Several years ago, I had a lunch meeting with guy who’d moved to Macon just the year before. He was in his late twenties and had relocated here from Birmingham, Alabama for a job. At some point during our meal, he became quite critical of our lovely little town. He apparently thought we lacked the sophistication of a larger city, like Birmingham. He talked about certain amenities not being available. He complained about the mindset of the community being less-than-progressive. He then grumbled about the racial tensions in our city.

“Bull Conner,” I said, interrupting his diatribe against my home.

“Who?” he asked.

 Man, why won’t they teach history in our schools anymore?

“Look,” I said. “I know some of what you’re saying is correct. But let me share a couple of thoughts with you. First of all, be careful what you say. I can criticize my hometown, but you can’t. It’s like my kids — I can call them punks, but you’d sure better not.”

“Secondly, I’ve lived in Birmingham. It’s a great city, no doubt. They’ve got great BBQ. Awful traffic, but great BBQ. But Macon is a wonderful place to live and raise a family. I love my city, even with her flaws. And if you stay here long enough, I bet you’ll feel the same way.”

Short Commutes, Great Hospitals

It’s been several years since I had this meeting, and I’m honestly not sure whether or not my friend’s perspective of our city changed. I never heard him again mention any of Macon’s deficiencies, so I either succeeded in changing his mind or shutting his mouth. A win either way.

Since that time, I believe the climate and culture of our city has continued to improve. Sure, we still have our issues, and we need to be willing to acknowledge and address those. Facts are our friends, even facts we don’t like. They allow us to see and change our reality, if it needs changing.

However, we also need to pause and look at why we love to call this place home. I have friends who live in that great metropolis located an hour north of us. They will ask me what I like about living in Macon and I’ll say, “I have a five minute commute to work, and I don’t have to go to Atlanta for medical care.” I normally share this information with them while they are sitting in their car, parked somewhere on I-285. Simply put, Macon is a large enough community to offer lots of amenities, but without the congestion and traffic of a larger city. For me, not having to commute for two hours a day means more time with my family in the evenings. I love getting to watch my kids grow up rather than watching the taillights of the car in front of me.

Macon has a rich culture, great restaurants, three colleges and universities, a thriving downtown, lots of retail options, and, as of late, a flurry of economic activity. Poised in the middle of Georgia and at the intersection of two interstates, Macon is ripe for continued growth and looking toward a bright future. It truly is a great place to live and raise a family.

Perception Versus Reality

You’ve likely heard the old axiom, “Perception is 90% reality.” There is a lot of truth in this. What we perceive to be true about a person will shape their reality. If you constantly tell your children how awful they are, they will become awful. Even if they are nearly perfect, and your perception is completely off-base, your attitude and words will change who they become. You become a prophetic voice in their life.

Again, we never need to ignore the reality of our problems. Whether it’s violence, racial problems, poverty, or any other negative aspect of our community, we need to be willing to face the facts and offer solutions. Simultaneously, we should be just as quick to offer praise of our city. The more we perceive Macon to be a great place to live and raise a family, the more she becomes so. We can choose to speak words of life or words of death into our city. I choose to speak life.

Called to Reach or Run Down?

Finally, if you are a follower of Christ, you have been called to share the gospel with those around you. Here’s the rub: I find it very difficult to reach a city if I’m constantly running down a city. If others hear me say, “This is an awful place to live,” how open are they going to be to me telling them about my faith? Does someone really want to listen to the gospel right after being criticized?

We are instructed to pray for and seek the good of the place where we live. God told the Israelites who were living in Babylon to “seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the Lord for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper” (Jeremiah 29:7). I love Macon, but Macon is not my forever home. I’m only here as an exile until the Lord carries me to the place I really belong — in heaven with Him.

Yet, while I’m here, I’m going to seek the success of my city. I will work for her good. I’ll be a champion for this community. And I will pray for Macon to continue to prosper.

I can’t wait to see how God answers that prayer.

Kevin Mills is the Lead Pastor at Northway Church in Macon, Georgia.