One of the things my wife, Melinda, and I have found about leading a church in a small town is that everybody knows everybody. Ok, though I know that isn't literally true, in a town as small as ours, it sure seems that way. This wasn't a surprise to us because we grew up here and moved back to plant VC2 after being away for almost 20 years. I can't tell you how many times I was asked, "Now whose boy are you?" People are so interconnected in this area; this can be a great thing for extending the kingdom of God. However, I find it extremely necessary that things which may be taught in large churches as good ideas must become core of essentials to us in a small town setting. One such thought is every member a minister.
"Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love." - Ephesians 4:15-16
The idea of each joint supplying, every member finding their place to faithfully serve and the body building itself up in love, becomes a very needed core value to those in a small town church setting. We need everyone to find their place and serve. This really isn't a luxury, but is a necessity.
As each person finds their place, our reach into the community is extended exponentially.
As connections that once served as lines of gossip become lines of communication for the good news, our small towns find hope, health, healing and wholeness. This takes ministry beyond just getting everyone to church and starts helping our churches see that we are all called to be ministers of reconciliation.
I know none of this is new to anyone, but I want to stress how we started to realize unless the people of VC2 truly got this, we would not be successful in our small town. It could not be just Melinda and I reaching out to help a city, but had to be a body of believers with vision and hope that we could make a difference, reaching out together to bring lasting change!
We knew that together we would be stronger, go further and accomplish more.
Each member of our church is gifted, called, anointed and appointed. They have purpose and a destiny. We, as their leaders, are called to help them find their place. This is vitally important in a small town setting. Instead of fighting against the "everybody knows everybody" and "they all talk about each other to each other" mentalities, we decided to use it. We taught those around us to live intentionally and to look for moments to give a reason for the hope they have.
1 Peter 3:15 - "...but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect..."
Another challenge with small town connections is that events happen which cause people to miss our regular gatherings. A baby dedication at another church, a family reunion, an extended family that vacations together, anything of this nature can pull a number of people away. I know that when I was growing up this simply didn't happen. You went to church. Period. Not so much anymore. I decided not to fight against this by being a mad preacher who warns of the path to destruction being paved by people who miss church!
Instead, we began to teach people to live intentionally everywhere they go.
If you are at a family reunion, share Jesus. If you are on a business trip, share your hope. Wherever you find yourself, share love, extend life, and give them a reason for your hope! I believe this really changed things for us.
Recently I met a couple that attended a service and I introduced myself to them. They told me who they were and who had invited them. I was stunned at first, knowing that the ones who invited them were out of town. The couple immediately said to me, "We know they are out of town, but they assured us we could come today without them and would feel welcomed." The amount of joy this brought my heart cannot be expressed.
We need each person who is called to be with us, not to simply attend, but to join in the task of extending the Kingdom of God in these small towns that have been entrusted to us. What an awesome privilege we have been given and what trust the Father has placed in us that we could be called to serve in these small towns!