Wendell Berry's Ecclesiology
In an essay entitled “Conservation and Local Economy,” the countryside troubadour, Wendell Berry, lays out terms and limits that ought to govern relation to the land. While land conservation and ecology are certainly topics worth discussing, I was struck by the fact that, with a few substitutions, this essay—without regard to authorial intent—speaks rather pointedly of a pastor and/or member’s relationship with the church. I have taken the liberty of augmenting ever so slightly Berry’s original essay by replacing agrarian language with ecclesiastical:
- A church that is used will be ruined unless it is properly cared for.
- A church cannot be properly cared for by a pastor who does not know it intimately, who does not know how to care for it, who is not strongly motivated to care for it, and who cannot afford to care for it.
- A pastor cannot be adequately motivated to care for the church by general principles or by incentives that are merely economic—that is, he won’t care for it merely because he thinks he should or merely because somebody pays him.
- Members are motivated to care for the church to the extant that their interest in it is direct, dependable, and permanent.
- Members will be motivated to care for their church if they can reasonably expect to live on it as long as they live. They will be more strongly motivated if they can reasonably expect that their children and grandchildren will live on it as long as they live. In other words, there must be a mutuality of belonging: they must feel that the church belongs to them, that they belong to it, and that this belonging is a settled and unthreatened fact.
- But such belonging must be appropriately limited. This is the indispensable qualification of the idea of church membership. It is well understood that membership is an incentive to care. But there is a limit to how many members a church can have before a pastor is unable to take proper care of it. The need for attention increases with the intensity of use. But the quality of attention decreases as membership increases.