I recently had a conversation with a man who lives and attends church in a larger city. He told me that he could never pastor a church in a small town like I do (the picture above is our "downtown"). Small towns, in his opinion, are far more difficult than large cities. I then began mentally making a list of the benefits of living and pastoring in a small town, and I came up with several. Not long after that conversation, I ran across an article written by the pastor of a Calvary Chapel in a small town in Oregon and found many of his words encouraging.
“Not long ago, I was at a Calvary Chapel conference in Idaho where many of the attendees hailed from small towns. The guest speaker captured our attention when he said that he, too, was ministering in a small town and understood the challenges we faced. However, when he described his “small” town and began to express how difficult it was to limit your grocery shopping to a Walmart or hold your late-night meetings at an Applebee’s, the listeners began making eye contact with each other and soon a chuckle broke out in the room. The speaker knew something was up.
“What’s wrong? What did I say?” he asked.
One pastor’s wife exclaimed, “We don’t have an Applebee’s!”
“Or a Wal-Mart!” another shouted.
Another from the audience asked the speaker, “How big is your town?”
“30, 000,” the speaker replied.
The room roared in laughter! The speaker was surprised to find that his audience lived mostly in towns with four-digit populations and smaller. Applebee’s? Try Apple Peddler. Walmart? Think Stewart’s Marketeria. If you know what a marketeria is, then you can say you are from a small town.
I am now moving toward my sixth year as the pastor of Calvary Chapel of Crook County. That’s right, of Crook County – all of it. Most Calvary Chapels I know claim a town as their focal point, (but when you don’t have a lot to work with you’ve got to dream big and aim high). I’m not the founding pastor of this church, so I didn’t come up with the name. However, if memory serves correctly the pioneer of this fellowship saw not only the town of Prineville, Oregon (population 9,200) as a harvest field for the Kingdom of God, but also the surrounding region of farmers, ranchers and rednecks.
A unique blessing of living in a small town is that everybody knows everybody and everybody calls you “friend,” (not just on Facebook). Take a drive through town and you will see a dozen people you know going about their daily tasks. It really is a wonderful thing and contributes to a “life on life” method of discipleship, which helps build close friendships and community. At the same time, small town life is a challenge when somebody is disgruntled with you or the church, (everybody is going to hear about it), and God gives you an awkward opportunity to love that person when you cross paths in town.
Small-town living also presents many opportunities to serve the community and to develop relationships outside the walls of the church. As I coached my son’s sports teams, the Lord has provided incredible avenues of friendship and ministry to the lost. Almost the whole town comes out to the sports events, and they get to witness the love you have for the kids and the parents.
Don’t let times of ministerial barrenness or doubt get you down. Remember, Elijah believed he was the last man standing, when behind the scenes God had prepared 700 faithful men. When Elijah slipped into the depths of despair and feelings of failure, God was compassionate but then told him to get up because there was work to do!
I can testify that God is in the business of using the puny and pitiful to accomplish powerful things for His purposes! Being a small town does not mean that God has small ministry plans for you. We are currently in the process of seeing God work in an outstanding way concerning local discipleship and world missions among the unreached people of the Himalayas, but it hasn’t come without the consistent, heartfelt laboring of prayer. Press into dreaming the dreams of God for your community through regular times of prayer and fasting (both individually and as a church). These times at our church have been more rewarding than I could have ever imagined! If your desire is to be about the business of making disciples for His glory, a work is happening, so don’t grow weary and don’t lose heart. A harvest is coming!”
Because we live in a small town we have a much greater opportunity to minister to people at a deeper level. May we never rationalize that we “are who we are”, spiritually speaking, because of where we live. “This is the best we can be” is simply a false sentiment if we are striving to be a disciple-making community. The opportunity is, in many ways, even greater in a small town. All that is required is people being willing to actually serve others around them, even when it may be awkward or uncomfortable, for the glory of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Each week this blog will be updated with a word for the week from my current studies.