The world, and even the church, is trending towards the city; but I am not. I am a pastor. I am a church planter like many of you, but I live in the sticks. Truth be told, I know more about fishing tackle than Indie music. I like to shoot things and set stuff on fire out in fields. And sometimes when I read books and blogs and attend conferences, I sense that I am alone.
I grew up in Mine La Motte, an unincorporated community in Madison County Missouri. It is six miles north of Fredericktown, which boasts of a whopping population total of 3,985 people. Mine La Motte was the first lead mine settled in Missouri in 1717, but the only thing we are known for these days is that we turned old mine sites into lead-infested swimming holes. We still swim in and fish from them to this day. At one of these spots you can even cliff dive and zip line into the water while drinking your beer. Oddly enough, people from all over Missouri pay to do it.
These days, I pastor a multi-congregational church in Leadington, MO called The Bridge Community Church. We are a growing faith community in rural America that was planted ten years ago. Leadington has a population of 422 people and resides in a county of around 65,000 people. I am often asked by friends and acquaintances if this ministry stop is a stepping stone to bigger and better things. That question in and of itself can tell a lot about our current obsession.
While the obsession with ministry trends towards the city, what about those of us who are not there? What about those of us that feel called to be where we are at in rural ministry? Are we in sin? Does Jesus still send people to small towns? Is there a need for small town ministry? Are we denying the great commission? Are there ideals that have gone wrong in rural America that will require the grace of God and a courageous pastor?
These types of questions and more are what me and my friends at smalltownjesus.com are trying to help answer.
I write this all with a genuine love for the city and a thankful heart for pastors who live and plant there. I learn from you. I respect you. I am praying you reach the city and that a genuine movement of God spreads out into our communities. We desperately need you. While I see the need for churches to be planted in the city, I also know the need for churches to be planted and renewed all throughout rural America. And while Jesus does love the city and urban professionals, I have a feeling he loves small town people, too. In fact, Jesus was a rural Galilean himself that was born in Bethlehem which had declined in significance (and into a small village) at the time of his birth. Then, Jesus was raised in Nazareth which had such little cultural significance during his day it led people to ask, “Can anything good come from there?” (John 1:46)
So, can anything good come out of planting and revitalizing in small towns?
Ten years ago we planted a church in the sticks with a desire to glorify God by making disciples. In the subsequent years we have seen God work in mighty ways. Hundreds of people have been baptized. Marriages have been restored. Relationships have grown. Disciples have been made. Six churches have been planted. People’s lives have been changed in deep, meaningful and lasting ways.
Our missional communities have gone into the prisons, jails, and treatment centers to lead a course called Conquering Addiction. They run free stores, help the homeless shelter, mentor at the women’s shelter, feed children through backpack programs, and reach out to those struggling. They’ve began outreach in communities all across St. Francois County and started non-profits such as Parkland Hope Rising to help students in foster care.
Our mission efforts have produced long-term partnerships in Haiti, Thailand, and Zambia. We’ve helped build a seminary in India, performed needed medical surgeries in Liberia, and strengthened churches in Cambodia.
All of this started one night when a small group of people threw $51 in a chicken bucket and said, “Let’s risk it all for God in our small town.”
For those of you who have also said, “Yes” to planting or pastoring in a small town, or those considering it, we are here to help in inspire you, encourage you and equip you. Join us in trusting God for a mighty move of gospel ministry all across small towns around the world.