By Paul House
August 11, 2016
Wendell Berry has made his home in Henry County, Kentucky, for more than a half-century. From this place and his affection for it, he has written approximately 50 books of poetry, fiction, and essays. Berry offers an alternative voice we can learn from, especially where his writings mirror biblical teachings better than religious books featuring baptized secular industrial models.
Pastors seeking to revitalize churches will do well to revitalize their minds along lines Berry suggests.
He asks us to choose nurturing over exploiting as a way of life. Exploiters look at people, land, and communities as raw materials to be mined for one’s own career and retirement portfolio. Exploiters inevitably look at churches the same way. Nurturers, by contrast, seek to conserve, preserve, enhance, and heal while living with people in community in particular places. The nurturer seeks wise practices that build for the long term. As Berry writes in The Unsettling of America (1977), perhaps his best-known volume:
The exploiter typically serves an institution or organization; the nurturer serves land, household, community, place. The exploiter thinks in terms of numbers, quantities, “hard facts”; the nurturer in terms of character, condition, quality, kind. . . . The first casualties of the exploitive revolution are character and community. . . . Once the revolution of exploitation is underway, statesmanship and craftsmanship are gradually replaced by salesmanship.
Spiritually revitalized pastors will choose the path of nurturing. How many biblical images are necessary to make this point? Surely our Lord’s emphasis on shepherding, friendship, teaching, humility, death, and resurrection bespeak nurturing. Surely Paul’s writing of the church as body, family, and co-heirs of the crucified and risen Jesus do as well. Using churches as stepping stones to other churches, people as tools for career advancement, seminaries as credential factories, and ministries as personal brands are marks of an exploiter. And they are marks of ungodliness. The unsuspecting should learn to flee them; the complicit should repent and seek a renewed mind. Ministers cannot mix these mindsets. A line exists that cannot be crossed. Read the rest at The Gospel Coalition.