A Brief Examination of Scripture from a Rural Perspective
by Jeff Clark
In attempting to examine the Bible from a rural perspective, one overwhelming
question must be answered. Does a need exist to do this? After all, Biblical truths are
the same regardless of the setting, correct?
Most books published in recent years concerning ministry in North America
have been written from a suburban perspective by pastors of large and prestigious
churches. J.D. Greear, Timothy Keller, and John Piper have been held up as models of
success. The ability to numerically grow churches into the thousands in the suburbs
appears to be the sole model of success for church growth in the United States.
Do not misunderstand me, these men are truly great ministers and their writings
have changed the ecclesiology of North America. However, the teachings of these men
often do not resonate with pastors and church planters serving in rural areas and in
small churches. Rural pastors confess a great love and respect for these men, but
often they feel a general disconnect between what they learn while attending
conferences led by pastors of large, “successful” churches and the realities of their
small, rural situations. Generally, the phrase heard from many rural pastors when
leaving these conferences is, “What I just learned won’t work where I serve.” The great
ideas from the great men do not translate into action when the idea is introduced to the
lay leadership team made up of two housewives, two farmers, and a mechanic.
Sadly, these rural pastors are summarily dismissed as people with small vision
who are unwilling to take the risks necessary to lead their churches to experience
dynamic growth. Many times, I have heard that “small churches are small for a
reason.” The implication in this quote is that small churches are small because of small
minded pastors and small-minded church members. I have even heard them labeled as
lazy, and all they have to do to grow their churches numerically is just work harder.
Usually, these criticisms come from pastors in suburban areas where they are
surrounded by thousands of people to invite to their churches.
This disconnect between many conference leaders and their rural attendees is
real and is more than just small-minded pastors whining about their current situations.
Rural ministry is unique! Seldom do national conference leaders take into consideration
the dynamics of pastoring a small, rural church when they offer growth conferences.
“Leading a church to change” is one thing when your current church leadership comes
from the business world and the church sees you as the CEO. It is an entirely different
issue when attempting to persuade the venerable patriarch farmer to do something
“new” and the church sees you as the hired hand.
This paper will look afresh at what scripture says concerning rural ministry. The
goals for this examination will be twofold. Hopefully, it will provide validation for
pastors serving in rural areas. Seldom are they championed. They are not invited to
lead conferences, write books, or preach on national stages. Typically, they serve in
small churches with limited finances and with a small network of ministerial friends.
They face the constant temptation to consider “real” ministry to be what they read in
books written by “successful” pastors in suburban areas, not what they are doing in
small towns. This paper will attempt to provide rural pastors with validation for their
Second, I will attempt to provide a look at rural ministry from a scriptural
perspective, making a connection between rural ministry in scripture and rural ministry
today. Maybe the Bible does have something to say that would help pastors serving in
rural North America be more effective in their ministries.
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