New York Times or Santa Barbara New-Press?
For the first time in 17 years I am reading a local paper delivered to my home each morning. After years of an exclusive news diet of the New York Times, I am now taking the Santa Barbara News-Press....too. I still get the New York Times in its blue plastic bag, but also the clear plastic bag with the SBNP. Why?
I'm not at all dissatisfied with the excellent coverage of the NYT's. But after years of only reading a national paper, I finally heard one member's observation (complaint) that it seemed like my news habits were a value statement that the local news was beneath me, not that important. I replied for years that I got my local news at night on the TV, with the weather report (some of the most important information TV has to offer) and an occasional Saturday paper to scan the church news. But my friend was not satisfied. "It still seems," he pushed "that what goes on here, locally, should be important for our pastor to know about and subscribe to." He was (is) right. I now read the SBNP every day and find out what issues are coming before the planning commission, what businesses are coming or leaving the area, and who is making the news locally.
Ministry is, ultimately, local. It's about the people here, who live around me, who come to this church, who ask me for prayer, advice, encouragement. It's about the noisy 3rd grade boys running through the sanctuary. It's about the young single mom facing a long court battle for custody. It's about a retired couple now facing major decisions because of debilitating health conditions. It's about these people here.
Oh I still believe in the big, universal church. I love visiting about global trends and reading new authors. I don't want to become myopic and cut off. But neither do I want to be uncommitted to believers here around me now. That's why I'm reading the SBNP.
You see, this whole issue of local church membership will not go away for me. I'm not defending the exclusive clubness of local churches, that believe they are better than everyone else. Local membership is not a battle flag that says I'm right and you're wrong. It does say that these local people near me count. They are my brothers and sisters here and they can count on me. I'm not a grazing consumer, here in this church so long as the programs are satisfying. These are my companions on the journey of discipleship with Jesus. I'm here for them; young & old, delightful & frustrating, mature & immature.
I wonder if all solid theology isn't, in the end, local? If our faith is to have any credibility, does it not need to be tied to a commmitment to local believers in particular time and space? Get the local paper in your neighborhood.