As soon as my wife (Elizabeth) and I got married we were called to serve in full time ministry at a small church in a tiny town called Grover, Colorado. Grover is a town made up of 130 people and could be described as a desert town. If you were to drive to see just a sliver of civilization, 40 miles would be your closet drive to the city of Cheyenne, WY. Gravel roads, limited services and rodeos quickly became our friends as we were pursuing people, mostly ranchers, for the sake of the gospel. Some of these people proved to be some of the most generous and caring people we had ever met and we would never take back the time we spent among them and their culture.
Doing ministry in this type of setting does come with some unique challenges as you can imagine and I would briefly like to touch on 5 well learned lessons and ideas while ministering in a place as Grover, Colorado.
1. Be Slow In Making Changes
Most smaller communities are tight nit. What do I mean? Well, for example as a pastor in Grover I got invited to many, what they would call, generational parties. At these celebrations they would celebrate the many years their family name has been active in the community. Some of these names go back as far as 150 years. Now you must understand, the time I got hired on as senior pastor I was 25 years old. You see what I am getting at? A community like Grover needs to be wooed to Christ slowly, they do not take well to pastors coming in with new ideas right off the bat. We need to respect the fact that they have been there much much longer than we have and we need to learn to love what they love before any agenda of change.
2. Listen To The Spirit While Pursuing Change
Respect and know their culture and way of living, but do not let these things trample over the very reason you are there. Buried deep in many of these communities lay unhealthy, unbiblical ideologies. These ideologies have no gospel message, Christ is not the cornerstone but is replaced with a type of work based salvation. Are we not to preach Christ? Does Jesus not have the power to change people buried under 150 years of moral obligation? Yes! He does and we are called to “preach Christ crucified”. This is not a matter of getting people to show up to church, that part is easy, it is about showing them in scripture week after week how glorious Jesus truly is. Preaching in these communities is a huge opportunity to magnify Christ, and we must believe Jesus to have the power to change the souls of the “self righteous”.
3. Fight Loneliness
Depending on the context, I can almost assure you, the realities of loneliness will be near and upon you. Before moving to a community like this, be sure you are called and affirmed by others to this type of ministry. We experienced many seasons of loneliness while serving in Grover and drew closer to one another through it. How are we to fight the haunting power found in loneliness? First thing is know who your Christians are. Who I mean by Christians are the people first and foremost devoted to Christ, Scripture and the church. I was grateful to have had just one guy to be a faithful friend, the true friend is the guy who loves Jesus more than he loves you, more then anything this person wants to see you flourish in your relationship with Christ. These people, those full of grace and truth, are hard to find anywhere but especially hard in places where people are few.
4. Learn To Celebrate Progress
It might be easy to view progress improperly within the context of a rural church community, especially if coming from a big church and expect big things to happen quickly. Progress in a mega church often is defined simply by a greater attendance or increase in finance but we must pay closer attention in smaller communities to the progress, namely the observation of growth in regards to knowing Christ more deeply. It may be something as small as the old man who sits in the back and never says anything to anybody but who finally approaches you with a word of encouragement or a word of spiritual growth. Or it might be you notice more people in your congregation using their voices during a chorus, singing loudly “because my sinless Savior died, my sinful soul is counted free!” That is significant! That matters! Those who serve in a rural context must know their congregation well enough to smell hints of growth and then to celebrate the work God is doing for His glory.
5. Stay In Jesus
This obviously applies to all ministry but it is especially tempting in a rural community, where there is less accountability, to preach on Sunday and check out for the rest of the week. The pastor called to the small town must be able to keep himself in check, he must be a man who can get creative in getting excited about Jesus in his week. I tried to exercise this in several different ways. I would go on walks with my text and have it carry me throughout the day, we would sing gospel saturated songs in our house throughout the week reminding us of His unfailing grace, I would call other pastors in the area and see what they were working on and would try and meet up with them face to face. These are just some ideas and there are many others but the bottom line is that we must work hard at bringing to mind over and over the truths of who Jesus is and what He did for us on the cross.
My hope is that these have been helpful in some way to you! God did so much work in molding and shaping me through that experience and would never take it back. They are in need of as much Jesus as the people who live in the city of Denver and those who are called to that setting of ministry have a great challenge, but wondrously rewarding and fruitful journey ahead of them. We must not separate people as is more for some then others, but embrace the truth that the gospel is “the power of God” (Rom1:16) and that the gospel is for everyone (Mark 16:15).
Ben Nevius grew up in British Columbia (a province of Canada). The Lord captured his heart at the age of 15 and he continues to be molded and shaped by God for His glory. He is so thankful for his beautiful wife Elizabeth and their son, Levi. His great desire is to see people encounter the real Jesus, specifically in the Baker neighborhood of Denver.