By John Adams, Assistant Director
The Shared History of Rural Communities
Rural ministry differs in many ways from urban and suburban ministry. One significant difference is rural ministry’s unique connectedness, not in an electronic sense, but through relationships. In rural communities, “neighbor” means much more than people living next door. All who live in the community see themselves as neighbors because they know each other. To know someone in rural culture means more than remembering names. It means you know each other’s personality, character and connections within the community. You own a shared history together in that place.
Rural folks are also connected to the place they live. Many have lived in one community their entire lives. Family roots commonly go back for generations in that place. History and tradition are woven into the culture of the community.
This “rootedness” extends into the church. For many, Grandmother used to teach Sunday School while an uncle served as deacon. Even those who don’t personally attend church often have some connection, through family or their own childhood attendance. This connectedness means change will come slowly, because change is difficult when it means relinquishing a piece of one’s history.
A Time for Connectedness to Shine
Rural connectedness shines when the community links arms to face difficulty. In one small town where a boy faced cancer, the community held a dinner-auction to raise funds for treatment. After the items all sold, they were still several hundred dollars short of the goal. So, one man donated his pocket knife for auction. When the bidding closed, the buyer donated it for sale again! That knife sold six times, with each sale raising several hundred dollars, pushing the total over the goal and funding the boy’s treatment.
In rural communities, “neighbor” means you care enough to help in crisis.
What does this all mean for a pastor coming to a rural community? For ministry to be effective, he must get connected. He needs to plug into the network of relationships, get to know his neighbors and let them to get to know him. This takes considerable time with people–hearing them tell their stories and sharing his own story. This time together is not focused on accomplishing tasks. It is invested in building relationships. Being new, the pastor lags years behind others in community connections. For his ministry to thrive, he will need to invest time building friendships within the community and become the “community pastor.”
Developing friendships grow trust between people. As trust develops, doors open in conversation to increasingly significant areas of life. People’s stories begin to reveal joys and heartbreaks, hopes and dreams. Until people are willing to trust a new pastor with topics close to their heart, they aren’t ready to consider what he might share about Christ. When people know he cares and they can trust him, they may be ready to hear about the Jesus he knows.
The Value of Connected Ministry in Rural Communities
Because rural communities are connected by caring for each other, people are interested in what is important to others. As people get to know the pastor and see his heart to serve his community, his actions will enable them to trust his words. They will be able to believe what he says because they have seen his character through community interaction. They have heard that he visits those who are hospitalized and cares for those who grieve. The same connectedness that slows the pace of change also opens doors to the Good News of Christ, because rural people know their neighbors. When a someone puts their trust in Christ and their character begins to change, the power of Christ becomes evident to the community. Even skeptics see change they cannot explain, though they may be unwilling to give Christ the credit.
The pastor who effectively plugs into the connectedness of a rural community becomes a key point of entry for God’s work throughout that community.