Review: The Ministry of Ordinary Places

Shannan Martin thought she had the life she wanted, safe and secure and serene. But God turned all of that upside down a few years ago, leading her on a wild ride to the heart of the city and deeper into His own heart for the poor, the vulnerable, and the outcast.

To write about this kind of topic is to teeter on the edge of cliche at all times. Community. Organic. Connect. Be present. These good words have too often become trite and empty because we want the things they stand for but have no earthly idea of how to get from point A to point B.

But in her brand new book, The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You, Shannan somehow manages to dodge the cliches and write real, true, hard-hitting, heart-delighting words that tell the stories of her neighbors, children, and friends with a sacred sense of dignity and beautifully clear-eyed hope.

She does not shy away from ugly, painful things–she bears witness to them. And in doing so, she invites us to lean in, to sit with these stories long enough to see how God is growing seeds of redemption even in the muck of a fallen world.

Shannan leads by example, showing us what it looks like to (albeit clumsily and awkwardly) pursue a Jesus-style life of love in our communities. This is the way from point A to point B-the way to find the connection and meaning and purpose our hearts long for. To love as Jesus loved. To “invest deeply in the lives of people around us” (back cover).

Real ministry is not concerned with quick fixes–bandaids, spit-shine, and plastered smiles.

No, the ministry of ordinary places is slow, hidden, and often mundane. It is living out 1 Thessalonians 2:8: “Because we loved you so much, we were delighted to share with you not only the gospel of God, but our lives as well.”

I think Shannan is a kindred spirit. I was all “YES!!” and “AMEN!!” to empty rooms when I was reading the book. So many of the things she’s saying in the book are things that we are talking about here on Loving the Stranger Blog too.

She explains what happens when we build relationships with people who are different than us (for our purposes, think “immigrants”):

“As I keep my eye on this spectacularly familiar place, the headlines…become more than taglines and hot takes. They aren’t just statistics. They aren’t often even newsworthy. Now, what used to be two-dimensional words have grown arms and hands, forming my compass for caring. They point to actual lives of dynamic, complex  people I know and love, men and women walking the sidewalks with me in pursuit of the same things–to exist with meaning, to belong, to wring every drop of hope from the world we’re in” (page 48-49).

This statistics becoming people transformation is a beautiful knife in the heart of “psychic numbing”–when people get to know people, perspectives change for good.

Shannan’s explanation of her distaste for the phrase “loving on” had me slow clapping (in case you missed it, here’s my own explanation for why it’s not the most helpful terminology). She helpfully explains: ” “While sharing the hope of Christ is certainly not wrong, there’s a better way to connect with overlooked people. It involves not just a loving gesture (that is, a one-time thing <–Jessie’s note), but actual love that cannot be put on, taken off, or packed up at the end of the day.”

Yes. Our gospel sharing must be accompanied by day-in day-out love (no microwaves!) if it is to ring true.

Shannan reminds us of the importance of giving to AND receiving from our neighbors (whether they are locals born and raised, or newcomers from across the world)–we talk about that here a lot too. Her vision for true hospitality totally jives with post after post on this blog too: “We have deceived ourselves into thinking hospitality is more about the house than the humans. In reality, it’s just the background noise to the real meat and potatoes of connection” (page 90).

Seldom have I read a book I resonated so deeply with. I laughed. I cried. I nodded  my head. This is how I want to live, I thought, page after page after page.

I pray that you’ll feel that way too when you read it, and that you’ll be encouraged and challenged and inspired (as I was!) to deeply connect with others–immigrants and locals–in the midst of this messy, painful, difficult, beautiful life in ordinary places, following in the footsteps of Jesus and empowered by His love.

To get your copy of The Ministry of Ordinary Places: Waking Up to God’s Goodness Around You (hot off the presses!), click here.

Thank you to Nelson books for the review copy!

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