Ignore my punchy title, really. Just my shameless ploy at getting your attention. Here is an interesting perspective from a site that is new to me on why rural ministry seems to be off the radar of the church planting crowd otherwise attracted to organic produce, going “local,” and living simply, etc. Darryl Hart on “If Cooking Slowly and Growing Organically are In, Why is Rural Ministry Out?” An excerpt:

Signs are not encouraging though that the growing concern among evangelical Protestants about the environment is having any effect on their church’s estimation of the people who work on farms and live near them. A recent story in Christianity Today on Tim Keller, a popular Presbyterian pastor in New York City, suggests that for all the desires that evangelicals have to be cutting edge and socially aware, a ministry accessible to the rhythms of farming and local communities does not qualify as hip. The story fawns over Keller for his ability to carve out a multiple-congregation structure in the Big Apple, for a theology of the city that says cites are where redemption happens, and for the model of ministry he exhibits to a crop of younger pastors who aspire to make an impact.

According to the news story, “New York attracts the best and the most ambitious.” Keller senses this and ministers accordingly. He told the reporter, “Suppose you are the best violist in Tupelo, Mississippi. You go to Manhattan, and when you get out of the subway, you hear a beggar playing, and he’s better than you are.” One of Keller’s former colleagues puts Keller’s understanding of ministering in the city this way: “Paul had this sense of, I really should go talk to Caesar. He’s not above caring for Onesimus the slave, but somebody should go to talk to Caesar. When you go to New York, that’s what you’re doing. Somebody should talk to the editorial committee of The New York Times; somebody should talk to Barnard, to Columbia. Somebody should talk to Wall Street.”

Lost in this understanding of ministry among cosmopolitans is the sense that one might be trying to elevate one’s own status by hobnobbing with the influential, that the church’s egalitarian streak has a preferential option for the meek and lowly, or that touting pastoral success in New York City leads to a generation of prospective pastors who will not remain in rural communities once they have seen the lure of church life in the cosmopolis – not to mention that the scale, anonymity, and standard of living in places like Manhattan skew church life in ways that may not be compatible with the agrarian imagery that comes straight from the pages of holy writ.

Of course, the reasons why evangelicals fawn over the city may stem from sources other than the obvious appeal of bright lights and big buildings. One of them may a born-again infatuation with celebrity and the disillusionment that follows when public figures like Mark Sanford or Miss California, Carrie Prajean, fall from grace. Evangelicals are disposed to understand grace and faith in extraordinary categories and so overlook stories of ordinary believers, routine piety, and even rural congregations as insignficant. Discontent with the average and routine aspects of natural life and of grace appears to breed a similar dissatisfaction with humble ministries in places of little interest to the editors of the Times.

But is it wrong to wish that Christians, who have discovered the value of wholesome food and the farming practices that produce it, would translate their choices about diet and carbon footprints into congregations and pastors more circumspect about cities and more respectful of the fly-over sectors of the greatest nation on God’s green earth? I hope not.

Read the whole thing.

Previously:
Rural Ministry is Not Second Rate
11 Blessings from My First 3 Years in Vermont Ministry
Book Review: Transforming Church in Rural America by Shannon O’Dell

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7 thoughts on “Rural Ministry: Too Cool for Hipsters?”

  1. IT’s hard to “attract” men to rural ministry when so many of them have so little real interaction with rural life. I’ve been blessed with a dad who grew up on a farm, feeding cows and irrigating fields every day before and after school. I’ve been back to where he grew up and I saw the memories flood over him and I was a little sad that I’ll never have a connection to a place like he does to that farm.

    We have to remember that ministry is to a people and a place and not to a position. One of the realities of rural minsitry is it’s unlikely to be full-time paid ministry. Because America has such poor models of bi-vocational ministry we do a terrible job of equipping people for ministry along side a “regular” job.

  2. For those interested in supporting or serving in rural congregations, I’d recommend checking out Village Missions: http://www.village-missions.org/

    I’d never heard of them before a friend recently began pastoring through them. Seems like a great organization with good theology and a worthwhile vision.

  3. Chris says:

    Seems like Hart really has an ax to grind against Tim Keller specifically or urban ministry in particular. This is especially evident in this paragraph:

    “Lost in this understanding of ministry among cosmopolitans is the sense that one might be trying to elevate one’s own status by hobnobbing with the influential, that the church’s egalitarian streak has a preferential option for the meek and lowly, or that touting pastoral success in New York City leads to a generation of prospective pastors who will not remain in rural communities once they have seen the lure of church life in the cosmopolis – not to mention that the scale, anonymity, and standard of living in places like Manhattan skew church life in ways that may not be compatible with the agrarian imagery that comes straight from the pages of holy writ.”

    in which he comes close to saying that “church life” is incompatible in the city, since the Bible was written in far less cosmopolitan times.

    What is shocking is anyone who lives in the city knows the grit and difficulty of ministry here. I’m from Philadelphia, and can’t help but scoff at some of Hart’s claims. Sure, men desiring to pastor may be disillusioned as to what they think urban ministry is, but even an internship in the city should pull back those blinders, which makes much of Hart’s critique feel empty and, as I said, as if he has an ax to grind.

    God bless.

    1. Jared C. Wilson says:

      Chris, certainly the pendulum swings both ways.

      I am grateful for Jonathan Leeman’s recent evaluation of Keller’s *Center Church* at 9Marks.

      And I’m grateful for Keller’s good words about rural ministry, quoted in the post titled “Rural Ministry isn’t Second Rate” linked at the end of this post.

      Thanks for your comment, brother.

  4. Jason says:

    Jared,

    I’m a church planter in Northeast Ohio, in the Akron/Cleveland area. To a certain extent, I agree with Mr. Hart. We are most definitely in danger of becoming “too hip” for certain ministries. Akron, for instance, is not exactly the coolest city in America. In my own denomination, the SBC, we have targeted certain cities for church planting in the near future, and the only two cities that lack real financial backing are Cleveland and Detroit, two cities that are firmly in the “not hip” category. But Hart hasn’t covered all his bases. First, population maps tell us that most people live in or around cities. That’s just a fact. When people are called into ministry, they are most often called to serve “where they’re at,” which means that most people are going to minister in or around a city.

    Furthermore, it’s simply missional to consider ministering in a city. If more people live there, then there are more opportunities to share the gospel. When we read the book of Acts, we find that the early church did the same thing. They strategically planted churches in major cities, because as our cities go, so goes the nation. Not to be political, but our latest election told us that. The majority of the country, in terms of sheer mileage/area, voted one way; but the cities voted another way, and the cities won. So when we begin thinking of places to plant, cities make the most sense, because they have more people, and more influence.

    Third, cities have a tendency to draw people from far and wide. People move to cities to work, or go to school. Often they stay, but sometimes they go back home. This means that if we reach them in the city, then they carry the gospel back home. In contrast, people in rural communities tend to stay in rural communities. As important as ministering to rural communities is, it simply has less impact, strategically, than ministries to major cities. This isn’t a value statement, it’s just a fact.

    Lastly, his statement about Christians being predisposed to the extraordinary simply doesn’t resonate with me, or with logic as far as I can tell. Of course we need to recognize the value of the ordinary, routine piety, but we should also remember that the Bible is full of extraordinary, miraculous stories. Paul was anything but ordinary. Elijah was anything but ordinary. Jesus, for that matter, was anything but ordinary. Is there not a kind of “holy dissatisfaction” that should mark the lives of those in the ministry? (And all Christians, really) Should we not grow dissatisfied when we don’t see growth in our churches, or when we don’t see lives being changed by the Gospel, or when see resources being poured into rural communities and never seeing resources come back out? It seems to me that sanctified ambition is what we need more than ever. If that means we plant churches in the cities, then so be it.

    Just my two cents. Keep up the good work. I really love the blog.

    Jason

  5. dghart says:

    Chris, I wonder if you think Tim Keller goes on about New York City or if you’ve ever considered that he might not be such a celebrity if he worked out of Richmond, Virginia.

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Jared C. Wilson


Jared C. Wilson is the pastor of Middletown Springs Community Church in Middletown Springs, Vermont. You can follow him on Twitter.

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