My first inkling I was out of my element was when I asked someone for their phone number.
You see, I had recently moved to a small town in Western Oklahoma. Population 600. I came from Oklahoma City, and had been married about a month before. I had been doing ministry for some time as a pastor, youth pastor, college, music, and anything else. I had moved to First Baptist Church in this small town to be youth pastor.
So I asked a student for their phone number and they replied "5309". I was still in college but I did know that was not a full phone number. I looked at them confused, waiting for the punchline. It never came and as they left my wife quickly informed me of the true meaning. She was from a small town too and became a saving grace for me in that small town. I didn't stay at the church very long, for many reasons. But I was a stranger in a strange place. I didn't know how to operate in a small town.*
Even though I grew up in OKC, just two hours away, this place was different. I spoke the same language, watched many of the same movies, and cheered on the same sports teams. But that small town was a whole different world to me. I crossed cultural lines when I moved there. The power structures, the lines of communication, the formal and informal rules of the whole place was a mystery.
As a teenager I sat in a pew and heard God's call very clear. I was to preach. At 16 I didn't know what that meant or where or how. But I knew I was to preach. So I began to do so. I found myself, like many, starting ministry work with youth and college. As an 18,19, 20 year old, those were my people! I knew this crowd, got the cultural references, watched the same movies. Before moving to that small town, I had pastored a little church in OKC. I didn't know to reach out to adults as well, so I moved back to youth. I thought youth pastor in a small town would be easy!
I am not the first one to get lost in small town. My wife saved me in many ways, but I was in over my head. Every church and town has it's own culture. But as a staff member there and elsewhere I had to learn to reach across cultural lines, and then across generational lines as well.
Churches that need revitalization, often, but not always, have elderly congregations. And many of the pastors that go to those places are young.
So a pastor of a revitalizing church must make sure that he takes the time explore the culture of the place he is called to. He must work to study his culture like a missionary would study upon moving to a new country. Even though he might have just moved across the state, the culture and values are probably different than his. The revitalizing pastor must know that in order reach all for Christ, he must start with those in his own pews. Understanding our community starts with understanding those in our pews. Their values, belief systems, power structures, and communication lines will most likely be different than his. And so he has to work hard to reach across cultural and generational lines to revitalize the church. A reach across the pew leads to a reach across the street, and a reach across the world.
*Only giving four numbers means that everyone in town has the same first 3 numbers, for you non-small town folks.