John the Baptist could not have ministered successfully in the same arenas that Paul the Apostle did and the opposite is also true. Not only were their ministry gifts different, but their preparation and personalities were tailor made by our sovereign God for them to do exactly His will in the exact places where He wanted them to minister.
As a pastor with fifty years of ministry who began in Atlanta and ended up in Austinville, Iowa, I read with much interest and agreement the article “The Idol of City Ministry” by Rachel Miller. I thought that everything she mentioned had merit and her critique of the present strong push for urban ministry at the expense of other types, especially rural and small town works, was right on target. The denomination of which I am a member with it rural roots has had a problem filling rural and small town churches for many years simply because the urban setting is considered “the place to serve.”
But I think there is something missing both in Mrs. Miller’s excellent article and in every book I have read on urban ministry. We certainly recognize the sovereignty of God in the disposition and giving out by the Holy Spirit of the differing spiritual gifts mentioned in the Scriptures. Why do we not also rest on that same sovereign distribution in the lives of His servants when it comes to their likes and dislikes, effectiveness and non-effectiveness, comfort and lack of comfort and ease—all those rather hidden attributes, character and personality traits that make for success in one setting and failure in another? John the Baptist could not have ministered successfully in the same arenas that Paul the Apostle did and the opposite is also true. Not only were their ministry gifts different, but their preparation and personalities were tailor made by our sovereign God for them to do exactly His will in the exact places where He wanted them to minister.
So I ask: What has changed for our day? Is God still preparing in that same complete way servants for His placement in the fields ripe for harvest? The last time I looked we are still commanded in two places to “pray to the Lord of the harvest that He would send forth laborers into His harvest” (Mt. 9:38; Lk. 10:2).
What does that verse mean? While in college working for a construction firm, every morning we would get new instructions on what to do that day. The owner or foreman did not simply tell us to go out and work someplace at something! He gave us definite instructions on where to go and what to do. Beloved, I think we are missing the boat if we think for one minute that we are the ones who choose where He, our Master, wants us to go serve, whether in rural or urban settings. We must seek His face and not the pull of strong advice, even from those within the professing church, for it is not up to them or us but totally up to Christ the Head of His Church where we serve as His laborers.
A close seminary friend and I finished the graduated on the same day, and we both moved to Atlanta to be pastors. I stayed in that urban mess for several years completely frustrated and got a chance to escape. He has been there for more than fifty years happy as a clam. I hated Atlanta and have since had successful pastorates, each one in smaller and smaller towns and villages. He now travels the world constantly and loves it. Both of us love our Savior and our ministries. What is the difference? Our God-given make-up shows up in this one example: He likes to know a lot of people moderately; I must know the few people I serve very deeply and personally in order to feel I am truly serving them. That difference was not his or my choice; it is just the way God made us to serve the separate and different fields, but He called us to the same calling as pastors.
Let’s get back to trusting God to equip, call and send His messengers where He wants them to go, backwoods or urban centers, without all this outside pressure by so-called experts in the field. They are all simply undershepherds of God people.
George M. McGuire is retired and serving as a supply pastor in Russellville, Ala.