Community Outreach, Rural Ministry

In Rural Ministry Relationships Are A Pastors Life-line

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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.

Dear Sir,

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/11/14/rural-ministry-has-unique-challenges-and-opportunities/

 

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Missional communities

What Void Are Missional Communities Filling?

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A couple was out walking their Jack Russell Terrier, Charlie, in the mountains.  A squirrel walked passed, and Charlie broke free, pulling his leash behind him.  Just that suddenly, the pair realized Charlie was gone.

They stopped and asked some hikers if they had seen Charlie, but no luck.  They stopped by the ranger station and asked if anyone had found Charlie, but they hadn’t. They called their Bible study back home and asked them to pray for Charlie.  They called the local radio station to ask them to announce that Charlie was missing.  Charlie missing was no small matter.  There were coyotes in the hills.

Through the course of the day, the community mobilized.  A biker rode through the hills calling Charlie’s name.  Rangers drove the mountain roads looking for the dog. Members of the Bible study drove in to help search.  As the sun was setting, it looked like the dog might be gone. Then they got a call.  Campers had found Charlie hiding underneath a car that was parked exactly where they had parked that morning. The couple describes this as the most profound sense of a community they’ve ever had.

When I first entered the ministry over twenty years ago, I had a simple vision.  I wanted to be a part of an Acts chapter 2 church.  You can read what made that church so inviting.

“Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved” (Acts 2:46-47).

What attracted me to the Acts 2 church is what that couple experienced when Charlie got lost, community.  I, like many, desire to be a part of a church that gets community.  Life is tough, I want to know that when it does, I have a community that will rally around me and lift me up.  Missional communities are filling a void created in many congregations, a loss of authentic community.  People have drifted from the church in search of community.  If your church does community well, I would love for you to connect with me and share with me what you are doing and I will share it with the readers.

How are Missional Communities Filling a Void?

Most missional community groups explore the teachings of Jesus and how their faith is lived out in loving each other and their neighbors.  The quest is to discover how to put faith into practice to have transformational kingdom impact.  Jesus’ teachings lead believers to love God, care for one another, and meet the needs of our neighborhood. It is the Great Commission of Matthew 28, Mark 16 and Acts. Missional community groups live out the Acts 2 church model, they eat together, talk about the challenges they face in their lives, discuss the scriptures and how they influence the way we work together and in our neighborhoods.

 Reconnecting to our Roots

What if the church were united in the search for lost people?  In the book of Acts, the community gathered and joined for the mission of reaching a lost world, and it was the most profound experience of a community they had ever had.  We can have that again.  If you wonder how you lost your way as a congregation look at the agenda for your next leadership meeting.  How much time and attention are giving to searching for lost people?  If you do have it on the agenda how much money is set aside to accomplish that mission?  Then the final question is how much time is given to equip the saints for the mission?  If we don’t plan it, pay for it, and prepare people to carry it out is it really a priority?

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/07/19/how-missional-communities-are-not-your-fathers-small-group-ministry/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/07/12/are-missional-communities-a-threat/

 

Community Outreach, Mission

Are We Missing the Mission Right Under Our Noses?

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There is this excellent illustration about Catherine Booth the “mother” of the Salvation Army. “Wherever Catherine Booth went,” said Campbell Morgan, “humanity went to hear her. Princes and peeresses merged with paupers and prostitutes.”

One night, Morgan shared in a meeting with Mrs. Booth. A great crowd of “publicans and sinners” was there. Her message brought many to Christ. After the meeting, Morgan and Mrs. Booth went to be entertained at an elegant home; and the lady of the manor said, “My dear Mrs. Booth, that meeting was dreadful.”

“What do you mean, dearie?” asked Mrs. Booth.

“Oh, when you were speaking, I was looking at those people opposite to me. Their faces were so terrible, many of them. I don’t think I shall sleep tonight!”

“Why, dearie, don’t you know them?” Mrs. Booth asked; and the hostess replied, “Certainly not!”

“Well, that is interesting,” Mrs. Booth said. “I did not bring them with me from London; they are your neighbors!”

The illustration above points out that often we overlook the mission possibilities in our backyard.

Don’t get me wrong I love mission trips abroad.  Christians can do great ministry in third world countries.  When I see the personal distress of children, my heart is stirred to compassion.   I applaud those people with the tenacity and determination of a missionary. God bless you and the work He has called you to do.   I wish I saw more people who have a passion for the mission field right under their noses.

Local mission work is not as sexy, but the demands are just as great.  And the cost is greatly diminished because you don’t need to board a plane, then take a bus and a bike to far remote places.  Instead, you get to hop in your car then drive to a neighborhood that you often drive through quickly on the way to somewhere else.  These communities often do not have a missionary agency asking for short-term missionaries, yet their mission needs are just as great.  The human hurt is just as heartbreaking.  The suffering, just as generational. The life transformational potential just as impactful.  What makes this possibility even more desirable is that it does not have to be a short-term mission it can be an ongoing missional relationship.

When we ignore the mission opportunities outside our doors, Christians are failing to live up to their full mission potential.  This example says it all. Imagine this: Jesus has come to earth on a special mission. And one day God speaks to Him and says, “Lay hands on this blind man and heal him.” But there’s a dilemma, Jesus has two withered hands. Then God says, “I want you to go and raise Lazarus from the dead.” But suddenly, Jesus collapses and can’t control His legs. Every time God tells Him to do something, something goes wrong. You’re probably thinking that that would never happen. But the church is a body of believers who are Jesus in the flesh on earth today. I wonder if God feels a little bit like that’s the way it is with the church when we don’t live out our local mission.  How powerful could our witness be if the people outside our walls saw and experienced the same level of missionary zeal that so many Christians practice in other countries?

Pray that God opens our eyes to the mission potential in our communities so we can make the most of that opportunity with dogged determination.

Community Outreach, Mission

Are Missional Communities a Threat to the Local Church?

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Missional communities continue to be an instrument by which we can live out what it means to be a missional church in the 21st Century.- Keith Haney

 The new standard for information, Wikipedia, defines “missional communities” this way:

“A Missional community is a group of people, about the size of an extended family, who are united through Christian community around a common service and witness to a particular neighborhood or network of relationships.”

I have to admit that is not a bad definition.  One congregation that has a robust mission community philosophy has the following as their definition and vision.  This plan comes from Christianity Today.

 

“What is a “missional community”?

 A community of Christ followers, on mission with God in obedience to the Holy Spirit that demonstrates and declares the Gospel of Jesus Christ to a particular people group.

Missional

  • They are committed to having spiritual conversations that lead to sharing the Gospel of Jesus and the Word of God with the people group.
  • They are committed to regular, passionate prayer for a people group.
  • They are committed to intentionally living among the people group.
  • They are serving the people group in tangible ways.

 Community

  • They are committed to sharing the Gospel of Jesus and the Word of God with one another.
  • They are committed to regular, passionate prayer for one another.
  • They are committed to intentionally sharing life with one another.
  • They serve one another in bearing burdens. ” Christianity Today

 

Sounds a lot like what the local congregation is commanded to do.  Are you perhaps reflecting on the realization that the very thing people are seeking in missional communities should be available in the ancient church?

Gathered around the mission

At first glance, two main factors stand out.  The local church today struggles with carrying out the mission. Churches are not assisting folks in substantive ways.  If you take a step back and analyze, many churches outreach plans appear to miss the mark of connecting with the needs of the community in a manner that affect people’s ordinary circumstances.  The simple explanation is that the church struggles to have meaningful contact with unchurched people.  Relationships have not been established to serving people in tangible ways.  Believers at times do ministry “to people” instead of in partnership with others.  Missional communities schedule regular meetings with people, with prayer, and spiritual conversations. During these gatherings, needs are dealt with and religious questions examined.   Building community is done deliberately.  Community happens on Sundays but how intention is our interactions?

 

Gathered around to form meaning communities

Secondly, these communities are gathered to live life together.  There was a powerful connection in Acts when the new church regularly came together to live life as in a community.  A community focused on prayer, mission, and helping those in need.  One could argue that mission groups are not some new-fangled, thing, rather, the church is just going back to its roots. Luke describes how mission communities functioned in Acts 2:42-47, “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers. And awe came upon every soul, and many wonders and signs were being done through the apostles. And all who believed were together and had all things in common. And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.” 

 

Would it be wonderful if every congregation could have people living on mission in their homes?  Imagine how the gospel could spread as the number of seed spreaders increases.

To answer the question: “are missional communities a threat to the local church?” No, they are the local church doing the mission Jesus commanded among people who are not knocking down the churches doors to get in. Missional communities take the mission to the people.

Other posts in this series:

https://revheadpin.org/2017/07/19/how-missional-communities-are-not-your-fathers-small-group-ministry/

https://revheadpin.org/2017/08/01/what-void-are-missional-communities-filling/