I don’t care who you are, tourists are annoying.
In my community we whisper silent curses when stuck behind an out-of-state car driving 10 mph under the speed limit, looking at the scenery of our NC mountains.
When I travel, I do my best to blend in with the locals, but there’s no hiding it: I’m just as annoying.
Sunday before last, we entered the Advent season. Advent derives from the Latin word for “coming.” In Advent we anticipate God taking on flesh, coming into our broken world. When Jesus came to the world, he did not come as a tourist.
Karyn Wiseman, Associate Professor of Homiletics at Lutheran Theological Seminary Philadelphia, tells of a valuable lesson she once learned.
One of my seminary professors, Emilie Townes, taught her seminary students that being in ministry means being more than just a tourist. Tourists come to a place and visit, while maintaining their own unique traditions and customs. They buy trinkets and take snapshots. She taught us that pastors and preachers need to be pilgrims and “pitch tent” with the people. Pilgrim pastors learn the “language” of the people they are sent to pastor. Pilgrims pitching tent take up their people’s traditions and customs, but they can also, like Jesus, transform the world in which they live through their ministry to and with the people.
Tourists are in and out; pioneers settle in. Tourists consume; pioneers invest. Tourists maintain separation; pioneers become a part of the community.
Last year, King Street Church was invited to start a fresh expression at the local homeless shelter. Early on, I formed a friendship with William, a resident who lives in the permanent housing wing of the shelter. The longer I’ve known William, the more honest he has been with me about his frustrations with charity-driven Christians. William has seen a great deal of church folks come in and out over the years.
Last week, William opened up to me. “They always ask the same simple questions,” he said, “as if we don’t have any higher understanding because we live here. Little do they know, we have some of the most brilliant minds here. The residents here could build a skyscraper; we have builders, electricians, and engineers. If they took some time to get to know us they wouldn’t treat us that way.”
When you approach your community as a tourist, you only see the needs. When you approach your community as a pioneer, you see the possibilities.
Go into the World and Stay There
Christian community cannot be content to exist in isolation from the world. We have to go.
The once Archbishop of Canterbury Rowan Williams gets to the heart of this when he says, “The gathering of baptized people is…not a convocation of those who are privileged, elite and separate, but of those who have accepted what it means to be in the heart of a needy, contaminated, messy world.” Authentic Christian community is drawn to the people Christ is drawn to, the people who are excluded, oppressed, and forgotten.
However, when we go to our neighbors we have to take the time to listen. Tourist ministry does more harm than good. We have to take the time to form loving friendships. We have to take the time for authentic community to form. We have to settle in. Then a fresh expression can form.
This Advent, learn something from the example of Jesus, the pioneer and perfecter of our faith who came to the world fully human and fully God; not saving us from a distance, but by entering into the middle of our chaos, healing our disease with the touch of his hand.
Luke Edwards is the Associate Director of Church Development for the Western North Carolina Conference of the United Methodist Church and a trainer for Fresh Expressions US. He was the founding pastor of King Street Church, a network of fresh expressions in Boone, NC. Participating in local, regional, and national levels of the Fresh Expressions movement has given Luke a unique perspective into the future of the mainline church in a post-Christian society. You can follow him on twitter at @lukesedwards or check out his blog Faithful Community at www.faithfulcommunity.com