It’s hitting us from every angle. Hipsters in coffee shops are talking about it. Developers are investing with it in mind. Empty nesters are asking questions about it again. Those seeking to live a Jesus life and those who don’t know Him alike are feeling the tug to put down roots in places and spaces again. I happen to think Christians need to pay attention to the longing for roots more than the rest, because cities are quickly becoming the lifeblood of mission. Our current places are becoming the next frontier, and neighborhoods are becoming parishes again, where churches anchor their communities and every Christian can live out our first vocation as a follower of Jesus eyeball to eyeball.
This is a return to something people understood before the global and digital age distracted us. Something in all of us wants to be connected to a place and the people who live in it. Those in our neighborhood and city are longing for it. From cafés to civic clubs to neighborhoods a collision of something beautiful is happening in our world that we, as followers of Jesus, cannot afford to miss.
I am no expert, just a learner and a storyteller. If I had written Staying is the New Going five years ago it would have had the tone of a failing cynic. In North America, ministry that could be called “incarnational” seems countercultural (or at least optional). Other cultures are far more communal, far more rooted. A friend who grew up in Russia, taught me a word that has shaped his view of community: sotrudnichestvo, which translates roughly to “Let us do work together in our space.” We have no such word in English, but what if we did? What if we invited people regularly to work for the good of our places? What if the Church was again known for being the people who loved their cities and the people in them the most?
God has taken our family on a surprising and exciting journey. We have gotten serious about loving our neighbors ‒ our literal neighbors. We’ve gotten serious about loving our city, a place I had previously looked for opportunities to escape. We’ve gotten serious about loving friends who orbit around our lives, friends whom I had once been content to abandon. Like many others, we needed to recover from farsightedness of heart. It’s time for the people of Jesus to live for Jesus right where we are. There are a few things we need to reexamine as we think through growing roots in our places.
Relational accessibility. Take some time to re-examine your life and make changes that render you more local and relationally accessible.
Put down some roots. Focus on growing spiritual roots in your current realities instead of living under a fantasy of wings.
Mundane faithfulness. Focus on following Jesus into the mundane, ordinary, everyday moments of life and relationships.
Become fully present. Reframe “the success of flight” and look around you to spy how people are instead choosing the faithfulness of being fully present.
Rethink going. Rethink the exclusivity of finding and serving God through pilgrimage. We love escaping the daily grind and retreating to euphoric and beautiful places. We seem to find God there in the mystery, but we must not only find him there.
In his striking memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson describes his family’s annual trip from Maryland to Montana and the beauty and respite they experienced. One particular year the trip sparked the questions in him, “Why wait for August, why wait for Montana? What’s wrong with September through July, what’s wrong with Maryland?”
I challenge you to ask similar questions. What’s wrong with right now in the guts of life? What’s wrong with the ground you are walking on? What’s wrong with the people who you are already around?