Wednesday, December 01, 2010
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Methodism's Lonely Stepchild: Rural Ministry?
I'm no credentialed theologian, and have not been to seminary. But I am a certified lay speaker in the North Texas Conference of the United Methodist Church and have completed several of Methodism's Disciple Bible Study programs, spent a decade leading an adult Sunday School Class and have held many of the leadership positions at Tinney Chapel UMC, which was twice awarded the Marvin T. Judy Award for excellence in Rural Ministry.
I am primarily a writer, having spent my adult life as a journalist, mostly for Farm Journal, the world's largest farm magazine, and subsequently spent several years as chair of the North Texas Conference Communications Commission. Each month, I write a column called Tinney Talk for our church's print newsletter, and the following is my submission for December 2010. Please note that the title of this Weblog post (at the top of this page) is also a live link to the United Methodist Church's "Town and Country" section for the Global Ministries Website.
In other words, I know about this resource, but the column below reflects my frustration at seldom seeing any results at the meetings I attend and seldom reading anything about it in the publications I see. If you care to react to the following column, contact me at:
TINNEY TALK, Observations by Joe Dan Boyd
TINNEY CHAPEL UMC was created for, and once excelled, in a type of ministry that once dominated Methodism, and likely dominated most other major religions, but is seldom even mentioned at the District or Conference meetings I currently attend. Nor have I heard it mentioned much at similar meetings over the past several years. I’m talking about something that may have been conveniently forgotten or politely ignored for reasons related to political correctness, assuming that such an attitude exists in theological circles.
RURAL MINISTRY is the unmentionable subject, a topic that has seemingly been systematically excised from allowable seminar topics or even district training days, for that matter. Oh sure, we hear quite a bit about small-membership churches, and issues that are considered worthwhile in helping them get on board the theological train bound for that elusive destination: Growth!
BUT MOST SUCH EFFORT is not actually related to Rural Ministry, something that once rated a high position in the North Texas Conference, when the Town & Country luncheon was one of the hot tickets every year. District Superintendents and even Bishops attended that event, and some of them brought words of wisdom to programs honoring winners of the coveted Marvin T. Judy Award for excellence in—remember that?—Rural Ministry.
SO, WHAT HAPPENED? I think the problem might have begun when our Conference decided to downgrade, or virtually eliminate, the Town & Country Commission a few years ago. Certainly, the prestige of the Marvin T. Judy award has declined since that action.
DON’T GET ME WRONG. I think Methodism is definitely concerned about the future of its small-membership churches, as it worries about the overall declining UMC membership. But, that’s an economic consideration, a survival response. Nowhere do I get the idea that Methodism has any concern at all for Rural Ministry, the special brand of applied theology designed to meet the needs of farmers, ranchers and followers of agrarian ideals. This in a denomination of 35,000 U.S. churches, 25,000 of which I’m told are rural. What’s wrong with this picture?
The following response received today, Dec. 1, 2010:
I hear your concern about addressing the specific needs of rural churches. I have given a presentation specifically on Dynamic Ministry in Rural Settings in two other judicatories.
I have not seen a lot of new material come out of the GBOD (Town and Country Church office) and, in fact, my understanding was that it does not receive a significant amount of funding from the general church.
Having said that, there are some issues that most churches have in common regardless of whether they are rural, urban or suburban – the need for great hospitality, a robust guest follow-up system, engaging worship, meaningful discipleship, a vision that extends beyond the walls of the congregation, an understanding of changing culture and technology, etc. When judicatories address these kinds of issues, they are addressing things that should matter to churches in rural settings. Obviously each church will need to contextualize the information so that it can be applied in a way that is relevant in its setting. This is where the transformation process offers smaller and rural churches a great advantage – access to a coach to assist in that process so that the church can be as effective as possible!
The Hinton Rural Life Center offers some material related to churches in rural settings. In my interactions with them however, they have not expressed much of a focus or interest in helping rural churches grow.
Cooperative Parish Ministry can offer some great synergies for rural and smaller congregations. That may be something to explore. Information about cooperative parish ministry is found in on the DNA Coaching web site. Given the struggles of UM churches and the soon-coming retirement of so many clergy, cooperative parish ministry for the purpose of transformation may be rediscovered within the UMC.
Thank you for your passion.
Dr. Don Nations
"helping you perform at a higher level"
A second response has just been received today, Dec. 1, 2010:
Hi Joe Dan, thanks for your thoughts on the rural church. I’d like to publish something on this topic in 2011.
Sheron Patterson, Editor
North Texas Methodist Reporter