I grew up in rural small town America, like many with in our nation. My father was a deacon in the Baptist church we attended, while my grandmother attended the Wesleyan church just down the road. Growing up I attended the Baptist church, but often found myself going to children’s ministries at the church where my grandmother attended.
A couple of years after marrying my wife I accepted the call to ministry, and found myself as youth director of a church in the nearby city of five thousand. I helped the pastor and began to use my talents of preaching, teaching, and visitation with in the church. Two years later my family and I headed off for college.
While in college I continued to help out in assisting pastors. I spent one year helping a church in a city of over 50,000, and another in a city of 18,000. These experiences helped to develop my talents in ministry. I was given more opportunity to preach, and teach. These are to this day my strongest gifts and talents.
In 1997 I accepted my first solo-pastorate, while finishing up my last year of college. I felt called to start a new work in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and made plans to help this small church out for two-years. It was a great place to cut my teeth on solo ministry. The church was located in a village of less than 500 people, in the middle of the corn and soy bean fields of central Indiana. This independent church ran most of its own business affairs, which freed me up to study, and begin new Bible studies. I was able to grow in my pastoral care.
I was working and learning through the 1990’s, as the church growth movement was reaching its explosive growth. Every where I looked were the teachings and encouragements of growing bigger, and bigger being better. The problem was that I had grown up in small town America. I felt called to pastor and reach people on the front lines of America where the heart of the revivals of the past had begun. Working in my first solo pastorate I knew deep in my heart that I related to farmers and small business men better than big city executives or inner city works. The problem was that everywhere I turned were the calls of leadership was to bigger and better things. Everyone was talking about big churches and big ministries being the answer to the future of ministry.
I recall one instance in college, during a worship class with Professor Keith Drury. We were to share the trends of what we saw as the future of American worship and church life. Going around the room it was like listening to cookie cutter answers to me. Everyone had their own ideas and twists, but the reality was that everyone in the class was focused big and mega church ministry. Everyone that is, but me. I could see the attitudes and fear of smaller churches toward mega churches. I also knew a few people who had left bigger churches, because they felt they were impersonal and a place to get lost. I predicted that for many families they would feel lost and impersonal in a mega-church, and that many would desire the familiar, family feel of smaller church life.
Since, leaving college and seeing the trends I find more people leaving the mega-church for a more intimate congregation. I also see many mega-churches changing strategy to create an intimate feel for those who need the personal side of church life. Some churches call it small groups, some cells, others church with in church. The fact is that church needs intimacy and small church sometimes is the best way to fill that need.
After college, when I was called to plant a church in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula I found myself in a city of 20,000. The fact was that I was in the largest city for hundreds of miles around. Some who know me may feel that my small town attitude may have kept this church plant from succeeding. I wouldn’t agree. The fact is that even though the city was bigger than my background, the people had an attitude of small town life. It was true there were more people, but they had the same fears, cares, worries, and attitude of most the rural areas of Northern Michigan. Sometimes they were even more rural than small rural in their close knit families than other rural settings I had been in before.
I took on a ministry in a rural setting of Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula near Traverse City, before finding myself in Central Illinois where I now minister. I have learned a lot about the lives of the people I have ministered to, and I know they have learned about me. The intimacy factor can have its draw backs, since we all are close and everyone in the community is close. It is true news will travel through community fast. This can be a good thing too, since you can promote events and do well in a quicker manner than in many large city settings.
I guess the heart of all that I am trying to say is that I must confess to liking small town ministry. There you go, it’s in the open. While many small town pastors struggle with jealousy and inferiority I am coming to see that small town, and small church life isn’t all that bad. In fact for a country boy from Northern Michigan it is a pretty good place to be called to.
The fact is that we who pastor small town churches should look to Jesus Christ for His guidance in our ministries. We need His love to permeate every part of us, so we can face the challenges of small town ministry. It is okay to like your ministry, even with all the frustrations. We have to believe God is with us, and know that He will help us through what ever He allows to come our way. Don’t give into the voice of Satan that creeps into our minds and says give up. There are times when we should move on, but Satan wishes we would move right out of ministry. Too many of our brothers and sisters have listened to his lies. Let us find ways to encourage each other, and seek Christ continually to be in His perfect will.
It is my hope that I can help to be one of the avenues of encouragement along the way. I am hoping to utilize my own life stories, as well as those of other small town and small church pastors who are on the front lines of ministry. We are supposed to encourage one another. Paul reminds us in Philippians 4 that we are to think on the good things. This is why we should encourage one another through the battles of life. I encourage you to seek out an accountability partner or at least a ministerial colleague to spur one another on. Never tire in your service, but instead let God guide you daily in your service to God’s kingdom.
I recently attended a small town pastor’s seminar offered in our denomination. I took a few pages of notes, but far more important was the reviving spirit that flowed out of the men and women who shared their needs. It became a place of prayer and care, with others in the same place. I have always felt called to be a pastor who helps, encourages, and trains other pastors in the journey of ministry. That is why I feel compelled to add this column to my Blog on a regular basis in the future. I hope to add another article of my own experience, and others who are in small church life. We need to encourage each other. I am opening up my Blog for comments as well, and hope that people will begin to encourage one another through issues of small town life.
My prayers are with you, as I hope yours will be with me. Let us spur one another on in our