As a former deputy sheriff I have had plenty of training with weapons. Safe handling and usage of a firearm has been drilled into my mind. I can still hear the weapons instructor at one academy yelling, “Don’t point that muzzle in the direction of anything you don’t intend to shoot!” I only wish I’d learned that lesson when I was fourteen.
When I was young I often carried a .22 caliber pistol while working on our farm. Yeah, I know, don’t lecture me on why it’s a bad thing for a kid to carry a semi-automatic pistol--I learned that in the academy too. Anyway, once while trying to draw my pistol out of the holster, I accidently pulled the trigger. The round fired into the ground and missed my foot by a fraction of an inch. Shooting oneself in the foot is a quick way to ruin a workday on the farm!
I regularly meet rural pastors who are experts when it comes to shooting themselves in the foot—spiritually that is. Most don’t intend to make these kinds of mistakes, but bad habits developed over time in ministry bring bad results. There are lots of ways to kill a ministry from the start, but one mistake I often see made is having resentment towards the people/culture.
As the initial love affair with a culture begins to fade after a few months, things that were once cute or quaint perhaps become annoying. And, before long the seeds of hostility against a community take root in one’s heart. A shot is fired.
Is this you? Has your attitude toward the town taken on the smell of the sewage lagoon that sets on the east side of town? Listen carefully to the words of Jesus in Luke 14:23:
“Then the master told his servant, 'Go out to the roads and country lanes and make them come in, so that my house will be full.”
What does it take to keep from shooting yourself in the foot? The command to “go out” literally means to exit one area for another. What is Jesus asking us to leave? Obviously he’s asking us to leave our location, but there’s more that needs left behind. The next word Jesus uses is into. The Greek work eis means to be immersed. The servant (you) is sent from your place/culture and told to become immersed the place/culture where you serve.
Our attitude toward the community in which we serve plays an important role in our effectiveness on the field. Live in a pagan area? Filled with despicable people? Sin is running rampant? People are hostile against the church? Doesn’t matter. Jeremiah’s words remind us of God’s attitude toward the places where people live (29:7):
“And seek the peace of the city where I have caused you to be carried away captive, and pray to the LORD for it; for in its peace you will have peace.”
If God loves Babylon he loves your town too. Do you? In a city, it may be fashionable--even chic--to speak with negative tones. Do that in a small town and you've just shot yourself in the foot.