In my 25 years of ministry, I have had the privilege of serving the church in a rural and small-town setting, from towns with populations of 175 to communities of 18,000. Rural ministry has been a joy and sometimes a challenge. However, it has always been a blessing as God works in the lives of His people through His Word and Sacraments.
One of the joys of serving in a rural ministry is living in the same community with the people in your congregation. Everyone knows everyone else and often looks out for one another. I will always remember how the congregation welcomed my family and helped my wife, especially when the children were young. The children grew up in relative safety; they learned the importance of hard work and responsibility and grew to be strong church leaders like their parents and grandparents. The collective wisdom of long-time members is a tremendous gift as the people of God seek God’s direction.
But with the many joys also come many challenges. For example, with the blessing of living in the community comes the challenge of dealing with conflict, since the complexity of family relationships and traditions are woven into the fabric of the congregation and community. Ministry in a rural setting also means your life is integrated into the community in many ways. This may involve school events, nursing homes and sports teams. Here, the lack of resources, as well as the need to learn administrative and time management skills, can be challenging.
And while rural communities and congregations may or may not be growing, they are all changing. Economic challenges, an influx of more immigrants and an aging demographic all impact rural ministry. The rural community is also not exempt from the destructive paths of our culture. Even in the midst of such change, there is the conviction of the people of God that with a living faith in Christ comes the grace to meet the challenges around them. The Church is Christ’s, and He is the Good Shepherd that feeds and cares for His flock. He is their strength and shield!
Although filled with challenges, rural ministry is among the most rewarding as the Holy Spirit is at work in the lives of Christ’s redeemed. How did I ever get to serve in a rural and small-town setting? It is an opportunity that God has given — for which I am grateful.
Written by Rev. Craig Muhlbach, St. John Lutheran Church, Sauers
Taken from the November Lutheran Witness