Yesterday, I was in the middle of a global city meeting immigrants from others nations. Many of the immigrants I meet tell me the number of years they plan to spend working in this city before they return to their home country. Two, three, or five years of working in this global city and then return with accumulated savings with increased status. Community development, starting churches and discipling among these immigrant groups can be incredibly tiring because people leave just as fast as they arrive. When I start to think about it, almost all of my friends have moved sometime in the last five years. Many of them have been significant moves from one side of the United States to the other, or to an entirely different country.
There was a time when communities thrived on the stability and longevity of families who established themselves in a place. Without having to make an effort these families naturally knew everyone in the neighborhood because they grew up together, worked together, or were in a club or church together. This natural process worked to naturally weave the community together. Churches benefited from this stability and longevity, so much so that those starting churches would start with families that were paragons of stability.
We often lament the loss of that “old neighborhood feel” where people knew each other, looked out for each other, and contributed for the good of the community. But we don’t realize how these shifts in increased mobility impact the neighborhood feel.
When it comes to investing in people in the way that Jesus modeled and taught us to do, we became used to banking on stability and longevity. We adopted a mentality of investing primarily in those who were going to be around for a long time. The result has been that we have not invested in those we think will only be around temporarily. But in a time of frequent moving, career changes, and even international mobility, we need to adapt by investing fully in people no matter their length of stay.
The phrase “running to stand still” is normally used to mean that our efforts are hopeless. But running to stand still on treadmill still results in exercise. In the same manner, discipling people of every nation is essential no matter the length time we have them. Those guys in the book of Acts (Paul, Priscilla, Aquila, and others) had this mindset. They went to a city called Thessalonica where they spent 3-4 weeks before they were run out of town. Yet, during such a short amount of time they invested/mentored/discipled the new followers of Jesus there in such a manner that Paul could later remark that they became examples and proclaimers of the good news of Jesus to those in the entire surrounding geographical area (1 Thessalonians 1). We need to shift our mentality to make disciples in this manner. It is intense, but it is transformative.