By Michael Criner
I live in Bellville, Texas, a rural town west of Houston. I’ve lived here for more than six years, serving as senior pastor at First Baptist Church. FBC Bellville has held a faithful witness over the past 160 years, and we absolutely love this place. I mean–come on, we’re 20 miles from Blue Bell!
Bellville is nestled in the center of Austin County, one of the greatest counties in all of Texas (well, that’s my opinion, but we can argue about that later). We’re your typical small, rural, relational community that prides itself on being a place you can raise your family in a safe environment. We have incredible schools, unity, and passion for all things Texas.
When the county fair runs through town, you see the entire town. And when the MS150 (a bike race from Houston to Austin) stops for lunch, we have people making sandwiches, passing out water, and cheering them on as they ride.
Further, when Hurricane Harvey slammed itself into Houston, the entire city stepped up to give and go to help others recover. Do not mishear me—we live in a wonderful place. A beautiful city, county, and state.
Be Not Deceived
But don’t be deceived. Our town (and county) is just as crooked, twisted, depraved, and in need of the gospel as any other community in the world. Don’t get me wrong, Bellville is an incredible community on the far outskirts of the greater Houston area.
But the people in Bellville are in need of the liberating gospel like never before. Austin County is in need of gospel transformation as any other community context.
A temptation in pastoring for any amount of time in one location is to assume you’ve reached everyone in the city in which you live. If you’re still alive, and God has not reassigned you, then there are people He wants you to reach!
Let me say it differently, if you’re alive, there are people in your midst that need to hear the truth of the gospel and be changed!
How do you fight the temptation of thinking everyone is saved? How do you fight against the temptation to go-with-the-flow in a community? I thought of three ways to keep the mission in view.
Have your eyes examined
Where are you looking? What are you seeing? One of the great things about being in the same community for a long time is that you see familiar people, places, and things.
One of the worst things about being in the same community for a long time is that you see familiar people, places, and things. There is an inherent danger in a setting like that. Why? You stop seeing what you need to see.
Think of it this way. Have you ever been a guest at another church or someone’s home and been able to spot all their stains on the walls and carpet, only to look past the ones in your own church building or home? You might want to have your eyes examined.
I’d encourage you to go out in your community and pray, “Lord, show me how You see this city. Give me Your eyes!” When was the last time you walked (or drove) around your city, asking God to do such a thing? As you pray this, you’ll begin to see new ministry opportunities in your midst.
Have your heart evaluated
I struggle with what many others struggle with as pastors–people. Ministering with the long-term view is sometimes hard because being patient is challenging.
Dealing with the same issues week-in and week-out can be grinding, creating the temptation for us pastors to go through the motions. Sure, we’re doing the right things—reading our Bibles, praying, evangelizing, visiting the sick—but this can lull us into all kinds of problems.
For one, we’ll think we’re OK with God because we’re doing the right things, which of course is more of a statement about our pride. It also reveals our unawareness to our true sinful and broken nature!
We’re like the rich young ruler saying, “I have kept all these…What do I still lack?” (Matthew 19:20, CSB).
But second, when we fail to do the “right things,” we’ll end in despair. I’m not as good a preacher; God must hate me, I don’t measure up!
Here is when we need to pray, “God, give me Your heart for this city, and help my heart know it needs the gospel.” I want to love this city in the same sacrificial way that He loves this city. He died for the city! And He died for me!
Have your mind engaged
When was the last time you propped your feet up and thought about your city? Too often, I’ll walk into my church asking, “How is my church?” But a kingdom-minded, missionally-driven pastor asks, “How is my city?” Do you see the difference? It’s huge.
When you begin to engage your mind in this way, you begin to engage once again in the mission God has given you. And when you engage your mind, your behavior changes!
When my eyes are examined, hearing evaluated, and my mind engaged, I find myself weeping over my city. Pastor, when was the last time you wept over your city? When was the last time you thought more about your city than you do your church?
That’s why I look up to pastors who do all they can to stay with the churches they’re in for a long time. They realize there are still lost people who need Jesus in their city and are resolved to tell them!
Here’s the deal. The more I live in this county, the more I love this county. What’s more, I grieve for this county.
There are people who do not know Jesus here, and I hope to do what Paul and Barnabas did in Acts 14:3: “they stayed there a long time and spoke boldly for the Lord.”
Michael Criner (@michaelcriner) is the husband of Abigail, father to Adele, Ruth, and Talitha, and senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Bellville, Texas. Dr. Criner earned his B.A. from Howard Payne University and both his M.Div and D.Min from Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and is the author of Text-Driven Contextualization. He also posts a daily devotional at Reclaim the Morning.