Wednesday, July 22, 2009

All Churches, Great and Small

D.G. Hart has written a provocative article on evangelical attitudes about rural churches. He wonders if the recent awakening to Wendell Berry, regionalism, sustainable agriculture, etc. will correspond to the way evangelical Christians look at rural churches. Will small country parishes continue to be "training ground" for recent seminary graduates, who will leave as soon as the open suburban church calls?

I think one has to be careful not to put the blame on young ministers who leave rural parishes, because rural parishes can be difficult. They're often times dominated by one powerful family, tribalistic, uneducated and stubborn people. These can be churches who have high expectations of a pastor's spouse and children. More urban parishes tend to be home to educated people who might be more willing to accept change and accept a pastor for who he wants to be, not what the minister "has always been."

However, Hart makes some accurate accusations against evangelicals. He claims that their fascination with celebrity makes them particularly vulnerable to always seeking the bigger, better, more central church. For most evangelicals, it would be an honor to have an influence on the people who run cities, write books, or star in movies. Also, their obsession with being trendy, stylish, and hip just cannot sync well with agricultural life.

My hometown in Central Ohio recently saw a century old church, mostly attended by those who depend upon agriculture (in a vocational sense) close in order to merge with a suburban church in hopes of becoming a mega-congregation. Of course, lost in that merge was 1oo years of local stories, recipes, and favorite hymns. That church had a rhythm that flowed with the seasons. Now, it is lost to the electric sound of CCM Praise music and seeker sensitive ideals.

That being said, young ministers need mentors who know what it is like to stay in a place though the grass is greener elsewhere. The de facto mentor of many coming out of seminary are wonderful preachers like Piper or Keller, who thrive at large, urban churches. It must be demonstrated that there is virtue in staying put and becoming a part of the rural church's family. More than that, young ministers must learn that they must not only adapt to a rural church's rhythm, but become part of it. Being hip is not important. Not everyone is Tim Keller who will thrive in the city, but also, they might not be Eugene Peterson who thrives in the rural.

They must remember that Jesus spent paractically his whole ministry in the middle of no where. These rural, uneducated, stubborn people are loved by Jesus too, even if they are difficult.

1 comment:

  1. Ryan,

    I'm thoroughly enjoying the blog. From your posts and Noel's writing, it's apparent that you are a very thoughtful and engaging couple.

    My grandparents had an interesting experience in rural South Dakota in the late 1990s/early 2000s. Their small Lutheran congregation had an extended period with interim pastors but eventually landed a brand new seminary graduate who, intriguingly, was an older, ethnic Chinese gentleman (and his wife was ethnic Korean). For many in the congregation, it was an adjustment to have someone who was ethnically different -- a very good one -- but it also struck me that the Lutheran church was finding it difficult to find younger ministers to minister to rural communities.




Creative Commons License
2 Ages Verging by Ryan Cordle is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.