I have spent my entire 13-year ministry in the rural context. This has been a true blessing from the Lord, but it wasn’t my plan.
As I was finishing up Seminary, I had my mind set on planting an urban church. I had lots of notes, attended a church planting conference, read all the church planting literature, and tried to prepare myself as best as I could. But in the providence of God, these plans never materialized.
Looking back, I am glad they didn’t. I was pretty wet behind the ears and probably would have failed miserably at church planting. After a few years of pastoral ministry, I realized I didn’t fit the mold of a church planter, much less an urban church planter. I have come to see that rural ministry suits me just fine.
What do I love so much about ministry in a small place?
If you don’t love people, then pastoral ministry is probably not for you. It doesn’t matter if you are in a rural context, an urban context, or something in between. Ministry is all about people and if you don’t love people (in general), then don’t even think about becoming a pastor.
If God truly calls you to the pastorate, He will give you a special love for the people in which you minister. There is a dear lady in our church who is constantly making our family “cornpone.” We never ask her for cornpone, she just makes it because she wants to. She is a blessing to us and I could tell so many more stories about people just like her.
Even though some rural churches are a hive of activity, most rural churches operate at a slower pace than their urban counterparts. Rural churches tend to be more seasonal. Just to give one example, I have learned not to schedule too many extras during hunting season because everyone hunts.
There have been times where I have wanted to push the accelerate button when it comes to moving along a particular project or ministry. But on multiple occasions I have felt the Lord saying, “be patient.” And sure enough, in due time, those projects have come to fruition with very little effort on my part.
Even though it drives some pastors nuts, I have come to love and embrace the slower pace that is typical of rural ministry.
I have always enjoyed travelling to big cities, looking up and seeing enormous skyscrapers, and taking in all that cities have to offer. I don’t see that ever changing. But one of the things I love about rural living is the space. Our family often goes on walks in the fields and woods around our home. Same thing when I am working at church – there is plenty of space to go on walks and be in nature.
God’s creation is just marvelous (Psalm 19:1)! By and large, rural living allows you to enjoy creation in a way that urban living does not. When I need to pray and clear my mind, there is nothing better than going on a hike, and there is no shortage of options when it comes to hiking trails around here.
The Family Vibe
If you have a young family, there is no better place to raise a family than in the country. It is generally more affordable than urban living and has much to offer.
When we moved to Mifflin County, Pennsylvania we rented a farm house for the first year and a half. One day our landlord texted me and said, “would you like some laying hens?” I was surprised that he wanted to give them to us for free, and my wife and I couldn’t think of a good reason not to take them. Since then, the chicks have become part of the Stegeman family. Our kids love them and we have even added a rooster along the way. Rural living has a way of surprising you sometimes.
The Community Vibe
There is a real sense of community pride in small places. People love their community and are not afraid to invest in it. I remember at the last church I served at, there was an annual event called “Light the Night” the Sunday after Thanksgiving. The organizers put a lot of work into this event and they invited me to speak on a couple of occasions. Fifty years ago, those events were common. They are a rarity now.
Rural ministry also offers opportunities you won’t find elsewhere. When we first moved to Mifflin County, I noticed that the local newspaper – the Lewistown Sentinel – was inviting pastors to submit articles for their weekend edition. I jumped at the opportunity and usually around once a month I write an article. I can’t tell you how many people have expressed their appreciation. I am grateful for this “open door for the gospel” (Colossians 4:3) and the chance to minister to the community at large.
We have had many neighbors over the years who have been kind, hospitable, and downright neighborly. We have tried to be that to them as well, and point them to the hope that we have in Christ (1 Peter 3:15).
At the end of the day, rural ministry is ministry. No matter where they live, people need the Lord (Romans 10:13)! It is an immense privilege to shepherd the people of God anywhere, I am just thankful the Lord placed us in a rural context.