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Rural Ministry: The Need is Great, but the People are Few

April 4, 2024 -- Aaron Batdorf


I still remember the collective gasp when I shared in one of my seminary classes that I live and minister in a town of 8,000 people. I was stunned by the amount of shock my peers displayed—8,000 is not that small! Our discussion inevitably drifted towards my plans for utilizing my degree in such a small town. To be honest, I’m uncertain about what God has in store for me in the coming years, but I am sure of one thing: God has given me the desire to strengthen the rural church.

Rural ministry presents unique challenges that, at times, make me feel as though I’m walking a tightrope. On one hand, some say that a degree brings success, measured by the size of the church, paycheck, town, or platform. On the other hand, there are those who believe that anything that’s not from here is unwelcome. Sure, these positions may be caricatures, but they exert some degree of pressure on me. However, I firmly believe that rural ministry is worth the effort. I am passionate about the rural church, and it’s what brought me to seminary and subsequently, back to the rural context.

In January 2020, my wife and I moved, with our then six-month-old son, to Louisville, Kentucky, so I could pursue graduate studies at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Although we lived there for almost two years, we eventually moved back to resume our rural ministry. Our time in the city had its advantages, but we were happy to return to rural life. In fact, that was our goal all along. Our move was temporary, as I entered a modular PhD program and continued serving in ministry while studying.

Many individuals aspire to move from small towns to larger ones, and every underdog story typically follows that trajectory. We’ve been conditioned to think that bigger is better, and as a result, the rural church is often neglected—and this throws the rural church out with the rural, spring-fed bathwater! However, size does not equal success.

I returned to rural ministry because I couldn’t do otherwise. I enjoyed several aspects of city life, but I missed the rural setting. Charles Spurgeon once said in lectures to my students, “The first sign of the heavenly calling is an intense, all-absorbing desire for the work...If you can do anything else, do it. If you can stay out of the ministry, stay out of the ministry.” He continued, “If any student in this room could be content to be a newspaper editor or a grocer or a farmer or a doctor or a lawyer or a senator or a king, in the name of heaven and earth, let him go his way.” I could not do otherwise. I was—and still am—committed to the rural church. And so here I am, back in a small town aiming to be faithful with what God has given me to build up the church he has placed me in. You may wonder why I returned to rural ministry. Here are two reasons:

The need is great. Living in a city, especially one that has a seminary, was a weird experience for us when it came time to serve in a local church. There were times my wife and I felt unneeded in ministry. We came from a church that had to fight to get volunteers to a context where volunteers had to fight to serve in ministry. I don’t know what your church is like, but I will guess that you rarely, if ever, say to someone, “Actually, we have all the help we need in the nursery. Could you serve somewhere else?” The rural church has great need. God has called me to play a role in meeting that need. The way I hope to meet that is first by being here. Ministry in the rural church is important because it is ministry in the church. God promises to build his church (Matthew 16:18), and this includes rural and city alike. Second, God allowed me to receive education, and I want to use that to build up and equip rural saints. I know education is not the only way to accomplish that goal, but it is the path God has called me to. I desire that the people under my care will know God truly, so they can love God deeply. Theological education is a luxury not all rural pastors have access to. I’m thankful that I did and hope to use what I have learned in the rural church. Rural ministry comes with its unique challenges, and the need can feel overwhelming, but I am grateful for the opportunity to serve in this context. I am committed to building up the rural church, and I believe God has called me to be faithful with what he has given me. Whether it is through theological education or simply being present and available to the needs of the congregation, I want to be a part of what God is doing in the rural church. I may not know what the future holds, but I trust God has a plan and a purpose for me in this context.

The people are few. Small towns are just that: small. But, like the minor prophets, that does not make their significance small. Just because there are fewer people in the pews does not mean there are fewer needs in the congregation. Despite having fewer people in the pews, the needs within the congregation are deep and often more visible in a rural setting where everyone knows each other. Rural communities experience similar struggles as anywhere else, such as marriage troubles, wayward children, questioning of faith in difficult times, and other hardships. In fact, rural churches require more resources tailored to their unique needs. What may work in a larger church with specialized staff may not translate effectively to a rural setting. Instead, we need to provide the tools and resources to equip the rural community to address their needs and strengthen their church. So, what is the path forward? Faithfulness. The rural church needs what every church needs: clear, faithful exposition of the word. Lack of people is no excuse for lack of clarity surrounding what God requires of his people. Clarity increases in many ways, but I think it starts with an understanding that what you are doing matters. So, to my rural brother-pastor or whomever may read this, the work you are doing has great eternal value, no matter how shockingly small your town or congregation may be.


Aaron Batdorf was born in Pottstown, PA but after attending Lock Haven University, God opened a door for ministry with Big Woods. Aaron is married to Brianna, and they have two children, Zadok "Zae", and Eleanor. Except for a year and a half away for education, Aaron and Brianna have been in Lock Haven since college and enjoy the outdoors, coffee, sitting on the porch, reading, and helping people follow Jesus faithfully by applying God's Word to all of life. Aaron has a burden to see people grasp the deep things of God and teaching others to go and do likewise through discipleship. Aaron earned his PhD at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  



This is so true and encouraging to see you focus on the need to serve in the rural church. I also felt the same way coming from a urban environment and moving to a rural church and noticing some of the same things. Amen brother serve on.

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