After spending nearly fifteen years working is high-density urban areas the shift to rural America was a culture shock. In the city, everything you need is a short drive away. You are surrounded by people and you are packed into small spaces like sardines. Not so in rural areas. You neighbors could be miles apart, and the excitement you may seek could be a two-hour drive away. With that distance and lack of proximity, relationships take on a new level of significance. To minister efficiently in this setting, you need to shift your attitude and mindset. It can be very tempting since people are not always around to interact with or even check in on you. Consequently, they may think there is no real ministry to do in these smaller communities. The ministry of nothing is a real danger to avoid. It reminds me of this letter sent from a farmer to the federal government.
From the Desk of Don Genereaux
Honorable Secretary of Agriculture Washington, D.C.
My friend, Dan Hansen, over at Honey Creek, Iowa, received a check for $1,000.00 from the government for not raising hogs. So, I want to go into the “NOT RAISING HOGS” business next year. What I want to know is, in your opinion, what is the best kind of farm not to raise hogs on? And what is the best breed of hogs not to raise? I want to be sure that I approach this endeavor in keeping with all government policies.
As I see it, the hardest part of the “NOT RAISING HOGS’ program is keeping an accurate inventory of how many hogs I haven’t raised. My friend Hansen is very joyful about the future of the business. He has been raising hogs for twenty years or so, and the best he has ever made on them was $422.90 in 1968, until this year when he got your check for the $1000.00 for not raising 50 hogs. If I get $1000.00 for not raising 50 hogs, then would I get $2000.00 for not raising 100 hogs? I plan to operate on a small scale at first, holding myself to about 4,000 hogs not raised the first year, which would bring in about $80,000.00; then I can afford an airplane.
Now another thing – these hogs I will not raise will not eat 100,000 bushels of corn. I understand that the government also pays people not to raise corn and wheat. Would I qualify for payments for not raising these crops not to feed my hogs I will not be raising?
I want to get started as soon as possible as this seems to be a good time of the year for the “NOT RAISING HOGS” and “NOT PLANTING CROPS” business. Also, I am giving serious consideration to the “NOT MILKING COWS” business and any information you would have on the endeavor would be greatly appreciated. In view of the fact that I will be totally unemployed, I will be filing for unemployment and food stamps and was wondering how long that process takes.
Be assured, Mr. Secretary, you will have my vote in the upcoming election.
Patriotically yours, Don Genereaux
P.S. Would you please notify me when you plan to give out the free cheese again?
Overcoming the “There is Nothing to Do Mentality”
However, there is a real ministry to do, and it is based on developing and cultivating relationships. I will explore two in this post.
- Make Mentoring young people a priority In every congregation we are keenly aware that young people are essential to the vitality of any community. Sadly, however, in rural communities, they hold a place of higher significance because many of them will leave after their high school years are complete. Churches have their attention for such a relatively short period of time making the need to connect them to the life of the church and equip them early in life so vitally important. Too often pastors hesitate to invest the necessary time and energy in these young disciples because they know that most will not stay long-term in the local church. This lack of investment in their future is a severe miscalculation of the vital role a pastor plays in their spiritual formation. Rural churches need to see their role as a church that prepares, equips and sends out missionaries into the world. Don’t ignore those influential Christian young people in your congregations, they are the future leaders of our church. Take the time to make them a priority.
- Pastoral care is your lifeline. As I mentioned at the start of this post for country people, it’s all about relationships. And one of the most crucial relationships a pastor can develop and nurture is the care for the sick and elderly. Your relationships must extend beyond Sunday morning. Learn to relate to each member of your small community. Keep in mind these folks meet regularly and often socialize, so bad pastoral care will spread quickly. While a pastor who is good at caring for his people news of that will spread as well. In a small community, people know everything that is happening in each other’s lives, so a pastor who is out of touch with this will appear cold and uncaring to his members.
Excellent pastoral care is what connects the pastor to the lives of his flock. It allows the pastor to be there in tough times and times of celebration. Pastoral care engrains the pastor into the heart and fabric of the community. Like everything else, I advise leaders don’t do this alone. Develop and train a caring team of people to join you in providing care for your members. Rural people are looking for a church that cares and can be a family for them, teach your members how to be that welcoming community. People notice who turns up and who stays away when the chips are down. Helping at these times breeds a broad sense of loyalty from country people. Crises are powerful ways to connect right into the core of rural families in a way country people understand and appreciate.
Other posts in this series: