My first church was in a rural community of about 3,000 residents. Had that church been on a little better financial footing I might still be there. Prior to that time I had always lived in and around major metropolitan areas so this was a somewhat new experience for me. Sure, I had been on farms before -- class field trips, cousins, a college roommate, my wife's family in Nebraska -- but life in a small town has its own warp and woof apart from the agricultural motif.
Many in our day are enamored with big programs and big churches in big cities. In part, that is fueled by the success of Tim Keller, and the church he serves, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, in Manhattan, New York. Some time ago he wrote his own approach to urban ministry entitled, A Biblical Theology of the City. Surely he is entitled to publish his opinion but it would be simplistic to argue that this is the model that every pastor should emulate or that the city is the primary place where God is working in this world.
I have tremendous respect for small-town pastors. Some of the pastors I most admire are those who've served in the same rural community for decades. Last winter I preached at The Northeast Michigan Reformation Society meeting at a country church in the middle of Huron National Forest. Gathered on that cold night were many like-minded pastors from small towns on the sunrise side of Michigan. Talk about unemployment -- at the time many of those towns were facing rates as high as 25% (it could be worse now). This translates into low salaries and often tent-making pastorates. Added to that pressure was the uphill battle many of these men faced in introducing their people to the doctrines of grace. It goes without saying that most pastors wouldn't be in it for the long haul if asked to serve under similar circumstances.
Darryl Hart, whom I've cited before, has done it again in this thought provoking piece, What Would Tim Keller Say to Wendell Berry? (note, click on the word "Here" to get to his original post in the Front Porch Republic entitled "If Cooking Slowly and Growing Organically Are In, Why Is Rural Ministry Out?"). Read the comments too. His article reminds me of Luther's Theology of Glory vs. the Theology of the Cross.