SermonIndex Audio Sermons

Church Cooperation In Community Life by Paul L. Vogt


In his book on Social Control Professor Ross has pointed out that certain institutions are essentially conservative in their nature. They are solid, permanent organizations but are not inclined to assume leadership in social progress. He includes in this list the church. The fact that the church is a conservative institution is not necessarily a criticism of it. Other agencies develop new phases of social expression, sometimes in actual opposition to conservative agencies. The good innovations live and after they have demonstrated their utility the conservative institutions such as the church and the state take them over and insure their permanence.

The rapid advance of the social spirit in modern life has outstripped existing agencies in their preparation to meet the new approach to the solution of problems of living. Many forms of existing institutions were created under entirely different conditions and to meet different needs. To-day these old forms do not adapt themselves to new demands, and in many cases prevent effective action on the part of religious organizations that are ready in spirit to broaden their programs to include the new demands upon the conservative organization.

The minister, trained for the modern service of the church to the community, cannot solve alone all the problems of maladjustment he finds in his local community. He finds that the contacts and interests of his local church organization are far broader than the interests of the local group he is called to serve; and that in many cases his local efforts are nullified by these larger contacts. It is the purpose of this and succeeding chapters to outline some of the conditions existing within the church itself that must be adjusted before it can act most effectively in meeting the challenge discussed in preceding chapters.

The first and probably most important problem is that of enlarging the vision of church officials, ministers, and people as to the need for broadening the program of the church and as to the need of a statesman-like reorganization of adjustment of the church to the community.

It is believed that quite generally the membership of the larger religious organizations in this country are now in sympathy with the principle that the church should have a social-service program. There is still wide diversity of opinion as to the form that service should take. In too many cases there is no opinion at all; and while admitting the principle, active opposition develops to any attempt to put the principle into practice in a specific project. This condition is to be found most marked in those sections of the country that are not in the direct line of thought movements, or where living conditions are such as to make rural life monotonous. The monotony of the plains is as deadening as is the lack of contact of the mountain valley; and both fields offer fruitful ground for the spread of unsocial types of religious expression.

The solution of this phase of adjustment of the church to community needs lies in a patient educational program carried on by the minister of the gospel. He must be a man of broad vision and must have the fullest appreciation of the slowness with which the rural public mind works. He must be everlastingly tactful and not attempt more than the simplest advances at the beginning and not more than one at a time. He should have at hand an abundance of educational material in the way of literature, lantern slides, and periodicals which can be used in showing what actually happens when the church embarks on a broader program of rural service. A national educational program of this type will in a few years create a demand that must be met and that rural churches will pay well for as the value of such work will be recognized.

The more serious phase of this problem is the lack of adequate preparation for this service on the part of the ministry. In one of the leading denominations (Methodist Episcopal) over twenty-nine per cent of the charges are cared for by supplies, men who by reason of educational preparation, age, or for some other cause are not now and, in a large proportion of cases, never will be eligible to membership in the Conferences. Of the remainder, only a small proportion are graduates of schools of higher learning, such as colleges and theological seminaries. At a time when a large number of those living in rural communities are either agricultural college graduates or have attended short courses in agriculture, it becomes apparent that an uneducated ministry is becoming a menace to the future of the rural church.

But of those who have had the advantages of a college or theological seminary training, the type of training has not fitted them for effective rural service. The training of ministers has gone through the same process as other types of training. It was once thought that since the sole business of the minister was the personal appeal to accept Christ, with the emphasis on the personal atonement features of Christianity rather than on the principles of Christian living, the same type of training would fit one to deliver the message whether he was in the slums of the city, on the shores of Africa, or in the mountains of Colorado. Moreover, for some reason, it appears to have been accepted that the rural ministry was the simplest of all and that any one could be a rural minister. It would be amusing if it were not so tragic to accept the testimony of some of those who have not yet seen that the rural ministry is a type demanding such a cosmopolitan understanding of human nature and of conditions of human existence that it demands the best intellects and the highest type of missionary spirit to carry on successfully. We have heard of college presidents recommending young men for important rural positions because the young man was |not ambitious for any important work in the church.| It has been known that officials in the church would bid for theological seminary graduates with the assurance that while they would have to accept an |undesirable| rural charge for a year or so, they would soon be |promoted.| The writer knows of at least one young Negro minister, a holder of a Master's degree from a large educational institution, whose major work for his higher degree was in the dead languages. The attitude of our educational institutions, and the attitude in public thought has been that progress for the individual has been in the direction of getting away from the country instead of remaining with rural folk and giving one's life to the advancement of the group as a whole; and the courses of study have had primarily in mind the personal appeal rather than that of dealing with man in his particular environment.

It is now recognized that modern life demands a specialized ministry. The one who can handle successfully a rural industrial or a downtown urban situation may not be at all fitted to deal with the problems of the village or the open country. On the other hand, the one who can serve farmers successfully might not be at all fitted to fill a metropolitan pulpit. Beginnings only have been made in attempting to adjust educational work to meet this modern demand. In the meantime the problem remains of the ministers trained under former conditions, if trained at all. Many of them have not yet caught the vision of the larger program of the church; and of those who have caught this vision the handling of the tools of the new program is such a delicate task that many failures are sure to be recorded. It will take years to bring the church to the place where it can meet successfully the modern demands upon it.

The second great problem is that of maladjustment in thought. Protestantism is still suffering from the effects of extreme individualism in religious belief. Strong leaders, obsessed with some one variation in interpretation of the Scriptures, have pulled off from the main body of the church and have started independent organizations committed to the development of the particular interpretation they have made. When once these organizations have been formed and have secured a financial backing, they have continued to spread, until to-day rural America presents the spectacle of religious forces agreeing on the broad general program of the relation of the church to community needs but paralyzed because of dissensions over less essential principles of theological dogma. The reasons for separate organizations have often been forgotten and loyalty to a particular organization as such has taken its place.

The solution of this problem is not that of attempting to eliminate differences in dogmatic belief by argument, but of emphasizing the points of agreement of the various religious groups. Error and nonessential dividing lines will disappear if neglected. But if they are agitated, they will thrive under persecution and conditions will be worse than ever.

The third problem is that of maladjustment of buildings to community needs. This problem presents itself in two aspects: first, that of location of church buildings, and, second, that of location of pastors' residences. In the original settlement of this country, people located their new homes in neighborhoods partly for social and economic purposes and partly for protection. Where these new groups were founded the church building soon found a place. As the communities grew, and aided in the course of time by ambitious national agencies, the sectarian interests mentioned above established new churches to care for those of each particular belief until many communities soon became overchurched. The rapid decrease in open-country, and even village, population which began during the 70's of the past century and which has continued to the present made the problem still worse, until to-day probably the least efficient institution in all rural life is the rural church.

Moreover, the first settlements did not always mark the spot of permanent development of population and interest centers. As time has passed, many of the places which it was once thought would be permanent centers have lost their preeminence and others have taken their place, until now many very small communities have too many churches, and others are lacking in adequate facilities for religious service.

The time has now come when it is believed that rural population and agricultural tendencies are sufficiently well known to enable those interested in rural life development to determine what are the most suitable centers for community development. The Interchurch World Movement, had it been carried to a successful conclusion, would have gone far toward determining those centers for the entire United States. As it is, the Movement made possible such determination for about one fifth of the United States and the task of completing the survey may be accomplished in the course of time.

When this task is completed, then the challenge to the churches of America will be to so readjust the location of their church buildings and to remodel them in such a way as to be adapted to the present and probable future growth of communities so determined. This work is scarcely begun, but it is believed that it has gone far enough to insure its ultimate achievement. When this is done, then the local church will be in a position to deal most effectively with the community problems mentioned in preceding chapters.

The situation as to location of pastors' residences is even more serious than that of location of church buildings. During the pioneer period of church organization ministers were under the necessity of dividing their efforts among a considerable number of small groups. These were organized into circuits and the pastor's residence was provided at the point either where the original church was established or where it was most convenient for him to serve the preaching points under his care. Each denomination developed its own work regardless of other groups and in many cases from the same common center, so that we now have in rural and village organization pastors' residences centralized in the minority of rural communities and the great majority of such communities without resident pastoral care.

In the State of Ohio, for example, in one county of twenty-four communities but twelve have resident pastors and in these twelve communities thirty-nine pastors reside. In another of sixteen communities but eight have resident pastors. Yet in each county there are enough ministers to supply each community with a resident pastor, if readjustment were to be made. In the northeastern part of the State on a single Methodist district are to be found two instances of Methodist and Presbyterian pastors living in the same village and going on alternate Sundays to another village, in one instance larger than that wherein the ministers live. The facts as to the growth and decline of churches with resident or non-resident ministers elsewhere present (see Church Growth and Decline in Ohio) are a sufficient indication of the effects of maladjustment of pastoral residences to rural community needs. Since the modern demand of rural life upon the church is for community leadership as well as for holding Sunday worship, it is clear that no adequate program of church leadership in rural life can be worked out until this vital need of readjustment of pastoral residences to community service is met.

A third serious problem is that of lack of coordination of denominational effort in community service. Where two or more religious organizations find a place in the same small community, no plan has yet been successfully tried whereby these organizations as such have been brought into harmonious and continuous action for community service. The presence of two or three ministers of social vision in the same small community is not always an asset, since small communities do not have a place for more than one leader and sectarian interests forbid cooperation under the leadership of either of the church pastors. This situation has given rise to such organizations as the Christian Associations, the Sunday School Associations, and a large number of nonreligious agencies now trying to provide for community leadership independent of the church. It is intended here to call attention to the problem. A suggestion as to methods of solution will be taken up more at length in a succeeding chapter.

A fourth serious problem resulting from the above is lack of adequate support for rural religious institutions. Owing to the general lack of financial resources of rural communities as compared with the urban centers, they have not been able to compete financially with city churches in bidding for men who have high standards of living and who demand large financial returns for services rendered. This condition will probably continue indefinitely because of the tendency of large-scale industrial production to centralize wealth control in urban centers; that is, unless the economic motive is taken from Christian service through the equalization of salaries. This is a solution much to be desired, but it is feared that pastors will not take kindly to such a movement; and members of city churches will continue to contribute to the support of their own particular pastor instead of to general pastoral support. But the weakness in support has been seriously increased because of dividing of such resources as rural communities have among so many different agencies. Many communities that could support a pastor at two thousand dollars or more a year now have men serving denominations at one thousand dollars per year or less.

The same is true of church building. When five church buildings must be erected and maintained for sectarian purposes in a town where there is room for but one school building there is little wonder that the contrast between church buildings and other rural institutional buildings is so marked. And it is little wonder that when people begin to think in community terms they are inclined to pass by the church as an institution offering hope of community service conservation and turn either to the school or to some other agency that they hope will serve the purpose.

Closely akin to the problem of inadequate support for the country minister and the country church is that contention often made that the job of a country preacher does not offer as great a challenge as does that of service in other branches of church work. It is believed that this contention is erroneous because the rural work, while not demanding the same qualities of service as other types, does demand qualities of its own that equal, if they do not exceed, those of the city pulpit. The ability to serve people long and continuously in close personal relation to them; to deal patiently with conservatism; to endure the hardships of living under conditions far below what are to be found in city environments; to get the support of the people for progressive measures, and to keep alive mentally in an environment that is not the most conducive to study because of lack of reading facilities and because of the ease with which one may shirk the means of personal growth -- all these make the task one for the specially capable and devoted.

But if there is truth in the statement that the country ministry does not offer the opportunity for the exercise of personal abilities required by the city pulpit, then, unless we frankly recognize that the limit of possibility of building up the rural work is to alleviate an unavoidable discrepancy in personal challenge, it becomes necessary to so reorganize the local parish that it will be a challenge fit to attract the best minds in the church.

The first step already has been mentioned: that is, to adjust relationships between denominations so that a minister will have sole responsibility for community leadership.

The second is to enlarge the parishes under the control of one pastor that he will have ample field for the exercise of his abilities. In some sections of the country two or more communities may still have to be assigned to one minister, with the expectation that he will develop local volunteer leadership in the respective communities, or have adequate assistance in the way of special workers among the children and in the homes and have directors of religious education for full or part time in each community. In most sections of the country the communities are now of such a size as to demand the full time of a paid minister and to pay a satisfactory salary for services rendered.

The third is to increase the functions of the pastorate so that people will be willing to pay more for the service rendered. This results directly from the adoption of the larger program for the church herein recommended.

The practice -- still all too rare -- of supplying the pastor with an automobile for pastoral work, should be encouraged everywhere, particularly when the charge has a pastor who has the vision of the broader program of the church and is specially trained for his work. There are complications in the connectional system of making appointments that tend to prevent liberality in this respect. When a charge is brought up to adequate self-support the tendency is too often to make the charge a place to |take care| of a Conference member of that grade regardless of his fitness to follow up the type of program introduced by his predecessor. The taking of the automobile by the departing pastor deprives the community of its use. Leaving it for the use of an inefficient pastor is too great a burden on the community. Experience will determine the best means of handling this problem and should ultimately put ministers on the same basis as to having means of transportation furnished as County Agricultural Agents, County Superintendents of Schools, Christian Association Secretaries, etc.

The soldier in the ranks will probably never be looked upon as in the same grade of responsible position as the captain of the company. So the country minister has a right to look forward in due time to |promotion| in natural channels; that is, to the district superintendency. It is to be feared that too often at the present time, the rural minister is discouraged from remaining in the rural work because he sees that a very large proportion of the positions in the church that are recognized as personal promotions are filled from the city pulpits. His course of advance is now from the country pulpit to the city pulpit, thence to the district superintendency or detached service, thence to the bishopric, a position very few ministers refuse if offered. The rural work would be strengthened if rural district superintendencies were filled by rural men who have demonstrated their ability to build up a rural charge successfully, and then if these same rural district superintendents were to have an opportunity to fill the highest possible positions in the church, thus bringing to the highest administrative offices of the church the tried experience that comes from building up a district in Methodism. When the necessity of leaving the rural work in order to get |promotion| is eliminated there will be a marked strengthening of loyalty to the rural work.

The illustrations given have been taken from Methodist Episcopal experience. Other denominations have similar problems, but probably to a less degree because of the more marked form of localized democracy in church polity.

If the churches of America permit this crisis of lack of adjustment of church to community needs to pass unchallenged, and if they delay in making the adjustments needed, the time will soon come when other agencies, supported by rural communities, will make provision for these needs and the opportunity of the church will be gone indefinitely. Other agencies will be performing a real Christian service, and the church, by reason of its failure to live up to the demands upon it, will have an increasingly difficult task of justifying its existence so far as relationship to this world is concerned.

<<  Contents  >>

Promoting Genuine Biblical Revival.
Affiliate Disclosure | Privacy Policy