Hurry and Unhurry in the Rural Church

Hurry and Unhurry in the Rural Church November 15, 2018

“You’re always in a hurry,” said the lady at our small town grocery store.  

We were on our way out the door with gallons of milk in hand.

“Why’d she say that?” my son asked.

“I don’t know,” I said.  And we hurried on our way.

Who knows, she might have spoken a prophetic word.  It later struck home to me when I bumped into Proverbs 19:2 “One who moves too hurriedly misses the way.”  I wondered: am I always in a hurry? Am I missing the way? And would I know it if I were?

Two impulses tug at rural ministry–maybe at all ministry.  One is the drive to diligence. Think, plan, engage. Do the work.  Excel in your giftings, not least by pushing forward “as a leader, in diligence” (Romans 12:8).  This is my thing.  I read up, plan ahead, come prepared.  I aspire to diligence–at least on my better days.

Diligence is a gift that we shouldn’t gainsay.  I want the diligent surgeon, the diligent pilot, the diligent cabinet builder.  I want the ambulance driver with fast reflexes and a steady, heavy foot. Let’s roll.

Yet aspiring to diligence can have the unfortunate cosymptom of hurry, and hurry is often the ringleader for anxiety, carelessness, and vainglorious self-centeredness–that rangy goblin band.  In hurrying along our way, we overlook what matters most. We might even miss the way.

Our hurry is often sponsored by implicit spiritual assumptions, including the belief that by hurrying through certain stretches of life (or maybe all of life) we’ll arrive at the life we desire.  But this is the “vanity of vanities,” a misattribution of how we achieve wisdom, knowledge, and joy (Ecclesiastes 1:2; 2:26). In an ultimate sense, hurry won’t get us where we need to go. It’s the Lord who “builds the house” (Psalm 127:1).

In rural communities, hurry may also cause us to miss opportunities to connect.  In his book, Small Town Jesus, Pastor Donnie Griggs writes of the importance of taking the time for small talk and chance encounters.  “Always acting like you have somewhere better to be will eventually lead you to unnecessarily” offend people in small towns (p.131).  What’s more, leaders in a hurry can harm the church. Hurry torques process. It introduces anxiety and suspicion. People think: Why the rush?  Maybe we should drag our feet until we know where this is going.  Hurry can lead to burnout for leaders and congregations, along with other, more insidious spiritual harms.  St. Benedict warned in his Rule that if the abbot–the leader of the monastery–overdrives the flock, they will “all die in one day” (64:16-18).  This goes for the overdriven shepherd too. Writes Benedict: “Such a man is never at rest.”

It seems to me that there’s a place for engaged diligence that is not afraid to move quickly and work hard.  And there’s a place for luxurious presence-keeping, practicing the art of unhurriedly being with others–and with God.  

It’s not always easy to know which is called for at any given moment.  Wisdom is required.

Perhaps what we need something like the Serenity Prayer:

Lord, may I diligently hurry when the situation calls for it,
Take the time to be unhurriedly with others when it doesn’t,
And grant me the wisdom to know the difference.

How about that?

I’d say more, but I’ve got to run.

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