Monday, November 9, 2009

My Vision of my Church: Setting

I’ve been thinking recently about what type of church I would like to work in. Although I cannot fully predict what God has in His plan for my life, I am interested in thinking about what I am looking for in my future employer. At this point, I cannot really count anything out completely (who knows what jobs will be available when that time comes), but it is important for me to have an idea about my personal preferences.

The first aspect that comes to mind is the urban/suburban/rural question. Each of these settings creates a unique background for a church, and the type of people I will meet and the type of work I will do will be influenced by the surrounding area.

In a more rural setting, it is likely that people will travel from farther distances in order to get to my church, so scheduling events will be more difficult. In smaller towns, there is usually one high school, so everyone knows everyone, at least on a basic level. This means that each of my youth will have preconceived notions of one another and that I will need to work to break down the cliques and groups that have developed. Life far from cities also means that outside entertainment would be limited, and my youth might be coming to church just to have something to do when they get bored with rural life. Most rural areas in our country tend to lean more toward the conservative perspective, politically speaking, which isn’t necessarily good or bad, but could be both depending on how things are handled in a given situation.

I once heard someone say that kids in suburban churches often need the most love. It seems strange, but in a lot of ways this is true. In a suburban setting, teenagers are often accustomed to living according to a certain mindset, and they expect others to live up to this. For them, service trips can be a huge culture shock and often a few are resistant to looking beyond their own view of humanity. They usually lean heavily toward what is “cool” and can be quick to judge with rather shallow measurements. If a youth pastor can find a way to make excitement about worship and thoughtful discussions cool, many suburban youth are likely to jump in. In general, activities that require a bit of money (i.e. trips to the bowling alley or Six Flags or a nice restaurant) are a viable option. Parents tend to be rather involved—sometimes too involved, in fact—and are willing to contribute when they can.

Life in a city is a bit more difficult to generalize. Some metropolitan churches draw from wealthy urbanites and therefore thrive, monetarily speaking. Others in the inner city have many lower-class residents. Though many simple portrayals of urban churches don’t work across the board (neither do any of the previous generalizations, by the way), it is evident that cities have certain characteristics particular to them. For example, people tend to be more flexible and adaptable. The pace of life is quick and excitement is often seen as a necessity. One might see youth from seven to ten different high schools, many of whom would never know each other if not for church. Service can be a very significant tool as youth realize the poverty that exists so close to home and find hope through the people they serve. People who live in cities tend to be more politically liberal. Again, this could be good or bad, or perhaps neither depending on circumstances and responses.

Now the question is: where do I see myself?

Some part of me likes the thought of a rural church, of being in a place where there are already solid connections between individuals. However, I fear the tendency towards judgment and cliques because of this closeness and smallness. I also worry about the preconceived notions that the town might have about what a youth minister should do and look like and be. So I am going to say that I probably won’t make a rural church my first choice.

Although I can empathize well with the suburban mindset (I grew up in a pretty wealthy area 20 minutes outside Dallas, Texas), I am hesitant to enter into such a difficult mission field. I’m not sure if I am ready to have the patience that teens in suburban churches need. In another way—and this seems strange considering I just said how difficult it is—a suburban church would almost be too easy because it would be so simple to slip back into my high school attitude and become comfortable with unequal wealth and unjust use of resources. That is exactly the opposite of what I want. Here again, I’m probably going to shy away from the suburban setting.

Yet I am also hesitant about an urban church, at least in the heart of downtown. Regardless of money or location, city life can be complicating and demands a lot of energy. Going anywhere requires a serious game plan and a lot of effort to make sure everyone is on board and no one gets lost. Things can turn on a dime, and although I love change and am frustrated when people cling to tradition for tradition’s sake, I can see myself wishing life was a little more dependable.

I suppose my ideal setting is one of two things: 1) a church that isn’t downtown but isn’t in a suburb. The Gathering is kind of like this, but perhaps a bit too removed from the poverty of a city for what I am looking for. Or, 2) a church in a smaller city, one that has a more homey-feeling downtown, without an insane night life or extensive skyscrapers.

Wherever I end up, I pray that God will teach me amazing things through my church and through my town. I hope that I am able to be a light of His love and that my work might make a difference.

Today I turn around
Stop running away from Him.

Today I listen
And run toward.

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