6 June, 2013 Ed Moll
Townie Tim and Village Victor
Comparing town and village ministry is not as simple as comparing ‘Townie Tim’ and ‘Village Victor’ because towns and villages differ so much from each other. Wherever you live and work, it can be useful to explore the link between your church and the local community. You might find the following questions a useful starting-point.
1. Will I ever see local people again?
The long game can make sense where there is a realistic prospect of cumulative contact.
In a mobile population you will often meet people whom you only see once. Others may only be around for a short time. You may well, therefore, find it more attractive to invest your energy in networked relationships, while taking opportunities to build on the encounters you do have with local people.
2. Do they even know we’re here?
A local profile is an asset that can be built on – or squandered.
If your building is one of the largest in the area and if your church is one of the main local organisations alongside the school, the Scouts and the supermarket, then you have a natural local profile. This is true whether you own the building you meet in or not. ‘I know the church, it’s next to the pub.’ If your building and your activity are dwarfed by the surroundings, you will have to earn a local profile, usually by organising or hosting some kind of community event: ‘I know the church, it does the annual suitcase day’. Once you have a profile, work out how to use it.
3. Who owns the church?
If locals don’t know the church is there, they won’t care what happens inside it. If it’s part of their landscape (either as a building or as a community organisation) they may feel it’s ‘their’ church and they have a stake in it. You may then find you need to engage the local community as well as the church community if you want to change anything about the church. Don’t see this as a threat: it’s an opportunity to explain why the church should not only be seen but also heard!
4. And who won the war?
Church events can become local events: my neighbours can tell me all about the dissolution of the robed choir thirty years ago. Our opportunity is to make today’s church events part of today’s community history.
5. Who is my neighbour?
Every community has vulnerable members. In a busy town, they can fall between the cracks and be ignored by everyone; in a small or settled community, ‘everybody knows Billy’. And, by the same token, everybody will see how you deal with ‘Billy’ when he lands on your doorstep.
6. How do I deal with isolation?
Don’t forget to meet with like-minded Christians (such as the local Gospel Partnership meeting) for encouragement. If you are in a remote area be sure to set aside adequate time so that you do not resent spending most of the day on a two-hour meeting. No two places are the same, and ministry in a new context will always require a missionary mindset, adapting what you do to the situation on the ground. That is why local church ministry is so stimulating.