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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

ministries.

 

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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