Someday, when I am old and gray and full of sleep, I hope I can look back on my life and be content. I don’t want to be proud or smug, I don’t want to have some massive trophy case full of awards and accolades.
I want quiet joy, peace, and contentment.
I thought about this today because I just got through having an argument with an old friend of mine, he graduated from seminary a week or so ago and is currently sorting through job offers. My friend is very intelligent, graduating summa cum laude and near the top of his class, so he has his pick of just about whatever sort of ministry position his heart desires.
“I’m not picky about the location, so long as it’s not some antiquated ol’ chapel out in the middle of nowhere,” he said.
Well, to say I bit my tongue was an understatement. I almost went on a tirade to rival that of the late Sam Kinison, but I counted to three and gently reminded my friend of the importance and need for quality ministers in every walk of life.
“The rubes need preachers too, y’know,” I added, unable to resist at least a small jab at his hubris.
My friend and I went back and forth and I gave him more than a little grief. Eventually he weaseled out of his initial bluster and admitted that he would “accept God‘s will” and gladly serve any church he believed the Lord to have called him.
But, in his defense, the sentiment he expressed is one echoed by many, both in church leadership as well as attendance.
I’ve read a smattering of articles on the decline of rural communities, with several stories in such widely-read national publications as Time Magazine and the New York Times focusing on the inevitable death of rural churches. Larger non-denoms and urban megachurches are becoming something of an ecclesiastical “big box” store to the “mom and pop” little white chapels out in the country. Ministers and congregants alike, it seems, prefer to do their spiritual shopping where the deals are better.
Frankly, I’m glad to see so many with a heart for cities. In my own personal and professional experience with urban and suburban population centers, there’s plenty of work that needs to be done in those communities. Cities are filled with people from many walks of life, and are dense with a broad spectrum of needs that ministers need to serve.
But there is no less a need out “in the highways and the hedges” of more rural locations like ours. Rusk County has a mere 50,000 souls within its borders, but are they any less valued than the two million or so who live in the Houston area?
With the rise of the “professional” clergy in our country, churches in small town America have gradually begun drying up. It’s where venerable old pastors go to slowly retire or the untalented go to do second-rate ministry. A colleague of mine told me that a ten-month stint he did at a church down in the Big Thicket was “like being sent down to the ‘farm team’ after pitching for the Yankees.”
When I think of the teachings of Jesus Christ, I think of someone who spent the preponderance of His ministry ensconced within a small town in an obscure Roman province. He also seemed to talk a lot in the language of the yeoman laborer, what with all His allusions to sowing seeds, reaping harvests, building houses, chasing after lost sheep and so forth.
I don’t find much in the way of “megachurches” in anything that Christ did. In fact, I’d argue that His ministry was more of a “microchurch” than anything else. Sure, great crowds came and went, but more often than not we see Him relating to a person on a 1:1 basis. Direct discipleship. Intentional relationships. There are enough “mega” things in this world, I think some “micro” in our lives would do some good.
Myself, I have no desire to work at a megachurch. I think I’d rather work at a microchurch. Is that correct? Isn’t “micro” the opposite of “mega” in this context?
I told my friend the same thing I tell a lot of younger folks who bother to heed my counsel: think of where you want to end up and then figure out how you’re gonna get there.
The church I serve in now is of no great stature, though we are zealous to love and serve others in doing Kingdom work.
For a season, I admit, I was not sure what I wanted to do, where I wanted to be, or where the Lord was leading me. Held captive by vaunting ambition, I could only see in the “mega” category of accomplishment. That I must do more, be greater, and achieve all.
My vision is consumed with a strange little corner of God’s green earth, tucked behind the dark tangle of the East Texas Pineywoods. It is a vision that, strangely, has captivated others. At least five friends of mine have told me they’ve had dreams of me working at a small-town church. In some of their dreams I’m white-headed but in the rest I look as I do now, but in all of them I’m zealous.
Perhaps this is coincidence, or maybe just wish-fulfillment, but I suspect the deep resonant chords of destiny to have more to this than anything else.
I hope I spend the next fifty or sixty years teaching and preaching at a little church in an obscure East Texas town. Baptizing men and women, their sons and daughters, and their grandchildren. This is what I believe I’ve been called to do, and this is my desire.
So that someday, when I am old and gray and full of sleep, I can look back on my life and be content.