February 11, 2016—The seasons of Lent and Easter present many exciting possibilities for rural churches. Aside from Advent, this season is perhaps the busiest in terms of church life. Visitors tend to frequent churches when Holy Days approach, and many churches offer special programs that mark the significance of the season. Are you in a small-town church and looking to maximize your ministry during the weeks ahead? Here are three unique opportunities in rural churches for Lent and Easter:
Overcoming Rural Isolation
I grew up in a conservative evangelical home, and my dad was a music minister. Even though I was (figuratively) in church from the day I was born, I did not learn about Lent until young adulthood. Many of the folks at my small-town church are in the same predicament.
Lent then, is not only a penitent time of fasting and reflection, but often a time for teaching and learning about the rich history of Christian practice. Pastors who usually preach topical sermons may find it helpful to consult lectionary texts (particularly leading up to Holy Week).
Rural churches often struggle with a sense of isolation, and through participating in something that is “larger than themselves,” rural Christians may feel a greater sense of connection to the larger Church. A sense of wonder, solidarity, and renewed purpose may fill the heart upon realization that we celebrate Lent and Easter with 2.17 billion Christians worldwide. By bringing the liturgical year into focus rural Christians are reminded, “You are not alone.”
Embracing the Slower Pace of Rural Life
Like many young pastors who move from large urban environments to rural ones, in my first year of pastoral ministry I tried too hard. I put together a forty-day devotional booklet to distribute on Ash Wednesday. Although my church has traditionally done only Maundy Thursday, I foolishly asked my lay leaders about adding an extra service during Holy Week. This request was quickly (and wisely) shot down. I even attempted to make a production out of the Maundy Thursday service complete with youth in Biblical costumes. While many of these initiatives were well received, looking back, it was far too hectic.
The temptation for many rural churches (and their pastors) is to try and emulate the programmatic offerings of larger suburban/urban congregations, consequently running themselves ragged.
How ironic—that during the season we remember Jesus retreating into the wilderness for quiet reflection, we create a rat race for ourselves that often leaves ministers and volunteers burnt out.
Imagining Ecumenical Endeavor
Pastors in small-towns may find unique opportunities for partnership during the Lenten and Easter season. Upon arriving at Urbanna Baptist two years ago, I discovered that each of the three churches in our town did their own Easter egg hunt. After some investigation, I discovered that the egg hunt at my church attracted about twenty children each year. The Methodist and Independent Baptists reported similar numbers. The question immediately came to mind – “Why are we all doing our own egg hunts with twenty kids each when we could do a combined event and share in the joy and labor of outreach?”
In 2014 we launched an event called Eggtravaganza, and invited the entire community to one big egg hunt hosted three congregations. The result? Over one-hundred kids the first year! The event has become a community favorite, and also an instrument in bridging denominational and even racial divides in the county.
Of course, the above ideas are only a start. What unique strategies have you tried in your rural church during the Lenten and Easter seasons?
Jonathan Davis pastors Urbanna Baptist Church, in Urbanna, VA. He serves on the Virginia Baptist Mission Council and is a doctor of ministry candidate at Logdson Seminary, where his research focuses on equipping small-town churches for 21st century ministry. He is the founder of the Small Town Churches Network (www.smalltownchurches.org), which is dedicated to sharing research, ideas and tools to help small-town churches. Follow him on Twitter @jonathandavis_.
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