The perils of local ministry

Sometime last year I preached on the passage in Matthew where Jesus talked about the paradox of a plentiful harvest with few workers.

I talked about Clayfield as the mission field of our church community. And emphasised “local” evangelism and the importance of relationships with people around us. Relationships entered into with gospel intentionality.

I thought it was a good sermon. Until a bunch of people who don’t live in Clayfield but belong to our church family started leaving, in order to be part of churches closer to where they lived. Then I decided my sermon sucked.

It certainly doesn’t help that these people are really involved in ministry at church – and pretty mission minded. The type of people you don’t want leaving a church.

I’m not suggesting that this particular sermon was the only factor in their decision. But even it played no part it’s prompting me to rethink how I think geography should shape our church communities. Especially when you’re ministering to an ostentatious suburb like Clayfield where it’s almost possible to make a case for not living in (especially owning a house) if you’re a Christian. A bad case. But a possible case.

It takes a bit of gumption to commit to ministering to a community like that when you’re not living in it. It takes more gumption to live in it and watch people leave. I’ve had first and second hand experience of ministry in just about every demographic context in Australia (big city suburban church, rural town community, and a regional centre) and I reckon this is the hardest one to crack.