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The Resonance of Rural Ministry

January 12, 2024 -- Bradley Gray

 

Pastoral ministry is a taxing assignment, no matter the size or context in which you are serving. Big or small, established or planted, urban or rural, each of these paradigms presents the pastor with a particular set of stresses and burdens that necessitate a holy dose of grace, humility, faith, and brotherhood.


Notwithstanding what your ministry environment looks like, you are undoubtedly familiar with the pressures and problems that go along with serving the Lord as an undershepherd of his flock. That’s just part of the territory of pastoral ministry. Equally as ubiquitous, though, is the common hope that suffuses pastors with confidence and conviction, even in rural contexts.


By way of illustration, I can’t help but recall that scene from Acts 8 where Philip, one of the early leaders in the early church, is called out of a very successful and productive ministry in the city of Samaria to go into “a desert place” between Jerusalem and Gaza (Acts 8:26), a terrain that’s described as an “uninhabited wilderness.” It doesn’t get much more rural than that, and it doesn’t get much more confounding either. Philip, at the time, was enjoying the fruits of a flourishing ministry, replete with “signs and great miracles” that saw many come to salvation (Acts 8:6–8, 13). His was the church everyone flocked to, the one that had all the programs and all the things going for it.


And yet, as magnificent as all of that must’ve been, God had something even greater in store for Philip, only it involved leaving all of that success behind and following the Lord into one of the remotest and most rural regions. From the hustle and bustle of the metroplex, Philip is summoned to continue witnessing for Christ’s sake in the wilderness. This ministerial trajectory is not likely what any young, aspiring minister has in mind. Students and seminarians are sometimes notorious for their idealist dreams of pastoral ministry, for visions of ministerial success that sound an awful lot like Philip’s Samaritan ministry. “Signs and wonders” and speaking gigs are the sought-after elements.

But the most surefire way to become disillusioned or distracted as a servant of Christ is to lionize the successes. That’s not meant to discourage you from hoping or praying for a ministry that thrives and flourishes. Rather, it’s to say that even if it doesn’t, your ministry can still be deemed a triumph. Even if you don’t experience the buzz of leading a church that everyone talks about, that everyone flocks to, and that every pastor is secretly envious of, your witness for the Lord Jesus is still a success as long as you are faithful to the pastoral task. Indeed, to put it succinctly, the worth and value of your ministry aren’t measured by stats, analytics, ballooning budgets, snazzy social media, or parking lots with no more spaces left to park. Rather, ministerial success has for its chief measure the proclamation of the good news of Jesus’s death and resurrection which secures for sinners a joyous turn from death to life.


That’s what Philip learned. Summoned from the city to the desert, he “just so happens” to encounter a eunuch from Ethiopia who was poring over the Scriptures without much luck understanding what it all meant (Acts 8:27–31). This meeting wasn’t serendipitous, it was sovereignly orchestrated by a God who’s desirous that his heart of grace be poured out on the weak and needy no matter the context. And such is what Philip does, as he takes this lost but searching Ethiopian by the hand in order to show him the hope that’s found in Christ alone. “Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture, he told him the good news about Jesus” (Acts 8:35).


What makes pastoral ministry successful and supremely meaningful has nothing to do with accolades or acclaim. Nor does it have to do with the attention we garner for the dizzying array of activities and accomplishments we’re able to produce. Rather, it has to do with the simple fact that you and I stay faithful in pointing one and all to the unforeseen mercy of the Creator that welcomes sinners and saints to partake in the sudden and miraculous grace of the Christ of God. The good news about Jesus is a message that resonates notwithstanding the venue or context in which it is preached. May you and I, then, be equipped with the fortitude and faith of the Holy Spirit to continue faithfully preaching Jesus, no matter what.


 

Bradley Gray serves as the senior pastor of Stonington Baptist Church in Paxinos, Pennsylvania, where he lives with his wife Natalie and their three children, Lydia, Braxton, and Bailey. He is the author of Finding God in the Darkness: Hopeful Reflections from the Pits of Depression, Despair, and Disappointment and is a regular contributor for 1517 and Mockingbird. He also blogs regularly at www.graceupongrace.net.

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