My entire 30 years as a parish pastor have been spent serving LCMS congregations in rural and small-town communities. That’s remarkable when you consider the fact that I grew up in Houston — the fourth largest city in the country. I’ve truly been “converted” to the small-town way of life, serving the hard-working people whom I’ve had the privilege and blessing to know and love.
Yet, dramatic changes are sweeping across the rural plains of America. No doubt about it. I’ve seen it. We’ve entered an era of congregations closing because their memberships have literally died off. Offerings have dwindled dramatically. Pastors are becoming “bi-vocational,” meaning they are employed and working outside of their called pastorates to supplement insufficient and declining salaries. Pastors are absorbing personally more of the costs of the routine day-to-day operations of their congregations. These changes can be nothing short of terrifying to a pastor and his family.
As is always true, the Lord nonetheless brings amazing and oftentimes surprising blessings and opportunities in this newly emerging ministry landscape. As some congregations die, others are born. Pastors who find themselves becoming “entrepreneurs” can be involved in their communities in truly remarkable ways.
In my own ministry here in southwest Iowa, we have given birth to a new congregation. I substitute teach in the public schools in five local school districts. The opportunities to witness and share my faith, to minister and pray with students, teachers and administrative people abound. Sometimes, I say tongue in cheek that I have the largest youth group in the Synod with over 6,000 kids, referring to the student populations of the schools in which I teach, on their own turf.
That we must engage our community is a fact of our ministry and congregational outreach that hasn’t changed. How we engage our community is changing dramatically in ways we could never have imagined.
Personally, I love this new ministry field. I embrace it. To be able to maintain our Lutheran confessional integrity and continue to proclaim salvation only in the Lord Jesus Christ provides a Gospel message people need and desire to hear even today.
Ready or not, the future is now. It’s here. And our Lord is still touching lives and bringing people to faith in Jesus. For that I will always rejoice.
Rev. Dr. Keith Schweitzer
Contributed through the LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission monthly newsletter.
Upcoming RSTM Events…
Don’t forget that Rural & Small Town Mission provides free monthly webinars on topics important to congregations in town and country settings. Up next is Community Engagement on April 11, followed by Outreach Through Lutheran Braille Workers on May 23. Find past webinars in our archive and watch for information on all our upcoming events!
Register for one our Engaging Your Community (EYC) or Engaging the Wandering (ETW) events at lcms.org/rstm. Upcoming events include an EYC on 5/11, in Waldport, OR in partnership with Northwest District. These partner events offer practical resources and communication skills for reaching out to wandering members and our communities with Christ’s love. Online registration is available for both types of events. Contact your district or our office if you are interested in holding an event near you.
Register now for the 2019 National Rural & Small Town Mission Conference, Running With Endurance: Eyes Fixed On Jesus, Nov. 14–16 in Minneapolis. To see our calendar, visit lcms.org/rstm. Contact our office at 888-463-5127 or firstname.lastname@example.org.