How well do you know your neighbors? Your neighborhood? The physical land you live on, and the surrounding areas?
If you’re like me, the answer is, “Not very well.” This isn’t a priority for twenty-first century America. Many folks my age, and plenty in the preceding generation, live where we do, not because we were born there, but because a job or school brought us there. We are where we are because it allows us to accomplish a particular goal, and when the next opportunity presents itself we’ll be packing up the U-Haul before you can think twice.
Two days ago I was sent a link to a short documentary video called Godspeed. And the question asked in that video did more to reorient my perspective on Christian life and ministry than anything I’ve read or seen in a long time: Is that how Jesus lived?
During his ministry on this earth, Jesus never left Israel. And, with the exception of trips to Jerusalem for worship on feast days, most of his ministry took place around the Sea of Galilee and in surrounding areas. When I visited Israel earlier this summer, I was struck by what a small patch of land that really was. Jesus spent all of his life in a village context, in which he knew nearly all of the people he passed on the street by name. He knew the people who sold him the lumber he used in his workshop, who worshiped with him at the synagogue, and who raised the crops that were offered at the market.
Though I know it probably seems like I’m beating a dead horse with posts like these, I just can’t shake the feeling that this is the kind of ministry Christians are supposed to emulate—and not just pastors, but all members of Christ’s church. This is the kind of ministry that Matt Canlis, Anglican priest and the subject of Godspeed, dedicated himself to while serving in Methlick parish in rural Scotland. On his first day as a parish assistant, the rector of the church pointed down the road and said, “Get out into the parish.” He didn’t have an office at the church. He wasn’t to take meetings with church members by appointment. He was told to knock on doors.
This is a time-consuming task, and it forced Fr. Matt to reevaluate his priorities. The first time he preached on a Sunday, his rector told him that the sermon should have been ten minutes shorter. “Don’t the people deserve more on a Sunday?” he asked. “Matt, they deserve more on a Monday,” came the reply.
Fr. Matt had been shut up in his study most of the week, preparing to preach that sermon. The point his rector was trying to make was that he had neglected his pastoral duty to get to know his people. And though I certainly don’t want to downplay the importance of good, thoughtful, gospel-centered preaching, that kind of preaching will fall on deaf ears if the sermon isn’t prepared for your people. If the question that the preacher is supposed to answer is, “What is the Word of God to this people today?” then we must actually know our people.
It has been said that God’s normal speed is three miles an hour—the average walking speed of a human being. In an age where we consistently travel 60pmh and think a mile a minute, three miles an hour seems torturously slow—and it can be. But that is the speed where real intimacy, community, and growth takes place. We simply aren’t capable of forming good relationships and living good lives at breakneck pace. And if we want to be good pastors and good followers of Jesus Christ, we must embrace this limitation as the gift from God that it is and learn to live our lives as we were designed to do.
I encourage you to check out Godspeed here, and to think about working through the seven-week series they have available for sale on their website. This seems like it would be an excellent curriculum to work through on your own, with your family, or with your small group at church. I know I’ll certainly be recommending it at my own church.
Now let’s get out into the parish and knock on some doors.