What If Toto IS in Kansas?

by Mike Leake on February 14, 2013 · 27 comments

I am in the wonderful position of receiving a ton of free books from publishers in exchange for a review.  Lately I have read, or at least skimmed, a good number of books on missions in a “post-Christian” world.  Many of these books are written by guys that are ministering in a bigger city.  They are encouraging us to stop trying to do ministry as if we still live in a “Christian” world.  Just as Dorothy woke up in Oz and discovered that she wasn’t in Kansas anymore, so also churches need to wake up and realize “we aren’t in Kansas anymore”.

That is really good advice.  Helpful.  Mostly…

Unless you actually do live in Kansas*.  If that is the case such advice is really not helpful because you are being taught how to do ministry for postmodern people living in New York City and not a dairy farmer mending fences.  “Stop doing ministry like you live in Kansas”, is bad advice to some guy that is actually living in Kansas.

Honestly, this is why I have found many of the modern books on missiology mostly unhelpful.  Very rarely do they offer even a paradigm that I am able to grab and say, “yep, that’d work in my city…I mean town…I mean village”.  If I really want to make use of the ideas I have to do some serious work to adapt them.  Of course this is okay, but if I’m doing so much work perhaps I should cross their name off the front cover and pencil in my own.

The best of these books will acknowledge that they are not intended to be cookie-cutter solutions but to give principles to apply to your own setting.  The very best of these books will go one step further and actually help you figure out principles to apply in your own setting.  (Ed Stetzer’s Breaking the Missional Code is helpful in this regard).  Unfortunately, a vast majority of them do not offer such encouragement.

A Black and White Kansas or a Colored Oz

The town in which I minister is weird.  It is largely German Catholic.  Yet those numbers are diminishing.  This is brought on not only by the growing ecumenical Protestant influence but also the growing atheistic population.  Jasper is beginning to feel a little more like a city.  Yet, even still it is surrounded not by suburbs but farmland and other rural communities.

Jasper, Indiana is not largely a post-Christian community.  It is mostly a culture inundated with what Christian Smith calls a moralistic therapeutic deism.  It is a sentimental, almost folkish, version of Christianity.  But for the most part people still have their address as “Kansas”.  In other words if I went knocking on every door in our neighborhood most people would self-identify as Catholic/Christian.

Therefore, if our church began treating Jasper, IN like Seattle, WA we would miss the boat.  Seattle, WA is probably rightly labeled “post-Christian”.  The Jasper, Indiana’s of the world are not quite there yet.  (Certainly not the New London, Missouri’s where I ministered before).  This is not to deny that the lure of the city is not present.  The city influences television, music, and many other things that rural people devour on a daily basis.  We are not immune to the post-Christian world of the city.  Yet, we are not there yet nor can we begin ministering as if we are.

Therein lies my main concern.  Many ministers are being told “you are doing it all wrong by thinking you still live in Kansas”.  They are told that they need to start ministering to the post-Christian world in which they live.  And indeed they need to be prepared for that and that ministry to the city needs to be in their repertoire.  But if they are still living in Kansas then they need to minister like they are in Kansas.

Listen, if we devote our times to studying the human heart through doing battle with our own we’ll be equipped to exegete any culture.  If we devote our time to knowing the Christ that transcends all cultures we will learn to lovingly proclaim him to people of any culture.  This is not to say there is no value in really attempting to understand the perspective that our neighbors are coming from.  But isn’t that just being a good neighbor and a good listener?

This may seem overly simplistic but I am increasingly convinced that if we simply concern ourselves with truly loving people and being enamored with Jesus we’ll be able to minister in the black and white world of Kansas and the technicolored world of Oz.

*If you really do live in Kansas I’d offer my condolences. But I will not, because you’d never read them, since I doubt you have the internet yet.

1 rick February 14, 2013 at 8:47 am

Good post, Mike.

I used to minister in Williams, IN, just “up the road a ways” from you. I’ve been to Jasper, Washington, and a number of places down through there. If there is anywhere in the US where “community” is still important, southern Indiana is it. And I agree with you that a lot of what’s out there to help young pastors doesn’t translate well in the hinterlands.

God bless you in your efforts and may he provide for your ministry.

2 Louis February 14, 2013 at 9:23 am

Great post.

We are exhorted to be wise in our walk.

Being culturally aware is a good and necessary thing for all people, pastors included.

3 marc reynolds February 14, 2013 at 10:10 am

Wonderful post. I am a pastor of a very rural church…50% of my people are cattlemen. In fact my parsonage, yes they still exist, is backed by a 1400 acre farm in view of the tallest mtns. in VA. I cant do ministry here like the mega churches, but i can doit like Jesus… Love Him, and love His people. Thanks brother for your post. And by the way, we here in the sticks are seeing a real differnce being made. We have seen an average of ten people a year coming to know Jesus, and our attendance has doubled in three years. Amazing what can happen when you preach the Word simply and share your story of the change Jesus has mad, with others

4 Keith Price February 14, 2013 at 2:20 pm

“I can’t do ministry here like the mega churches, but I can do it like Jesus…”

Well said…

5 Andrew February 14, 2013 at 10:43 am

I minister in a small community in the bootheel of Missouri and why there are still a lot that identify as Christian most of the younger people identify as non-affiliated with any denomination. They do not see church nor anykind of religion as important. I can’t decide whether I am in Seattle or Kansas because some I have to erase all their so called Christian background to begin with the gospel while others have no clue what the church is.

6 volfan007 February 14, 2013 at 11:33 am

Andrew,

The Bootheel of MO???? Wow….my Mom is from the Bootheel. I have many, many uncles, aunts, and cousins in the Bootheel. What town are you in? My Mother is from Portageville, MO.

David

7 Dave Miller February 14, 2013 at 11:02 am

My first pastorate was in a VA town of about 600. Then I served in Cedar Rapids (150K to 180K), now in Sioux City (85K). One size does not fit all ministries.

8 Dale Pugh February 14, 2013 at 11:28 am

Very good insights.
There are many guys serving in small rural areas who probably have a lot to say, but they’ll never get the conference speaking engagement invites. It’s a shame, really, that we can’t have vocal leadership from those areas, but then I guess living in the middle of nowhere and ministering to everyday people doesn’t sell many books.
“Be yourself and love people” is the best advice I’ve ever received for ministry, and I pass it on every chance I get.
Dave Miller is right. One size doesn’t fit all.

9 volfan007 February 14, 2013 at 11:35 am

I have felt this way for years….the books, programs, and other things coming down the pike from Lifeway, and the “experts” just didnt seem to speak to small Churches in small towns…which is what the SBC is mainly made up of, BTW. They seemed to be for big Churches in big cities.

David

10 Bob February 14, 2013 at 11:41 am

This is a much-needed discussion and no single experience will have all the answers. The timing of this post is interesting because just last night a pastor and I were discussing the situation in Tallulah, LA. The church that he serves there and that I regularly attend is essentially 100% African American (except for me). The poverty level in Tallulah is fairly high and there are many social and economic barriers to get past. The city itself is certainly not Seattle or New York. It’s a small town in the middle of 1000′s of acres of farmland and most of the industry that used to be in the town has dried up.

With that said, you might think we’re in Kansas… but you’d be wrong. Thus, I offer a third option between Kansas and Seattle.

The point my brother was made is that the population there is morally bankrupt in terms of its understanding of practical righteousness. As he said, when you see young kids come to Christ, that doesn’t mean they automatically stop using profanity and stop acting wild and crazy at inappropriate times. The reason is that their ethic is so drastically different. They’ve grown up in the culture of welfare and poverty where there is no father figure and the men dodge working even when they have the opportunity. To actually see full life turn-arounds you have to bring not just the message of the gospel, but you also have to build a Christian ethic for them to stand upon.

Now, this may be sounding like it’s just another post-modern/post-Christian setting, but the reason it’s not is that many of these folks will self-identify as Christian or readily talk like they know Jesus. You’re not dealing with folks that have rejected Christ (in their minds), but you’re dealing with a group that has largely rejected His teaching without even realizing it because they’ve never heard it. Basically, it’s like being in Kanseattle.

I think if most of my Caucasian brethren would take a look around, even in many Kansas-like areas, they would find that if you look across the tracks there is probably a morally bankrupt community sitting at your doorstep. They probably won’t be card-carrying atheists or post-modern agnostics, but they may think that Jesus loves them and without ever turning from any of the sin in their lives because they’ve never been told that it’s wrong.

11 Don Henrikson February 14, 2013 at 12:49 pm

As a pastor in Topeka, Kansas, I would say that you owe no condolences. Not every town or city in Kansas will be served by one particular missional model. They will be served by Christians getting to know and love their neighbors, building relationships with them, and telling them about their rebellion against God and need of a Rescuer. We’ve still got a lot of that kind of work to do here in Kansas, too.

12 Mike Leake February 14, 2013 at 1:03 pm

Wow. Someone from Kansas with the Internet? You must be in a mega church. I kid, I kid. My roommate in college was from Kansas that’s why my teasing.

13 Bart Barber February 14, 2013 at 1:08 pm

This article proceeds from a false premise:

Toto never was and is not in Kansas.

You’re welcome.

14 Mike Leake February 14, 2013 at 1:22 pm

haha. Well played, sir. But Toto did contribute to this:
http://youtu.be/oHg5SJYRHA0

15 Bart Barber February 14, 2013 at 1:32 pm

NOOOOOOOOOOOOO!!!!!!!!!!!

16 Greg Harvey February 14, 2013 at 4:18 pm

Me too. Darn you Mike Leake!!

17 Cody Busby February 14, 2013 at 1:31 pm

I am a Kansas village pastor. I read this post at the local mercantile where the shopkeep nailed it to the community board next to the hitchin’ post. After reading, we each rubbed our neckbeards, and nodded our straw-hatted heads in agreement. It is well said.
Now I must go; my horse has gone lame and I must put her down before nightfall. Then I will rest for the evening in my living room, lit by one oil lamp, applying Fop pomade to my hair, while I listen to Mike Leake preach on the radio.

18 Mike Leake February 14, 2013 at 2:34 pm

This is an epic comment.

19 Dave Miller February 14, 2013 at 6:09 pm

Hall of Fame.

20 Keith Price February 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I hope that wasn’t the horse that delivered the mail…

21 Christiane February 14, 2013 at 3:34 pm

I know what kind of meat you’re having for supper tonight. You want some of my Family’s Quebec recipes for _ _ _ _ _ meat? Just ask.

Can’t vouch for the taste, though.
Never touch the stuff myself.

22 Keith Price February 14, 2013 at 2:41 pm

I lived in a small metro area (pop. 150,000) when I was called and started ministering in my frontier community (from the “Holy Lands”, go to Kansas, veer right and go another 1500 miles to nowhere. Turn left and go another 45 miles). In the beginning I got a lot of advice about what I needed to do. Most of it was program oriented, just follow this program or that and your church would be successful. Most of these would not work as written. I church didn’t have the resources to do that program. But, I learned to take the principles and like mentioned in the OP, exegete the culture.

We have had some successes with “X.” So other churches said, “hey we should do “X!” But “X” didn’t work for them. If they had taken the principle that built “X” they may have found that “Y” would have been a better method.

Good post Mike…

23 Jess Alford February 14, 2013 at 3:21 pm

Is Kansas north or south of Kenya?

24 Christiane February 14, 2013 at 3:31 pm

Kansas is east of the moon and west of the sun

25 Jon February 14, 2013 at 5:40 pm

No, it’s the center of the universe just as New York and California are!

26 Eric Futrell February 14, 2013 at 5:11 pm

O’er the mountains of the moon and down the valley of the shadow…oh wait, that’s El Dorado, not Kansas….

Seriously, I’ve enjoyed this post and the comments. Thank you pastors for all of your hard work. May God bless you and yours and your efforts for expanding the Kingdom of God.

27 Louis February 14, 2013 at 3:51 pm

This is the most awesome string of comments I have seen on a post in a long time.

I think that at this year’s SBC pastors conference, they should take the pastors who have spoken on this post and put them on the platform to simply talk about their churches, what they struggle with, where they succeed etc. And then they should have Q and A.

I believe that more pastors would gain more from that than the usual “preach off” we see. (And I have liked some of those.)

I have always believed that there are a lot of wise people that pastor churches – of all sizes, in all places. And I also believe that pastors would really benefit from hearing some of the things are being said here.

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