By Richard Hayes, District Representative, Southwest
Pondering Perspectives for Rural Pastors
Have you noticed the effect of limited perspectives for rural pastors? Rural pastors, like pastors in any other location, come from a variety of backgrounds and educational levels. They are gifted and talented in a number of different ways. Serving in isolated places, rural pastors do not always have the ready access to a number of scholarly and practical resources that pastors in other locations enjoy.
Even if those resources are available, there is the possibility of choosing not to utilize a full spectrum of thought and research because of one’s own personal convictions or dogma. Ponder with me, for a few moments, the broad and abundant work of the Holy Spirit in the lives, research and publication of a variety of scholars and pastors not only in history, but in our own times as well.
A Problem Faced by Rural Pastors
Often when it comes to study and preparation for a Bible lesson or sermon, rural pastors face a common problem. Thanks to the internet and electronic resources, it is not the availability of resources, but rather the conscious choice to consult some resources but not others.
Don’t get me wrong here: there is a place for discernment. Certainly some resources are indeed better than others; that’s not what I address here. I address the self-imposed limitation on what one will or will not consider. For the past several years Village Missions has allowed me to teach at Moody Bible Institute (first at the Spokane Campus and then at Distance Learning). I am always intrigued as I read my student’s research papers. They choose to consider some sources, but reject others. For whatever reason a particular source doesn’t appeal to them.
My assessment is that the basis of inclusion or rejection does not lie in the resources available. Rather, it lies upon a self-imposed limitation on the perspectives one will consider. This self-imposed limitation of perspective creates a threat not only to the student who should be exposed to perspectives not their own as part of a well-rounded education, but also to pastors and leaders who have limited the scope of their understanding and leadership to their own personal perspectives to the exclusion of any others.
Factors of Limited Perspectives for Rural Pastors
While we could point to a number of different factors which may be contributors to this dilemma, the end result is the same. There is an unhealthy focus on one theologian, one academic institution, one system of theology, one Bible teacher, etc. So like a parasite, this limited perspective for rural pastors robs our lives as pastors and robs our congregations of the contributions of the Holy Spirit’s work in the lives of God’s servants that may hold positions we do not like. We would just as soon dismiss these perspectives, because they do not see things our way.
It should come as no surprise that we are not the first generation to face the dilemma of limited perspectives for rural pastors. In the opening chapter of Paul’s letter to the church at Corinth the issue of prideful name dropping comes center stage against the backdrop of disunity. Paul’s charges, clearly and concisely: “What I mean is that each one of you says, ‘I follow Paul,’ or ‘I follow Apollos,’ or ‘I follow Cephas,’ or ‘I follow Christ.” (I Corinthians 1:12, ESV)
Now, maybe we do not call upon the name of Cephas, Paul or Apollos, but we do call upon the names of individuals that support what we believe is correct. Whether prominent pastors, theologians or ministry leaders, we call upon their names to bolster our own reputations and build a case for what we teach or preach. We use a name, other than “The Name,” as if aligning ourselves with such individuals or institutions somehow gives credence and affirmation to our own preaching and teaching. I am in no way saying that consulting such individuals is unprofitable, only that a fixation on writers whether they be from a specific past time period or our own, robs us of the fruit of the study the Holy Spirit has produced through countless writers.
So the crux of my concern is this, the immaturity expressed by the church at Corinth in the first century A.D. can be identified in the ecclesiastical leaders of the 21st Century A.D. My hope and desire is that we all would be true students of the Word, considering positions we might not hold, but which shed light we have not previously considered. This is part of learning and the fruit of true study. May the apostle Paul’s words to Timothy be true of us, ”Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” (II Timothy 2:15, ESV)