Vital in the bush

What does a rural church full of vitality look like? Well, it’s not defined by size, or location, or style,
or budget, or building.

It is, according to the Healthy Church Initiative, a faith community dedicated to helping people meet, know and serve Jesus. It is a congregation that expresses care and compassion for both its members and its community. It has leaders that know, own and live out the clearly stated mission, vision and values of the church. It experiences numerical and spiritual growth. It has worship services that both inspire long-term members and are meaningful to first-time guests. It has a warm, welcoming environment and numerous opportunities for people to develop deep personal friendships. The ministry of the church leads to new people coming into a personal relationship with Jesus. It is both rooted in the historic theology of the Church and willing to try new ways to share the good news of Jesus with those not involved in a church. (Healthy Church Initiative – United Methodist Church).

How does this description fit your church? If you desire to pastor a rural church bursting with vitality let me suggest you consider the following:

First, get back to basics, especially in your understanding of ‘church’. The complexity of the modern institutional church has little similarity to the simple organism of the New Testament. Take a measure of worship, add fellowship, service, evangelism and discipleship, stir thoroughly in the presence of the living Christ and you have church (experience says that it usually tastes better if baked in a very hot oven). Everything else is decoration! Size, style, time and place are determined by the kitchen where ‘church’ is being made. Buildings, programs and paid staff are garnishing – seen as absolutely essential by many but not part of the original recipe. It seems to me that much stress and unnecessary activity is created by our focus on the garnishing rather than the five primary ingredients. The original version of church was meant to be simple, lean, easily transferable to any culture or place, resistant to persecution and highly infectious.

Second, be urgently intentional about mission. The church exists for only two purposes: evangelism and edification (Getz, Ephesians 4:11-13). Evangelism (mission) is everything we are and do to reach lost people with the hope of Christ, and edification is everything we are and do to bring people to the place of maturity in Christ.

Instead of trying to do more, do less but do it better. Most churches suffer from activity overload and from a chronic shortage of resources. Lack of vitality is often the result of doing too much with too little. The answer, do less with what you have because what you have is enough! Your people are your greatest asset and resource – love them, cherish them, celebrate them, equip them, release them! Their relationships are the best evangelism tools your church possesses. So remove every barrier that limits the free exercise of their relationships with lost people, including unnecessary church activity.

Third, church is not what we do on Sunday it’s who we are 24/7. A vital church does not put its primary focus on the Sunday event but on the lives and activity of its people. The Sunday service is primarily a time of celebration, part of the refuelling process, a place and time to encourage our frontline troops – it’s about edification not evangelism. Evangelism is done over the back fence, in the workshop, at school, over a meal, in the paddock or supermarket – it’s done by the church (people), everyday, in all sorts of places. Ordinary people sharing their extraordinary relationship with Jesus. It’s not expensive, complex or difficult. Our calling as pastors and leaders is to equip the saints so that they can do the work of ministry.

May you find much health and vitality in a more simple (and authentic) expression of church.

David Jones, Director Baptist Rural Support Services. Prac7