At the beginning of the year several of my social media friends hopped on the ‘word of the year’ train. I planned to get on too but never quite made it past the platform. Today I began listening to Emily Freeman’s podcast The Next Right Thing. In episode 173 Emily talks about how to journal using just one word. But she also recognizes that not all of us chose our word in January or even want to commit to one single word for an entire year. But she says something revolutionary: you can choose your word now- in May of this year. And it can be for a month, for a week, or for today. And as I listened to Emily’s words I felt the freedom to make my word for this season in my life. It’s a word I have already been meditating on. It’s one that keeps appearing and reappearing day after day, week after week. Local.
Local can mean a couple of different things. It can be an adjective to describe things within my vicinity. A local café, a local vendor, a local artist. It can also be used as a noun: a person can simply be defined as a local. It’s something I became again as I returned to my hometown for 3 months at the beginning of this year. It’s something I will never quite be in the city I call home. It’s something that describes where I want to be and where I feel God calling me in ministry right now. For all my willingness and all my plans to reach the world with what I have to offer he has been gently whispering to me: just stay local.
Staying local isn’t glamourous. It isn’t even always inspiring. And it certainly isn’t what I feel my peers and critics will be impressed with as I choose it. But it is what I need. It’s what those around me deserve. It is what God is asking me to choose- to focus on the here and now instead of the constant call to be and do it all. He’s calling me to serve the church I go to, that I have just began to attend again in person over a year after the start of the pandemic. He’s calling me to reach out to those that others may not have time or the heart for. He’s calling me to use my voice- to share my words- but first and foremost with those with whom I also share my life and my home with.
Will other people read these words? Perhaps they shall. And it’s okay for others to be inspired by what God is teaching me. But my time, my energy, my first priority is not to grow a bigger platform or to make myself known the world around. It’s to faithfully serve in the here and now. To take the steps I need to take and trust that my words will fall on the ears of the right readers.
Too often I bend to the pressure to be more. To be better. To be known. In a world where connecting seems easy and growing a platform is expected it can be extraordinary to simply do the ordinary: be local. Local living and serving should never be the thing we strive to outgrow: but the thing that gives proof of our sincerity, our readiness to serve a bigger (or different) audience, and the constant in our lives that will always keep us grounded. May I never grow a platform reaching others far away if I’m not first faithfully serving the ones right around me.
Serving as a missionary has given me a fuller definition of what this whole thing really means. The fist and most important thing any missionary needs is a local church. One who is willing to send them out to do work in other places. Places that though for the church will be foreign, will become quite local for the missionary themselves. Jim Elliot understood this when he penned his famous words: ”Wherever you, be all there.” Paul understood this when he was sent out by his local church to travel to new places. And when instead of just passing through and dropping off his business card he stayed for a year or a few. He became a Jew to the Jews and a Gentile to the Gentiles. In other words, Paul became a local. No matter how much we learn or how much we think we know, we will never be too big or too smart or too wise for local ministry and local life. No matter how strange or how familiar we find the place we are in we are called to be there through the outpouring and investment of our lives.
As I come out of this pandemic with my fellow man I come being changed to appreciate more what is just outside my door. It’s hard to feel the need to travel to distant lands when the one you are in has so very much to offer. It’s hard to spend you time investing in fame and fortune when you are so deeply invest in your ordinary life that it truly is your greatest pleasure.
For each one of us life is full of many seasons. And in this season I long to embrace all that is right here in the present. All that could be overlooked as everyday and ordinary. All that for me is simply local.