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The population drain that has plagued farm communities might also embolden them to develop a new kind of leadership.

 

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Nevell Owens remembers when he first felt called to pursue a doctorate in theology. He was working as a criminal prosecutor when he looked into the eyes of a 13-year-old boy accused of murder. He saw that they were empty, and he wanted to know: Where was God in the life of this boy?

“I knew the boy’s mother was active in church,” Owens says. “I wanted to know, why isn’t the minister here? Why aren’t members of the church here?”

While more evangelical students enter seminary with only parachurch experience, some leave with denominational credentials.

When Jackson Carroll began “Pulpit & Pew,” his large research project on pastoral leadership, he considered pastors a “troubled profession,” and braced himself for what his investigation might reveal. But five years of study, including a major national telephone survey and 23 focus groups across the country, convinced Carroll his gloomy forecast didn’t stand up.

In 2004, after nearly three decades as a pastor, the Rev. John Terpstra found himself straining to find joy and meaning in what he did for a living. He was in his early-50s and wondered what would come next.

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