This isn’t about where to build a nuclear power plant or a new mosque but about the need for regional churches to think outside their own city gates and consider having a regional influence.
Before moving to a regional centre, I was the pastor of a small rural church in NSW. There we had a growing and fruitful ministry, saw a number of people become christians and other get excited about doing ministry. Our church was positioned between two major centres, and therefore, bigger churches. Bigger centres have lots of things little towns and little churches don’t have – money, people and expertise.
Like churches anywhere, little bush churches also struggle. Struggle with numbers, with finances, struggle with people willing and committed to doing ministry. Struggle with identifying leaders and training them. Struggle with evangelism. It’s often hard and difficult to do ministry in little places, encouragement is hard to come by and fellowship and support tends to come from within your church rather than from others doing ministry alongside you.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. I now pastor a growing church in a regional centre and we have people, money and expertise – things that little churches don’t have. And while it was hard doing ministry in a small place, the issues in a regional centre are just the same but now on a larger scale.
Something that I’ve been thinking about and working on (having now ministered on both sides of the equation – Regional & Rural) is the need for regional churches to think regionally. Rightly or wrongly, rural churches and people look to regional centres for help. Regional centres are where rural people go. They specialty shop here, health care specialists are here, restaurants are here, culture and competitive sport happen here. Rural churches view regional churches in much the same way. That’s where there are more people, money, and resources.
It would be easy to focus exclusively on ministry in my city, there are close to 70,000 people here – a lifetime’s work wouldn’t even make a dent, but regional churches need to be supporting the rural churches around them, helping those churches any way they can!
Here’s some things we’re doing and I’d love to hear what other ideas you might have or things you’ve tried too.
- Run a regional Bible teaching weekend. What a blessing it has been to receive encouragement from those you are seeking to encourage. We fly in (because we have an airport) a couple of quality Bible teachers and invite other Christians from other churches to come and join us for the weekend. It’s been fantastic to hear of the effect that it’s had on regional churches in our area. Whole churches making plans to come and then going back and bringing others from their towns to come and hear God’s Word. Everyone wins! The fellowship is fantastic as we hear about each other’s ministries and needs.
- Think regionally about training. Again, the need to identify future leaders and equip current ones is vitally important for the church to continue growing into the next generation. We want locals to come back and do ministry locally – rural churches are full of locals! We’re hosting a rural training event later this year, bringing in some expertise to help resource local churches and equip local preachers. We could just do it for us but then what’s the point of that?
- Pray and work regionally. I’ve got to say that pastoring a regional church puts me in a very strategic position to encourage others. I’ve worked closely with other guys in smaller towns with our Bible teaching weekend and encouraged them to come to our regional training events that we put on. The fellowship and encouragement that I’ve received from them has been fantastic. Presbyteries need to see themselves as ministry teams for the purpose of mission; not as a group of islands.
- If you don’t, no-one else will. It’s essential that regional churches help with training and resourcing rural churches and here are two reasons. One, we have the resources to help already because we have people and money and can bring expertise. If your church isn’t creating a training agenda for the region,x who will be? Where will the next generation of church pastors and planters and leaders come from? Secondly, the flow of people is towards the city and so when people leave their little town or their kids do – they already know you and trust you and have benefited from your ministry.
A word for Urbanites, I think this model of bigger helping smaller needs to cut across the city country divide. The people, finances and expertise are on a great scale again. Regional cities look to the capitals for support and encouragement. Why reach the city when the whole country needs the gospel? Let’s thinking bigger and more strategically about supporting, training, encouraging and partnering with other churches than just our own backyard.