ELDERSBURG, Md.–If you want to know theology, ask a Pastor. If you want to know culture, ask a pastor’s wife!
While that mantra may not be universally true, in a general sense, wives tend to walk in culture, and closer to culture, than most of their pastor husbands. Principally, this is because while the pastor is busy with church meetings, planning, conflict mediation, sermon preparation, and other things aimed at the “inside” of a church, his wife is shopping in the supermarkets, attending PTA meetings, and possibly working a job herself in the city.
One of the things we have learned in our area is the need for recognizing how people live, and seeking to understand their lifestyles if we hope to connect with them in any meaningful way. You simply cannot minister effectively to someone you don’t understand. You don’t have to agree with their lifestyle choices or worldviews in order to serve them, but you do have to understand where they are coming from.
A couple of months ago, as part of a leadership development process with select pastors and their wives from this Association, the wives were asked to develop a profile of what it is like to be in ministry in the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area What is below is the result of 13 of these women coming together and seeking to communicate both the perils and possibilities of serving the precious people in this part of the world. If you are contemplating ministry, or especially church planting in this area, you should benefit from the collective wisdom of many godly women, who share their perceptions with you below.
And if you live elsewhere, I strongly recommend writing a similar profile of the cultural landscape where you live, along with a colorful description of what ministry is like in that area. And I know of no one more qualified to speak to these issues than the pastor’s wife. I thank God for these women, and their heart for Jesus and this area. Learn from them:
Profile of Ministry in Mid-Atlantic Culture and the Baltimore-Washington, D.C. area*
Our settings range from the most challenging corners of inner-city Baltimore (arguably the murder capitol of the United States) to rural Pennsylvania.
Though the population is dense, isolation is common and even cultural to some degree. People do not just drop by someone’s home. Unexpected guests are very uncommon. Neighbors often know very little about one another.
The entire area is a “bedroom community” for individuals who work in Baltimore and Washington, D.C. Due to this nearby power base, the opportunity for influence is huge. Much of what takes place here is politically-charged. People commute up to 2.5 hours one-way to work in the District. Obviously, this has negative affects on the family.
Life is fast-paced. Traffic is congested. Everyone is too busy and this is never-ending. Long commute times and high-stress jobs add to the mindset. People are incredibly career-oriented. Education is an idol. A high percentage of the populace has obtained a post-graduate degree (30 percent have a Master’s degree or higher). High pressure is placed on students from Middle School forward. Church attendance is not even on the radar of most people due to Sunday being their only opportunity for recreation. As a result, a large number of events (5Ks, Soccer & Lacrosse Matches, Community Festivals, and even children’s birthday parties) are held during the same time that church services are going on.
Many consider themselves to be more cosmopolitan than most. There is pride in secularism and liberalism. (We are one of the first states to legalize same-gender marriage. There is great pride in this.) Social open-mindedness is an attribute, even in the mind of many churchgoers. There is a culture of nominal religion that is often identified as Christianity, but it is not evangelical. (Two largest groups are Catholic and Seventh-Day Adventist.)
Diversity exists across many aspects of life. A large portion of the population are transplants. There are roughly 60 languages spoken here. We have a true melting pot of culture, standards, worldview, family makeup, socio-economic status, and gender identity. ( A medical form commonly has 3 options for gender: Male, Female, or Other). Political correctness is a high priority.
Many churches are facing the realities of a surrounding community that has changed drastically in recent years. Biblical illiteracy and immaturity in older believers is a problem. In many cases, discipleship seems to have been greatly lacking for many years.
There seem to be two primary groups of people that we are trying to reach.
1-Incredibly wealthy, highly educated. These people feel that they have it all together. There are no felt-needs. They have the money (or the debt potential) to buy most things that will make them “happy.” Because of their lack of physical need, it is difficult to make them consider spiritual need.
2-Poor, struggling, toughened. These people are determined to be self-sufficient. They do not want or need anyone’s help. There is incredible brokenness. It is difficult to build trust. Poverty, homelessness, drug addiction, prostitution, murder, alcoholism & violence are the norm. They live this or witness it on a daily basis. Most mothers in the city are single mothers. There is a rawness to their need, though they wouldn’t admit it. This group is particularly emotionally draining on a ministry family. The weight of the brokenness and spiritual darkness is a heavy burden. One of our younger churches has an annual prayer walk, visiting all of the sites where a church family has lost a friend or loved one to murder in the previous year. Building a church in this region can be difficult as “redemption and lift” takes place. People living in this hard place who come to faith in Jesus often end up building a better life for themselves (free of addiction, etc.) and then moving away to a safer area.
With both groups, the ground is hard to plow. For many, the concept of church revolves around Catholicism. God is not personal, and He couldn’t care less about them or their problems.
Evangelical Christians are in great minority and often not trusted due to misunderstanding. The secular, humanistic mindset that exists here can be shocking to someone unfamiliar with it. The hectic , high-stress pace often causes people to be rude and impatient. But, when one of these people surrenders to Jesus, the ramifications are far-reaching. Who knows when one of our churches might influence the next senator, cabinet member, or even president for the sake of the Gospel?
*This profile was assembled in February 2013 by 13 Pastor’s wives who live and minister with their husbands in our area. Joel Rainey blogs at Themelios. He is the Executive Director of the Mid-Maryland Baptist Association. He is on the adjunct faculty of two seminaries, and the author of two books, and numerous articles.