All churches are in communities, but not all churches love their communities. Many pastors live in communities/cities, but don’t necessarily love their community or city. Sadly, many of our churches look more like the city where their denominational headquarters are at than the city where they find themselves. In the missional community, we call that not being contextual. Your church should bear signs of the local community in which it is placed. This doesn’t have to be an idolatrous relationship where love for the city/community replaces your love for God, but it should be contextual to the point that, if your church was picked up in a “Wizard of Oz” sort of way and dumped in a new city/community, the people there would be a little weirded out by the culture and customs of what you do, even if your message is the same.
Part of the issue for pastors, as well as young leaders in the Church, is that church leadership is an increasingly-transient field. When you come up through college, graduate school and your first few career outposts, you take almost a disposable view of your time in a certain location. Relationships are disposable, context is disposable and you’re always thinking about what’s next. Many leaders do this simply to protect their own hearts in preparation for eventually leaving – sort of like summer romance you know can only last a few months, so you don’t allow your heart to be too enraptured.
When the leadership of churches takes a transient, disposable view of local culture, they create a relationship with their communities that is closest to what we call in the dating world “friends with benefits”. FWB is the ultimate in a disposable, heart-protecting relationships – you glean the good out of the other person and check out for the bad stuff. But that’s not what God calls His people to in Jeremiah 29, “Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”
So is your relationship with your city/community one of passion or one of self-seeking convenience? If we’re to love our cities/communities the way that we should, then it should pain us and the community greatly when/if we do leave it. We should wear our hearts on our sleeves, so to speak, when we approach how to feel about the places we are, we should invest so heavily in the community that pulling out would emotionally and financially painful, we should recklessly lavish love on our cities/communities as if they’re the most beautiful girl in the world.