Guy M. Williams has some excellent thoughts on appointing pastors missionally over at Gen-X Missional Wesleyan. He really hits on one of the challenges we face as a denomination with an abundance of small rural and small town congregations. Many of the clergy we have aren’t from these congregations. In turn we find,
indigenous leadership of congregations is arguably not happening when “city folk” are sent to smaller-to-medium towns, and vice-versa.
Guy helpfully qualifies that with a tip of the hat to folks who those who realize that being a “native” isn’t necessary to finding a way to be indigenous,
…it is important to acknowledge up front that sometimes persons discover affinities for places that are unlike that in which they grew up. That said, affinity for place is closely related to being “indigenous” in my view.
He makes two important suggestions. First, he argues that we should examine the culture of call in small town and rural congregations,
One element of this would include solving the riddle concerning the relative lack of persons in rural and smaller town areas responding to a call to ordained ministry. Is a “culture of the call” lacking in these places? Is there something about our denomination’s organizational culture that works against this?
He then argues that instead of sending people with an affinity for certain places away from their preferred setting we should look for creative ways for them to live out a missional calling in the places they care most deeply about,
A second element of this would involve a commitment to creative thinking about opportunities for ministry that we are not seizing because we are sending persons with a metro/suburb affinity away. What if they were invested in the place of greatest affinity? We are a shrinking denomination, so surely there are opportunities we would do well to seize in the metro/suburb context?
He then heads off three potential objections:
- That he is saying we can only serve in one place or expressing an affinity for that one place is self-serving. Guy suggests it is a reality and we have to deal with it whether we like it or not. I agree
- That he is devaluing the rural/small town church. He states that he’s simply dealing with the trajectory our denomination seems to be on, not making a value statement. It didn’t get a devaluing from what he’s written. Instead, I think he’s trying to place increasing value on nurturing the call in people from a variety of backgrounds.
- The obvious anecdotal counter-examples of success stories in places people didn’t really want to go. He believes that the existence of these stories are good examples of God’s grace & blessing while being in serious tension with the mass of stories that suggest conflicting values, methods, etc. I think he’s right here too. We can’t devalue either set of stories.
These are terrific questions, and I believe they have to be seriously considered by anyone who has a heart for the United Methodist Church. Even though I really agree with Guy’s thoughts on the importance of indigenous missional leadership and “place,” I have a thought or two I’d like to add. While rural/small town ministry calls for a different set of gifts and graces than suburban/urban ministry, there are still certain intangibles that are essential no matter where you serve. For example, whatever the context, relationships are a central part of pastoral ministry. If someone has trouble developing and maintaining relationships in rural areas or small towns, it probably won’t make a tremendous difference if you put them in a their preferred socio-economic setting.
That reminds me of the story of the man who goes into town and says, “What are the people like here?” The townsfolk reply, “What were they like where you were before?” “Oh they were mean, nasty, and irritable…” “Well, that’s pretty much how they are here.” Later, another person came into the same town asking the same questions, yet her response was, “Oh the people back home were gracious, interesting, and pretty good folks,” to which the same townsfolk replied, “That’s pretty much what you’ll find here.” The small town I grew up in loved that story and told it often.
Finally, if we begin to scratch the surface about the reason things are the way they are, we’ll have to get into serious questions about qualifications and training for ministry. All processes are selective whether we like it or not. The current process for encouraging the call to ministry and the ensuing training is selective as well, and for a variety of reason it seems to primarily be producing people from larger population centers (Yes, I know there are anecdotal counter-examples). If we want to encourage people from more diverse socio-economic backgrounds to think about pastoral ministry, we should do some serious thinking about what it would mean for them to spend 10 years of their life preparing to respond to the call to pastoral ministry. Are there ways we can use technology to train and prepare more indigenous leaders?
Thanks Guy for an interesting post.