Thursday, May 28, 2015

Celebrating Vital Ministry in a Rural Context

What does rural ministry mean to you?

Throughout my career I have been continually surprised and amazed by the power and depth of the relationships that I have formed as a result of my work as a pastor in a rural setting. And it always appears in unexpected ways. To the untrained eye, a trip through the rural countryside is a quiet and peaceful experience, largely devoid of people and basically populated by scattered herds of farm animals and large expanses of land, sometimes cultivated, often not. The occasional visitor sees only these outward trappings and assumes that life in this place is slow and bucolic, without challenges and dreams, except for the constant work of making a living from the land. And even when they know better, images from Grant Wood or Green Acres immediately spring to mind.

But that is not the life that we rural pastors know.

While the land is important, even essential to our existence, the life in our context is found in the men, women, and children who call this place home.  Each community, each congregation, each family has a story to share. Their lives are full of challenges and dreams, sometimes filled with disappointment, anger, grief, and struggles, but often balanced by hope, celebration, joy, and promise. And into those lives we step, called to represent Christ and his church in personal and very real ways.

One of the greatest privileges of being a rural pastor is that we are invited into the personal lives of the people we serve at very private, often very intimate moments. Joining the family circle for births and deaths, weddings and funerals, anniversaries and other celebrations, means that we not only represent the church, but are ambassadors for Christ as well. Learning to cultivate that gift of 'presence' is essential to the practice of effective ministry.

One stereotype of rural ministry is that we are caretakers for our congregations and that vibrant, creative ministry only happens in urban areas.  As you might have guessed, I could not disagree more. While there are some churches for which that is true, and some pastors who don’t strive for anything else, there are many places where excitement and vitality are the norm; churches that demonstrate a desire to bring the good news of Jesus Christ to their constituencies with passion and meaning, and pastors who are engaged in the lives of their members with the kind of care, concern, and faith that must bring a smile to God’s face.

This web site is dedicated to the encouragement of that kind of passion and vitality.  It is designed as a gathering place for pastors and church leaders who are looking for resources, ideas, and conversation that will lead to renewal in our congregations and in the larger church.  We don’t see our rural settings as a barrier to church growth and development, but as an opportunity to provide the gospel for a 21st century people who happen to live in a unique and less populated context.

Over the years we have spent too much time and energy worrying about the loss of members, our denominational struggles, and maintaining a style of ministry that was designed for the 1950s.  Our rural churches deserve better.  I invite you to join us on this journey, as we reinvent the church, moving away from an attitude of decline and irrelevance and toward a new expression of the faith that exudes the gospel of Jesus Christ in the way we live our lives, the way we relate to others, and the way we worship our God. 

That’s where I’m going.  I hope you will come with me.

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