Not rural like we knew rural

Tuesday, June 29, 2010
Barb commented in a previous post, "You must be feeling at home there" and by there she meant here in the Field.

I would agree, we do feel at home here, we're making it our home and trying to do those things that would help it feel more like home, so that is coming along. We are moving towards having people over more often but for now it seems like a part of the process of taking ownership of the space is that we're trying to make the space our own, first. It's a weird feeling that the guests we have over to the house know more about the house, and where things are, than we do. But as I said, that's coming along fine.

I continue to think about the church dynamic here and just how very different rural ministry is to most churches that exist in our western culture. I'm not sure there are ways to teach this stuff in the classrooms of our seminaries. I realize sweeping generalizations are made here but I suspect you can only teach a few things about God and scripture and history and spirituality and character, and then you let them go trusting the Holy Spirit to teach them about the places they may end up.

My dawning conclusions about the rural church dynamic here are that it's just really tough to get a good fit to a place that is culturally rare. By that I mean that you couldn't just take a guy or gal fresh out of seminary who have lived their lives in a city and plunk them down in a rural church location and expect them to make a go of it. Oh there will be a few rare birds who have experienced a bit of life and could work hard to fit, and by the grace of God it could happen. But on the whole I'm not sure our schools are teaching people how to pastor in rural cultures any longer.

This is a culture without any single parents in the church, and none or very few children with Fetal Alcohol Disorders. It's a place without a local physical community and so no local neighbours to chat over the fence with. So you don't get the casual drop in visitors or the strategic befriend your neighbour drop in.

If you disagree with the direction the church is going in, you don't leave in a huff and go to the next church because there is no next church, and besides that you've been here for a whole lot of years so you aren't going anywhere. Last one in can be the first one out if tensions arise.

In the rural community there is no anonymity, even in spite of the big distances between homes. Everybody knows when you burp and when you are not getting along with your kids or your spouse, and that can be a good deal of stressful life to live into.

You have people in the community who run multimillion dollar farms making huge decisions each day that will effect many people, and you have people who are just as hardworking who don't have that much security. That can be a silent tension that can be like the elephant in the room, if the people want it to be.

They are generally good people who would give the shirt off their backs if they saw you without. When crisis times come they step up for one another and serve each other and support like you've never seen it before, because that's who they are inside.

There are ways in which it feels like a church that has been in a time warp, simply because many of the maladies that have effected our city churches have not yet found their way here. In fact so many of the ways I have learned and been trained to care for city churches simply do not apply here. So if you were to take your new skillset fresh out of school and apply it to your new pastoral ministry in a rural setting, I can see the frustration growing already.

I'm beginning to understand how sometimes the rural culture with it's unspoken set of rules and expectations (and those being different than a city church,) could break the man or woman who goes into the place to serve as a pastor, fresh out of seminary.

Thankfully there are men and women out there who have done the internal character development work that is needed in any tough ministry location. And there are people who have gifts that allow them to minister in cross-cultural situations. I just don't think we've looked at our rural churches as cross cultural ministry opportunities yet.

And maybe that's where I'm ending up on this little rabbit trail. We've not seen our rural churches as cross-cultural missions requiring unique training and preparation. Then when our rural churches struggle and fail we are surprised because they seemed so quiet and serene when we look at them from our cities.


Yes I suppose we are feeling at home here in The Field, and I am studying this church and community like it's my dissertation I'm working on. I am learning lots, which is something I enjoy. But yes, thanks for asking. We're doing ok.


  1. I suspect you are right about seminary not teaching much about the ministry to rural communities these days. Although, in preaching class we were told that one must know the people to whom you preach - and that involves knowing all sorts of people, the rural ones too. But that is just the preaching aspect, not all the rest of being a pastor.

    Maybe this issue is addressed a bit at NPS through the Wendell Berry class reading his writings on the agrarian life. But maybe that class deals more with the warm fuzzies of the ideal agrarian community - which may not even exist?

    Maybe it takes someone like you who is willing to listen for the movement of God in the people and in the community. Not sure if that is learned in seminary or if life helps teach some of those lessons. And as you say, the struggle to learn those lessons might break someone just out of seminary and new to rural life.

    Maybe God knew you were as well prepared a pastor as he could find. But don't let that go to your head. :)

  2. I find this fascinating because I've been coming to similar conclusions recently about a church on my patch not being an ideal match for a student, who (one hopes !) will be eager to put learning into action very quickly. That just won't work for the reasons you've mentioned.

    It concerns me too that rural ministry can be looked down on, if the church feels it has to reflect the world in achieving measurable outcomes and quick 'results'.

  3. :) Thanks Linea. It will be good to talk about some of these things this weekend.

    Barb, it's interesting to me that these things seem to cross over into your context as well. For us it feels like we are placing so much of our training into preparing for city churches with all their issues going on.

    I don't see too many seminars or series on "how to pastor a rural church with strong personalities and a 200 year old history to live into." But I do see many on how to be a strong pastoral leader in big city churches and take your city church to the next step.

  4. Flippant response to a conversation I hope we can continue some time - some of us have histories an awful lot longer than a mere 200 years to contend with - and have inherited the buildings to match !!


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