Thursday I attended a meeting in which rural and small town ministries were discussed. There has been much said and written about the future of rural and small town ministries and much more will be written in the future, much will make this meager writing pale in comparison.
Like most, I went looking for the long sought after silver bullet, that once again someone found what I, and many others, were looking for but could not find. This happens quite frequently in other areas, I will look at a Biblical text or a passage from the Lutheran Confessions and see some things that jump out, but it is often others who find the true gem, the true matter that makes things worth studying and discussing.
So if it happens in text studies or in confessions studies, surely it must happen here in rural and small town ministries. There must be some method, some plan, some idea that all have missed that has finally come to light in someone’s study. Perhaps an idea with technology that reaches people in new ways or something that can be painlessly done which will reverse the fortunes of many sagging congregations.
I am not the only one who is seeking this silver bullet. The entire Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod seeks the answer to maintain congregations in rural and small towns. Costs, particularly on health care, are out of control and make it practically impossible for some churches that would otherwise be able to support a pastor, to even consider the notion. Churches that have stood for a hundred years are closing, because the population is seemingly not there. The silver bullet would save literally hundreds of congregations on the brink of closing, or going with an alternative that would be completely unacceptable based on Scripture and our Lutheran Confessions.
The answer provided at the meeting, was not the proverbial silver bullet that would solve all problems over night. The answer was not some new form of technology that will reach people quicker and more efficiently than ever before. Curiously the answer was not even the one provided almost 5 years ago when I attended a similar meeting and the answer was new forms of ministry, with an emphasis on dual and tri-point parishes and worker priests.
The answer provided was the same answer that has always been provided: face to face contact by the churched with the un-churched and de-churched. The answer is the one Jesus gave to His Church: to tell others about Him. The answer was to go out into your mission field: your neighborhood, your county, your state, indeed the whole world; and reach the lost with the Gospel.
The magic bullet that so many of us were looking for is the Holy Spirit working in the hearts and minds of believers and unbelievers alike, calling them to faith through the water and the Word of Holy Baptism, and nourishing them in their baptism through the body and blood of Jesus given and shed for the forgiveness of sins at the altar.
Did I need to drive an hour both ways on a Thursday night at the end of April to be reminded of what I already knew? Not really.
But in an age when so many are looking for quick and easy answers to the problems that are being faced in the world, including the future of rural and small town ministries, it is helpful to be reminded once more that the Holy Spirit still works after all of these years, and that the future of rural and small town ministries is based not on some new program from Synod, but rather on the Word of God being proclaimed to those in their midst who are in need of hearing the Gospel.
And for that it was worth driving an hour both ways on a Thursday night in late April.