Country Clubs

By Jennifer Johnson

I thought my years in California prevented me from developing geographical snobbery, that condition in which you assume your city/state/region has the corner on all things progressive and everywhere else is a barren wasteland. It’s a hobby along that coast; one California megachurch pastor actually told me Willow Creek grew to its current ginormity because “there’s nothing else to do out there. What’s in Illinois, yaks?” Yep, buddy, their church is way bigger than yours because Chicago’s boring.

Rural church expert Chad Hunt pastors during two-day intensive sessions at the Center for Rural Church Advancement at Nebraska Christian College.
Rural church expert Chad Hunt pastors during two-day intensive sessions at the Center for Rural Church Advancement at Nebraska Christian College.

So I expected to like the Plains states when I first visited them years ago to lead workshops at several far-flung congregations. But in the first day alone I was called “doll” by two different men, each my age or younger; spent three hours in a building MapQuest didn’t have a record of; and held a meeting in which one of the other participants sat across from me and knit a sweater.

I had to admit to some arrogance of the variety Kathleen Norris describes in her book Dakota: A Spiritual Geography. “For all their pious talk of ‘small is beautiful,’ church bureaucrats, like bureaucrats everywhere, concentrate their attention on places with better demographics; bigger numbers, more power and money,” she writes. But the influence of the rural churches she mentions is “derived from smallness and lack of power, a concept the apostle Paul would appreciate, even if modern church bureaucrats lose sight of it.”

We preach a gospel of the last being first and of finding strength in weakness while seeking ministry positions that will bring us attention and authority. We emphasize “doing life together” in the “community” of a small group, but somehow feel we’re too good to invest our lives in an actual community of souls who’ve been cooking, planting, reaping, marrying, and burying together for decades. Theirs is a “country” club we don’t want to join.

But these churches have much to teach us, and I’m thrilled Nebraska Christian College is proactively connecting and equipping its leaders and encouraging students to consider these congregations as real options for a ministry career.

Statisticians tell us 75 percent of the world’s population will live in cities by 2050, and urban ministry is important. But we’re also teaching a Word that, over and over again, talks about crops and harvests and gardens and vineyards and sowing and reaping. It seems reasonable that our brothers and sisters serving in rural fields (literally) have something relevant to say. Let’s make sure we’re not too proud to listen.

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