I've never understood those who list three states as their "preferences" for ministry.
While I told God I would go anywhere, I also asked that it would never be Nineveh. And I don't mean a town or city called Nineveh, but a people and place I would not love. I never wanted to be the Jonah of chapter one, never wanted to be disciplined into the ministry God had for me.
By God's grace, I have never served in Nineveh. He has always been gracious to me and given me a love for the people I served, a passion for the city, and a desire to live in the community in which God has placed me.
You can minister in Nineveh, and God will use you as He used Jonah, but you may also be miserable. Surely it's much better to allow God to breathe His passion for the community and the people deeply into you. Surely it's much better to love the people and the place God has called you to serve.
Looking back, here are a few practical things my wife and I did to develop our love for the places we served. I will use my most recent local church experience in Miami illustratively.
1. Eat at local restaurants. You can go to a chain restaurant in any city. Instead, find places authentic to the community, places that capture the local culture. We loved Cuban at Havanna Harry's, Peruvian at Jaguar's, and seafood at Garcia's. After each meal, I felt like Miami was a little more my home.
2. Date your spouse and the city. Explore different parts of the community/city/county. Find things to do in places you've not yet explored. Shop in a different part of town or try coffee in a new place.
3. Find fun local spots for your kids. Each community has unique things for kids. Find those. Whether it is a park, zoo, museum or library. Join those and visit them with your kids.
4. Pray each morning for your community. The more you pray for your community, the more you'll love it. God supernaturally does this work in your heart. When I flew into Miami at night and saw the city lights, I would pray for the city, and God always increased my love for her. At times, He would bring me to tears, and I knew He was doing something special deep in my heart.
5. Join the sports bandwagon. Allow the local team to become your team. Really make it your team. I became a huge Miami Heat and Miami Hurricane fan. When people talked smack about them, I took it personally. And giving Florida State fans a hard time only endeared me more to the people of Miami.
6. Use local illustrations in your messages. The more you talk about your community, the more you end up loving it. And the people sense it.
7. Honor local community leaders. Everyone in authority has been placed in authority by God (Romans 13). Schoolteachers, policemen, and community/political leaders care for the community and are in highly influential roles. Pray for these leaders and look for opportunities to serve them. Some of my great memories in Miami include flying in a helicopter with policemen on a night raid, serving a local school with my small group, and recognizing school teachers for Teacher Appreciation Day.
8. Embrace the history. The community has an historical narrative. Learn it in order to better understand the place and the people who live there. In Miami, the Freedom Tower is known as the Ellis Island of the South because Cubans fleeing Castro's regime were processed there. It's a statement of a new beginning for many people and an illustration of the new life Christ offers when we leave our old lives behind.
9. Listen. As you live in the community, listen to the people you meet. Hear their stories and allow God to give you His burden for them.
What about you? Anything practical you would add to the list that you have found helpful in developing a deep love for the place you serve?
Eric Geiger serves as vice president of the church resources division of LifeWay Christian Resources. Prior to joining LifeWay, Geiger served eight years as executive pastor of Christ Fellowship Miami in Florida.
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