Guy Williams has been blogging lately about ministry in the United Methodist Church, particularly on itineracy and matching churches and pastors. David Brooks’ column today sheds some light on the phenomena we’re seeing, particularly the gap between urban, suburban and rural churches.
Brooks describes the change over the past half century:
In the decades since, some social divides, mostly involving ethnicity, have narrowed. But others, mostly involving education, have widened. Today there is a mass educated class. The college educated and non-college educated are likely to live in different towns. They have radically different divorce rates and starkly different ways of raising their children. The non-college educated not only earn less, they smoke more, grow more obese and die sooner.
While Brooks’ focus is on the differences between Obama and Clinton in the presidential race, I think this difference impacts our ministry personnel and deployment as well. For just about the same period Brooks has in view Methodism has increased the educational requirements for clergy. If our culture has divided in two, then our church, mainstream American as it is, may also have become divided in two. But is our pool of pastors from both cultural segments, in proportions anywhere near the proportions found in the broader culture (or even in our churches)? I’d say not.
What are the consequences for ministry if Brooks is right? Here’s what comes to mind:
- By maintaining high educational standards we are ensuring that most of our pastors fit into one cultural segment and are at best uncomfortable in the other.
- If we want to reach both cultural segments we need to find ways to recruit and train pastors and leaders without de-culturing them. Increasing respect for Local Pastors may be one way to do this.
- We need to pay attention to culture – the culture of our congregations and the culture of our pastors. In my experience I’ve had some good fits and some really poor fits. As far as I can tell, culture never came into consideration.
I like being educated. My most effective ministry has been with those who are in that cultural segment. At the same time, I recognize the need for people who are not culturally like me – even in my current appointment – who can join in the ministry so we can reach the people of our area. This implies that when we think of multi-cultural ministry thinking of race and ethnicity alone is not enough.