Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Exceptional Locals

There is a term in anthropology that describes people who are encountered – typically – early on in the ethnographic field work. These are the people who seem to engage with the anthropologist early but tend to be regarded as existing on the fringe of the social and cultural framework. This was a fascinating terms since I immediately recognized a similar concept (although rarely identified) in ministry contexts.
There have been numerous times when I have seen pastors succumb to the influences of the exceptional locals in the congregation that they enter or begin to minister in. This typically, in my experience has led to significant difficulty in validity of their work as pastors in that context – sometimes it has even caused them to leave. This is a tricky concept to understand in a ministry concept but one that I think gets overlooked because we may have the wrong approach to ministry positions in general.
Many of us who have been in ministry could identify the exceptional locals who present themselves – often asking (indirectly) for loyalty from us. It is difficult to deny these people access to our time and resources because we are in a helping role and are morally responsible for the well being of all of our parishioners. What is also true is that these people are rarely an accurate demonstration of what the general culture or social framework of the whole church is. So taking up the causes of these individuals can lead to focusing in the wrong direction. Building alliances can easily lead to conflict since these people are typically not well attached to the networks of people who form the general culture of the church. But since our approach to ministry is the work of caring we can often miss these important signals about where each church needs direction and leadership.
If instead we were to understand ministry positions as more of an anthropological endeavor we could, I believe, make greater strides in effective ministry that could last a long time. Even suggesting that a minister exist as a 'member' or adherent of a particular context before beginning his/her ministry would be beneficial in gaining a sense of how the whole congregation could be ministered to effectively. Unfortunately we are so program oriented that we demand our ministers to begin the work of caring and leading as soon as they start receiving a paycheck. Too bad really. I know of a few people who have intentionally gone about this approach at the same time as trying to fulfill their expected duties to provide programming and care. These are no less than magicians if you ask me.


Bonnie said...

Hey! Long time no see, you guys need to come over, All talk no action - or ar we the Exceptional Locals???? Just jokes I really didn't catch most of the entry even though I read it a few times... are you saying that those people on the fringes are the ones that have the potential to drag us down??? I'm afraid that concept needs dumbing down for me, isn't that what Jesus did? I must have missed the boat. Explain... if you feel the desire, otherwise just come over and drink some beer... heavy on the root (as ben would say)! Cheers!

jenivere said...

Wow, I never thought of this perspective before! I experienced some of this when I was in ministry.

Seems like you're really enjoying school.

Outgoing... said...

I don't think that I am saying that the people on the fringes drag us down. I am suggesting something rather unique to the expereince of becoming/being a pastor where pressumably you are to be both caregiver and leader. The caregiver is loathe to deny anyone access to the care he/she provides. A leader must be wise enough to know how to lead the congregation so that these same fringe people are welcomed more fully into the church community and to make the ministry of the church effective for a community context.
take for instance the person who jumps into the pastors office in the first week of his tenure and strongly suggests that end times teaching of the dispensational sort ought to be the main agenda of the pastors preaching. What should the pastor do? Does he acknowledge this as not only a person in need of care but as a legitimate representation of the content that is crucial the function of the church? And if he represents to strongly with this person and begins to preach in the way requested thinking that he is doing not just the caring thing but the right thing for the congregation, is he able to connect effectively with where the rest of the congregation is at?
My suggestion is that the way we have designed the pastor role and the method we use in acquiring a pastor often sets pastors up to get so involved with programming that they fail to get an accurate picture of where the whole congregation is at. One thing we know for sure that some of the neediest people are not the ones who clamour for recognition or request(beg) for assistance, they are the ones who quietly sit in the background waiting for someone to help them....
I son't know if that makes it clearer