city ministry

Keller on ministry experience

Tim Keller is cool. In a geek-chic kind of way. So when he talks about city ministry being important people get all excited and want to plant churches in the heart of big, pagan cities… just like Keller did.

But Keller has a piece of sage advice for those wanting the best ministry experience to build a platform of longevity on…

Young pastors or seminarians often ask me for advice on what kind of early ministry experience to seek in order to best grow in skill and wisdom as a pastor. They often are surprised when I tell them to consider being a ‘country parson’ — namely, the solo pastor of a small church, many or most of which are in non-urban settings. Let me quickly emphasize the word ‘consider.’ I would never insist that everyone must follow this path. Nevertheless, it is worth thinking about. It was great for me.

Yeah. Preach it brother.

Some will be surprised to hear me say this, since they know my emphasis on ministry in the city. Yes, I believe firmly that the evangelical church has neglected the city. It still is difficult to get Christians and Christian leaders to make the sacrifices necessary to live their lives out in cities. However, the disdain many people have for urban areas is no worse than the condescending attitudes many have toward small towns and small churches.

I’ve said it once (literally), I’ve said it a thousand times (metaphorically)… cutting the teeth of young ministers in regional areas makes sense on both the pragmatic and evangelistic levels.

It’s good for the minister – and it’s good for regional areas.

In the city

The 9Marks website has a great article on this whole “the city is where it’s at” “theology” that’s sweeping through city churches (and church planters) at the moment with nary a thought for those poor country cousins.

While I love and appreciate cities for all their goodness, and have lived in cities (excluding Townsville – which is regional) for just under half my life, I also think healthy, wholesome country towns are the lifeblood of the church and are often neglected.

A big part of my professional life involves helping the push for a regional area in Queensland to get appropriate per capita (and per revenue raised) government investment into infrastructure. It’s an eternal frustration. There are few votes in pleasing the country areas – so we’re the poor second or third cousins when it comes to government priorities.

There’s a real danger that the church ends up looking the same. It takes courage for a city raised ministry candidate to move to the boondocks. There’s no (real) program for sending graduates into rural service like there is for other vital professions (school teaching etc). City churches are too keen to snap up graduates for their vibrant and exciting “city” ministry.

And of course, as some good friends would itch to point out, these city churches could telecast their services into regional areas as a pragmatic solution.

There’s a lot to be said for feet on the ground ministry that’s engaged in community life – particularly when community life tends to be stronger the smaller the community (this is a generalisation based purely on my experience living centres with populations of 5 million, 3 million, 170,000 and 6,000). The opportunities for ministry are greater with greater natural community – but the opportunities for exciting ministry programs and huge growth decrease with the size of community.

So good on the 9Marks guys for pointing out this flawed hermeneutic (and particularly flawed Biblical proof texting) of city based ministry. It’s one of the few problems I have with the Mars Hill fan club. And in fact any city centric thinking.

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