Wednesday, November 28, 2012

Rural Ministry

If you've been in a Christian bookshop or at a Christian conference, you'll have noticed a swathe of books on urban churches and urban church planting. I've previously read some of the books, and while they're great and exciting, the lessons don't always naturally translate to my setting of rural ministry and mission.

Having asked in a local Christian retailer about books on rural ministry, the owner declared that he has never seen any. Perhaps it needs to be written! Nevertheless, I was delighted to find this little snippet from the interview section at the back of the book 'The Supremacy of Christ in a Postmodern World' from the 2006 Desiring God Conference:

Justin Taylor:
I imagine that a lot of pastors could be discouraged with the size of their church. They may have a smaller church, and then they see Mark Driscoll talking. He preaches substitutionary atonement, and eight hundred people come to church the next week. They preach substitutionary atonement, and eight people leave the next week. What sort of encouragement would you give tot he small-town or rural pastor who feels that, in order to benefit from this conference, he has to drop everything and move to the city to make a difference for Christ?

John Piper:
I would say that feeding the flock of God is the most precious and high and glorious calling in the world. Jesus said to Peter three times in John 21, "Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep. Feed my sheep - and don't ever give up." There's always room for growth. We can always do better. I come away from conferences like these discouraged. Don't you? Every one of these guys discourages me. I just keep thinking: I'm not doing that well; I'm not doing that well; I'm not doing that well... But that's life. It's a great thing to rest in the calling that God has given you and to cherish the Word of God. To study it and to explain it and to apply it and to exalt over it is the highest calling I know.

Now, there has to be witness in rural areas. (As Tim Keller would be the first to say.) I mean, it would just be absurd to say that we shouldn't have churches in small towns or in the country. Tim wouldn't say that. He's outraged at the abandonment of the cities. Something's askew when evangelicals leave the city. It's not that everybody should go to the city, but what has caused such an exodus? What's going on there that needs to be redressed? And there are enough people here to fix both of those problems. We can have churches in the small towns and churches in the city. So God calls people in different ways, and he gifts people in different ways, and there are pastors who flourish in small towns.

Now you have to have different expectations in a small town because if there are eight hundred people in the town - and there's a charismatic church, a Roman Catholic church, a Lutheran church, and you're the pastor of a Baptist church - everybody's aligned already. The lines are drawn. Everybody knows where everybody stands. There are, say, ten families who don't go to church, and everybody knows who they are. Now what is a mission like that supposed to look like? Faithful, loving exposition, feeding, growing up, reaching out, forming relationships - it's got to look different. You can't be beat up by an urban pastor who says you have to go out and dress like the people you're trying to reach. You might say, "Everybody dresses the same in this town." Absolutely. Everybody's the same. And so be encouraged that God loves rural people, and God loves his church in rural situations, and God loves his Word, and God loves the faithful exposition of his Word, and God loves the faithful pastor showing up at a funeral or at a sick bedside. God loves all those things. Every place has its own different challenges, and a small town is a glorious place. Sometimes I think I'd just like to go there and pastor a flock without all the complications of suburbs and campuses and multiple worship services and complicated staffing where you're trying to draw charts that make sense and have small groups all over the place. And wouldn't that be nice if the church was just a small group and you knew everybody by name? That's a glorious calling.

Perhaps that says it all, without a book needing to be written!

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