A note from Kelly King: After living in the same city for 54 years and then moving to Nashville, I’ve had to learn a few of the things Courtney Veasey mentions in today’s article. Finding new friends and ways to serve has helped me go from being a tourist to understanding the local culture. I still have much to learn, and that’s true with Scripture and how I teach. I must continue to have an appetite toward digging in God’s Word and unearthing eternal truths that shape me into looking more like Christ.
Recently I spent some time in New Orleans, Louisiana, a city so dear to me as it was once where I called home for a collective eight years. When the time came to leave, I took one last glance back at the iconic downtown skyline in the rearview mirror, and as I did, I began to think of what I was going to miss about this beloved place. None of the regular haunts came to mind that one commonly associates with New Orleans. Not beignets at Café Du Monde, shopping in the French Market, or riding a streetcar. No, I thought about having Eggs 9th and chicory coffee at a packed Russell’s Marina Grill on a Saints home game weekend. And about Ms. Alice’s famous red beans and rice, and Oliver, the store owner from whom I regularly picked up copies of The Times-Picayune newspaper. For the first time, I was reflecting on the difference between knowing someplace as a tourist versus really knowing it as a dyed-in-the-wool local.
There are many occasions of course, when being a tourist is completely appropriate and even expected. But if you’ve lived and served in a place for any given time, at some point your involvement there—the getting out to explore (without a GPS), forming community relationships, scoping the food scene, and so on—should take you beyond the level of tourist, to becoming a true local. This concept is not only relative to the places we live but can also be applied to how we approach ministry leadership. Though more could be noted, I want to encourage what I call having the “mindset of a local” in the following two areas:
1. Become Local Toward Those You Lead
Whether in your church ministry, marketplace job, home, etc., as a leader it’s always good to assess how well you’ve gotten to know those under your care. The leader with a “tourist” outlook is not likely to go beyond finding out general information about a person that anyone who logs onto Facebook can know (family dynamics, educational background, birthday, etc.). A “local” leader, however, is more intentional about getting to know those she serves. This kind of intentionality takes more time and effort. It means asking questions that might require long periods of listening, making periodic one-on-one coffee dates and other group fellowship activities a priority, and understanding personality types and finding out what makes those around you “tick” (whether that’s having quality time with you, rewards for good work, words of praise, etc.). How we speak, conduct meetings, delegate tasks, and so on will reflect the level of intimacy we have (or have not) cultivated among those we lead.
A great biblical example of this kind of leader is the Apostle Paul. The close of his letters are littered with concerns for his people—where they are, whom they’re with, what they need, etc. Romans 16 alone reads as a directory, written even before Paul had been to Rome, which demonstrates not only the movement of the early church around the Mediterranean but also how connected Paul was to those he served. Take time to notice this quality in his correspondence and see what you might apply to your own practice of leadership.
2. Become Local Toward the Bible/Teaching Material
Did you know it’s possible to only ever approach the Bible as a “tourist” in terms of what we know and teach? Sure, we all have certain books and verses we gravitate to more than others, but what a shame it would be for parts of Scripture which God has inspired as “profitable for teaching, for rebuking, for correcting, for training in righteousness” (see 2 Timothy 3:14-17) to go unexplored and untaught as we return time and again only to what we’re familiar and feel most comfortable with. My encouragement is to know your Bible as only a “local” can know it and teach accordingly. For some, “becoming local” will look like reading and studying texts you have long shied away from (hello prophets and Revelation); for others it may mean taking a step toward a seminary education where you can go even deeper with study in the original languages. There is always more to discover and love about the Scriptures; we can never exhaust our knowledge of God’s Word.
Sometimes even long-time locals admit to having never tried some iconic hole-in-the-wall food joint or to visiting a certain museum or landmark in their city. Maybe for us we admit that there are areas of leadership that we’ve left unexplored. If so, we can’t let pride keep us from missing out. Let’s decide today to approach the places we live, people we serve, and the study of God’s Word with the “mindset of a local” and leave being a “tourist” to vacation!
Courtney Veasey is a PhD candidate in biblical interpretation at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary. She is the former Director of Women’s Academic Programs and faculty member also of NOBTS. Courtney is a frequent speaker for women and teenage girls and has contributed numerous articles, devotionals, and book chapters for such publications as Essential Connection and Parenting Teens magazines, LifeWay’s Ministry to Women blog, and most recently Broadman and Holman’s The Devotional for Women and The Psalms and Proverbs Devotional for Women. Courtney currently resides in her home state of Florida where she enjoys being near family, spending time on the water, and cheering for her beloved Florida State Seminoles.