, let’s get to the haters. When I was younger, I was what my pre-k teacher labeled lazy. I can’t help that penmanship pushed my wide-eyed, towheaded self onto a plank of fear and overboard into an abysmal drowning in the waters of inability. “I caaaaaan’t,” I’d whine, insisting she hold my hand and pencil to practically do it for me. “Be like Nike, Ryan; just do it,” she repeated. There were just activities or responsibilities I’d encounter that didn’t come naturally to me, so I would lose any sense of motivation for doing them. Simple things like writing for Mrs. Akbar or eating anything green at the dinner table struck me with an involuntary paralysis. As a result, I was awarded a terrorizing title, far more daunting than any monsters under my bed. I was given many nicknames in my early years: Rhyno, Nephew Big Head, and others. The most infamous and perennial of all, though, came from my Uncle. He was determined to train me in the art of shoe tying, matching every, “I caaaaaan’t,” with a, “run to the lot’s edge and back,” but it was to no avail. Dusk ended this cycle, as the sun set on my dusty, sweat-drenched face and dormant laces on the ground beneath me. The next day, the obvious victor, I wore my boots and a smile.
Two things were born from the great battle of “How to Tie a…Not”: my short-lived running career and my being known as the “Slow Guy.” Since, I’ve harbored this insatiable drive to go faster, do more, and never say, “I caaaaaan’t.” My efforts to escape this name have been a primary contributor to my proclivity to performance and achieving. A friend once said, “If you don’t believe your worthiness, you’ll hustle for it.” In short, following Jesus for the past 7.5 years has felt like slacklining, trying to balance on the thin, fabric pathway of hustling for Jesus’ Kingdom and not falling into hustling for His approval.
Regardless of what neighborhood you’re from, how much money your parents made, or which shows, sports, or songs were formative in your upbringing, habits and haters are no respecters of persons. They’re both gifts and curses to whomever they find, helping to weave the narrative of your life and shape your skills while simultaneously hurting you in the form of haunting scars or as hindering snares that keep you trapped in a proverbial prison of past practices. Habits can be healthy, creating rhythms and disciplines that grow you, your family and friends, your church, your business, your community, etc. They can also become the most enslaving idols, trapping you in a cycle of making your little castle more comfortable rather than more dangerous for the Kingdom’s sake. Haters, regardless of their form, do the same. The wounds you have accrued, when grieved and healed, can help you to love Jesus deeply, serve others faithfully, and bring unprecedented investment to your circles of influence. However, many of us never bring our wounds to Christ or our closest friends, so they fester, becoming motivating factors in our attempt to conquer and control the world around us.
Before a believer can function as a “sent” person, one must first recognize what’s inhibiting him or her. It wasn’t until God exposed my idols that I could truly love a few people and invest in a small area. I had to discover how deeply rooted my desires to be recognized, validated, and to gain the biggest platform possible were and begin seeking healing in Jesus of said wounds. As He was ridding me of the ghosts of haters past, my heart, and thus my habits, truly began to change. Now, I’m inviting you to do the same. Jesus doesn’t just set His people free from the penalty of sin; He grafts us into His mission of bringing freedom to those who are in bondage.
However, many of us, hurting and stuck in self-serving habits, settle for a lives of comfort instead of obeying Jesus’ command to make disciples. Christianity isn’t about what you get from Jesus; you get Jesus, and He’s enough. Sadly, so few actually live in line with this truth, missing His mission for good things like church attendance, service opportunities, & morality. Jesus meant it when He said, “Follow me.” He’s taking us with Him: in His likeness, mission, and reward. If you aren’t actively discipling believers and investing yourself into those who aren’t yet following Jesus, have you really heeded the call?
Having dealt with the heart of what hinders us, our history with habits and haters, let’s look into living as a local missionary. I’ll start with my story and keep it short.
The last nine months of my life have been spent in West Dallas: my apartment, a chunk of my community, my church, and most of where I enjoy eating, drinking, and hooping are here. Moving to Dallas to join INITIATIVE’s staff has, incidentally, landed me in this specific area of the city. I didn’t feel called to this area nor did I intend to invest so deeply in this community; I just did. These are my neighbors and this is my neighborhood, the place I’ve been planted to love well. Who knew I’d have my heart so stirred to spend the foreseeable future here?
Jesus spent the majority of His ministry in an area about the size of Dallas, committed to a small, specific group of individuals, and impacted the entire world through His commitment. He commanded His followers to start at home and, by His Spirit, establish local expressions of His grandiose following that would spread across the region, continent, and globe. God localized His love for the world in the incarnation of Jesus. Eugene Peterson explains Jesus “moved into the neighborhood” (John 1:14, The Message).
In this season at INITIATIVE, I have repented of deep idolatry and begun loving Jesus more than my need for attention or my desire to be known or noticed. The healing of wounds from past haters has freed me to care less about gaining a platform or “reaching” as many people as possible. I’m now intentionally working to create new rhythms and habits to, like Jesus, localize my love for a city, region, and community. I’m in the process of buying a house in West Dallas and loving the neighbors, the business owners, those who are being displaced, and those who are moving into in the area. However, this endeavor comes with necessary sacrifices.
That said, I have some pretty big news.
Last week I transitioned out of my role at INITIATIVE and have joined Mercy Street Church’s staff. It’s a part time position, so I plan to raise support to walk in what I believe God’s calling me to do: invest in Mercy Street Church, be a good neighbor in West Dallas, and itinerant preaching.
This post isn’t an attempt to brag by any means. I’m simply extending to you the same invitation I’ve received: to follow Jesus right where you are with the people immediately connected to you by localizing your disciple making. Let Jesus heal the wounds caused by haters, correct your habits, and set you free to live as a missionary locally.
Love well and love locally, friends.