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Omaha, Nebraska, United States
I am more and more convinced that most congregations die from a staggering lack of imagination. Let's change that. Drop me a line on email or leave a comment if you have thoughts on God, Jesus, congregations, the church or whatever.... I look forward to our conversations.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

A New Focus for Prairie Congregations

Pretty much any book or article you read these days about Christian congregations begins with how things have changed over the years...and how congregations have either adapted or not. The ones that have adapted or are in the process are very excited about their future...those that have not...well, not so much "happy" about the future...
Such a situation leads one to believe that you have to change in order to have a happy future...and, since many congregations and their people do not wish to change (surprisingly, for many this is a theological virtue), well, you get the picture...

**A note on the theological virtue of staying the course past irrelevancy into the grave: A man whose job it was to teach people to program computers told me he liked his church to stay the same all the time because he needed something in his life that never changed. God, he decided, was the immovable first mover, therefore, no change! I believe there are many people who believe God does not change--which by the way is not Biblical in any form. In the Bible, God keeps promises, and some people interpret that to mean God doesn't change...God changes all the time, that's how God is able to never break a promise...Anyhow, since many people believe God doesn't change, to risk change in your faith life, or to accept change in your local congregation is tantamount to denying God, and most people don't want to risk that...Hence, for reasons of salvation, most people don't like to change their religious practices...this is why the church is always a conserving institution.

So what is a congregation out here on the prairie to do? Since we want the best for our kids we get them out of the small towns we are in as soon as possible...we would like them to come back...but, we understand there are more options to life in places with more than 300 people. So we just keep going through the same old, same old, believing there is no use in complaining because no one would listen to us anyhow...Like lighthouses made irrelevant by GPS technology, the congregations of the prairie will suffer a similar fate...except for one difference...God is not done with the prairie...

If God is not done with the prairie (and do we imagine God is sitting in a boardroom in heaven saying, who needs the prairie? Meadowlarks don't vote, and grass doesn't pay taxes. Let it sit!), then how can the congregations on the prairie be done? I think the green revolution has something to say here. What if the ministry of a prairie congregation was not directed to the people who lived throughout its region? (remember, in North Dakota, we have counties that have less than 3000 people! Take that you urbanites with your 5000 household apartment complexes.) What if the ministry was directed towards the land, not the people? What if congregations saw their primary ministry as stewardship of the land rather than an ad-hoc social fellowship or service agency? What would it mean for congregations to be responsible to how God wants to serve the prairie grass rather than the prairie people? This idea is pretty radical, but it has one outstanding feature to commend it...people would matter again.

In my experience with many prairie congregations the people matter only as much as they contribute to the survival and maintence of the congregation. What if they mattered as they contributed to the survival and maintenance of the land? Does God want large-scale hog farms? Is the world better if we drill for oil in the Bakken shale? These are legitimate and important questions that congregations that see their ministry primarily to the land would have to deal with. (And, as a theologian I have no preconceived answers to these types of questions, but they should be asked somewhere other than this blog!) People would matter as stewards of land rather than as caretakers of buildings...and maybe people would get energy and hope from sun and crops? I don't know...

Us congregations on the prairie need to re-think a lot of things, and perhaps the first thing we should ask is: why would God want us here? And...since we have more prairie than people, just maybe...the answer is there.

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