By Matt Henslee and Kyle Bueermann
In some ways, this isn’t reinventing the wheel, but reiterating the call to preach, pray, love, and stay we hear in many replanting and revitalization circles.
However, they need to be repeated because we far too often forget. We quit too soon.
Jim-Bob got angry the special music on Memorial Day didn’t include the military service songs, and you weren’t wearing your American flag tie.
Sue-Anne blasts you on Facebook because you preached two minutes past noon. And Clark is incensed you didn’t come see him during his unannounced and unknown-to-you hospital visit.
Ministry is hard, that’s a given, and we’ve never experienced something as hard as rural ministry. I’ve (Matt) served in the inner city and suburban contexts, which had their difficulties.
Still, nothing compares to being in the middle of nowhere, ten miles out of cell range, and the morning conversations between the elk and turkey that provide the soundtrack for my mountain life.
When you’re a bit more isolated and on your own, it seems to be harder to get out of your slumps.
The closest pastor to you might be 30 or more minutes away, and the deer in your front yard don’t seem to be able to wrap their mind around what you are going through.
It’s in those seasons when the difficulties you face can make you search for your exit ramp far too soon, and often, just before a breakthrough. Resist that temptation.
Lay down your roots and persevere. There’ll be some phenomenal days of ministry, there’ll be days when you just can’t seem to win, and everything in between. There’s something is amazing about planting that flag on the top of Revitalization Mountain because there’s no way you can say, “Look what I did.”
But if you aim to revitalize or replant a church, you need to realize you signed up to climb Mt. Everest, backward, while carrying 115 years of baggage on your back.
You’ll slip, you’ll fall, and you’ll likely face an avalanche of criticism along the way, but something is amazing about planting that flag on the top of the mountain because there’s no way you can say, “Look what I did.”
No, that’s a flag that says, “Look what God did!” After all, our “chief end,” according to the London Baptist Confession of Faith (1689) is to “glorify God and enjoy Him forever.”
Here are four tips for persevering in a rural church:
1. Don’t take criticism personally.
You’ll inevitably make changes, and there’s a good chance these changes will upset a few folks. When they get upset, it’ll be easy to take it personally.
If you do, you’ll develop a chip on your shoulder. With each criticism, you’ll gain another chip. Eventually, the burden will be too much, and you’ll head for the nearest exit.
While you shouldn’t ignore your critics, sift the criticism as best you can. Separate the constructive from the destructive; learn what you can from it and move on.
2. Remember that you can’t please everyone, even though you’ll want to.
Virtually everyone wants to be liked. If you decide you’d rather honor people’s likes and dislikes than the Lord, however, your ministry will immediately be impotent.
Instead, as Colossians 3:17 says, “whatever you do, in word or in deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.”
Both of us wear just about every hat there’s to wear in our churches because it’s necessary. However, if we do so without taking some breaks to refresh, we’ll wear out and burnout.
Between the two of us, we get seven weeks off a year. You might get one or just a few.
Whatever you get, take it. If you don’t get it, ask for it, or carve out what you can during the week to turn off the phone and unplug.
Working yourself into an early grave is not only stupid; it’s sinful.
4. Commit for the long-term.
When Kyle became the pastor of First Baptist Alamogordo, he immediately bought a house because he knew he was going to be in an uphill battle.
When Matt became the pastor of Mayhill Baptist, he immediately took his name off every ministry job board he could remember.
Neither one of us wanted an easy escape when times got hard—we were digging in and laying down some roots.
If you have a resume on your computer and you have accepted a call to a church, delete it.
MATT HENSLEE and KYLE BUEERMANN (@ReplantingRural) are serving in the trenches of southern New Mexico in places all but forgotten by most. Their passion is to see pastors choose the road less traveled (even if it requires four-wheel-drive) to see God breathe life into dying churches.
Adapted excerpt from Replanting Rural Churches by Matt Henslee and Kyle Bueermann. Used by permission.