Potential in Rural Ministry
Few people recognize the potential of rural ministry. Village Missions sends missionary pastors to rural communities. We go to rural communities where, if the church closed, no other Gospel witness would exist. So we know a few things about rural ministry! I would affirm the huge potential for meaningful discipleship that exists in rural ministry. A rural pastor lives with his people and, in so doing, can build into their lives.
A rural pastor’s relationships are multi-generational. They are found in contexts that include the local school, the fire department, and coffee at the local restaurant. You can be with people taking a walk and visiting with neighbors. You can help with a harvest, and sit on a rock discussing following Christ after a day of hunting. Yes, rural people are people and lately they face many problems. But the opportunities for ministry dwarfs those places with a Starbucks.
Starbucks or Starbuck?
I don’t know anyone who has not heard of Starbucks. Our small city of Dallas, Oregon, population 14,000, has two locations. We have one in the Safeway grocery store and one that has its own location. I’m not sure what the demographic requirement is to have a Starbucks. But they seem to be just about everywhere. Everywhere, that is, except in rural communities.
Far fewer people have heard of Starbuck, WA, a town situated in the rich wheat growing area of eastern Washington. This rural community had its name long before the coffee conglomerate. Village Missions has served that community for many years. The current Village Missionaries, Dave and Sheila McIllroy, have served in Starbuck for over ten years.
Opportunities for Effective Ministry
I’ve been to Starbuck. In this little rural community opportunities for effective ministry abound. Not necessarily programmatic types of ministry, but most often one on one ministry. Ministry occurs within the context of long-standing relationship building. Dave is the community pastor. He and Sheila work tirelessly to serve the community and introduce people to Christ. When someone comes to Christ, and several have, everyone knows it. Moreover, they can observe the changes Jesus makes in a life. Likewise, everyone knows, including the school, that the church cares deeply about the kids in town.
Four Mistakes in Rural Ministry
As Jay Sanders mentions in his excellent article, “Four Mistakes Rural Pastors Make,” rural pastors seem to have missional limitations. He writes, “You know that the only coffee shop where you can sit and be missional is the one that is opened 24 hours and also serves waffles.” The first rural church I served was in the town of Finchford, IA, population 157, located about 13 miles from Cedar Falls. It was a sad day indeed when our only business in town closed due to a new Wal-Mart nearby. Yet, you could still go door to door visiting folks. I would visit anyone in the area who was in the hospital or in crisis. This rural pastor had abounding opportunities to be missional.
Why Rural Churches Matter
Jay Sanders wrote another article on rural pastors titled “Three Reasons Rural Churches Matter More Than You May Think.” This article, although certainly indicating the need for the Gospel in rural communities, was less positive. Sanders speaks more about the need in this article. But those considering rural ministry should couple the deep spiritual needs in rural communities with the amazing potential one has for meeting that need through relationship building.