Who/What Are the “Circuit Riders” of the 21st Century?

By now we should all be familiar with the sobering statistics about the decline of Christianity in the U.S. Less than 50% of the population now identifies as Protestant. The fastest growing religious group is the “unaffiliated,” the so-called religious “nones.” Etc. etc.

After writing about this recently on the Revangelical blog, Brandan Robertson received this comment (via Facebook), which I thought was very intriguing:

“I wouldn’t be so quick to leap to any conclusions. What we’re seeing across the world is a reflection of what we experienced in the United States in years gone by. The established Church wasn’t connecting very well with the underprivileged and uneducated in the Western Frontier, mostly for practical reasons, and circuit riders with a very experiential message brought something exciting and tangible to town. As the mainline denominations of Protestantism finally arrived in town, for many folks things settled down. I anticipate that’s what will happen in other parts of the world. Liberation theology and the prosperity gospel are also prominent in those places, and those also usually get supplanted when conditions improve.”

Do you agree with this notion that there is going to be some kind of “circuit rider” event/movement/shift that is going to bring people back into the Christian/Protestant fold (so to speak)? And if so, what does the modern-day “circuit rider” look like?

  • Joseph Stone

    I think I can accept that I’m biased/pessimistic in giving my answer: The unsung heroes. The ones not in the limelight who are in the “middle side” of things when it comes to “east side vs. west side” religious debacles. They are found hanging out and dining with persons of various walks of life, denominations, religions- i.e. ‘friends of sinners, prostitutes, and tax collectors.’ They are bridge-builders/trail-blazers and creative thinkers/dreamers… In an environment that worships “celebrity,” the circuit riders of the 21st century care less about the spotlight (though it wouldn’t hurt to get recognized every once in awhile). They are the ones working part time jobs so they can be volunteer ministers, so they can be a nurturing and encouraging presence for the marginalized, for those hurting. They desire to speak words of reconciliation and recovery into others lives, to advocate for others so that those persons may also have a voice to speak up for themselves.

    I guess I could consider myself as well as a number of my close friends as “circuit riders,” but that might only serve to celebritize our vocations. We bandage wounds, both emotional and physical. We know what we want to do with the rest of our lives and follow through no matter what, because of an ever-driving, passionate call to our vocations from the Divine. We understand the importance of doing great good and stepping aside so that the ‘movement’ may exceed the person rather than limited by person. For example, my friends Bec and Terry are circuit-riders (and fascinating persons in my life) as well as so many others that I’ve had the privilege of getting to know over the past decade. We aren’t focused on writing the next great book on ‘How to make the Church better,’ nor ‘seven steps to happiness.’ We are average joes, living out holiness in ordinary ways, showing that path to holiness is not a chasmed gap, only obtainable by a disciplined few. Or as Mother Teresa puts it, “Holiness is not the luxury of the few; it is a simply duty, for you and for me, because Jesus has very clearly stated, ‘Be ye holy as my father in heaven is holy.’” We are found on the streets and in bars, not limiting our presence to churches, religious festivals, and conferences (I hope that doesn’t come off as harsh).

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