There is nothing more frustrating than getting stopped and delayed by a roadblock when you are on an important journey. Time is wasted, the journey is longer, fatigue sets in, and the driver, if you’re like me, gets weary and worn. Many pastors in rural communities deal with these frustrations on a daily basis. Think about it…you, as a pastor, feel that God has given you a mission and a vision for your community. You believe that your church is to play a major role in that community in order to see your God-given vision become a reality. You’re excited. You’re ready to move forward. You believe it can happen. You start to pick up momentum. But, all of a sudden, you run into a roadblock. You can’t get around it. You can’t turn around. You’re just stuck. You try everything you know to do, but, you’re still stuck. The excitement turns in to frustration. The momentum gives way to mediocrity. These roadblocks in the local church can leave a pastor feeling all alone and defeated. Many pastors, after dealing with these roadblocks over and over decide it’s time to move to another pasture. However, in rural communities, you usually run into the same roadblocks in the next town that you encountered in the last one.
What are these roadblocks? How can I prepare for them and maneuver around them? In my 22 years of pastoring in the same rural community, I have discovered at least six common roadblocks that every rural pastor will face. Here they are.
Six Roadblocks In Rural Communities
Roadblock #1: The “Mom and Pop” Mindset
Many churches in rural communities are made up of “kinfolk,” aunts and uncles, brothers and sisters, cousins, parents, grandkids, and the like. While this sounds like a good thing, it has the tendency to hinder the growth of a local congregation. This “mom and pop” mindset shows up when a particular group seems to run the church. After all, they have been there longer than anyone else, and at times have had to take responsibility because pastors have left, tithes were down, bills had to be paid, and in many cases, their names were on the note at the local bank. This roadblock can raise its head when the church starts growing and new people are coming in. The “home folks” feel they are losing control of leadership. They can make newcomers feel unwanted and unaccepted. Even the new pastor can be made to feel like a hired employee rather than a Spiritual Leader.
Roadblock #2: A Heavy Emphasis On External Things
The Church, especially in rural communities, has, at times, made Christianity so hard to live that many just walked away. Church people have a tendency to judge others by what they see on the outside. If new people come that are different than the “home folks”, they are ostracized, talked about, and avoided like the plague. In metropolitan areas, these things are not even noticed. In a rural church, watch what happens when a white woman comes in with a black man and three mixed kids. Or let a couple of “20 somethings” come in with orange hair, tattoos, and several piercings on their face. In most rural churches, something will be said to the pastor before the day is over. The problem is that the church has failed to realize that transformation is a process that must be discipled into an individual’s life. Nevertheless, this still remains a huge roadblock in many rural churches.
Roadblock #3: Inadequate Leadership
Most denominations have no shortage of good gospel preachers. But many times we have been guilty of assuming that good preachers are automatically good leaders. We have since learned that this is not necessarily true. Another problem, that has its root in inadequate leadership, is many pastors who were appointed to rural churches went there with no intention of staying. This leadership model has proven to weaken the church instead of strengthening it. This is the leadership model that caused the birth of the “Mom and Pop” mindset. As pastors, we’ve got to get it together. Some pastors only want to preach. To others, it’s just a way to make a living. Others are just “doing their time” until a bigger church opens for them. This is a problem and creates a roadblock for the next pastor.
Roadblock #4: A Lack Of Discipleship
One of the things that I love about being Pentecostal, is the emphasis that is put on the “experience.” I truly believe that a persons relationship with God is something that can be experienced. It’s not just head knowledge, it can be felt in your heart! The roadblock comes in to play however, when the emphasis upon experience is taken to extreme at the expense of discipleship. Jesus told the church to “make disciples.” Our worship services should be presented with excellence. But we have skimped on discipleship for too long. A lot of the problems we face in rural churches could be solved if we focused more on discipleship. Many rural church goers know what they like and what they don’t like, but the truth is, that many do not know their bible at all. They would rather hear a loud preacher and shout the night away, than sit under the teaching of the Word.
Roadblock #5: Few Relationships With The Lost
Church folks have a tendency to appear elitist. We bombard the restaurants when church is over looking all “churchy” and look down at all those terrible sinners that didn’t go to church today. We laugh and enjoy our fellowship, we fuss at the waitress, and then we leave a track rather than a tip. Most rural churches would call themselves evangelistic, but we hardly ever see unchurched people in our churches. The reason is because we have very few relationships with lost people. The truth is, we separate ourselves from those we were sent to reach. We talk a language they do not understand. Lost people loved Jesus and felt comfortable around him. He didn’t condemn them or make them feel like outcasts. He loved them and built relationships with them. We must do the same.
Roadblock #6: Racism
This is one of the greatest roadblocks we face in rural America. It’s time we got over it! We teach our children in children’s church to sing, “Jesus loves the little children, all the children of the world. Red and yellow, black and white, they are precious in his sight…”. But, by the time they get old enough to go to the sanctuary, they look around and realize this isn’t true. I believe that when people come to our church, they should be able to see a picture of what our community looks like. Some churches are open to multi-culturalism, but many more still oppose it. This roadblock will take time to overcome, but it can be eliminated.
Now that we have identified the six most common roadblocks, in my next blog I will give you five proven keys to overcome these roadblocks and experience growth in your church, in The Small Town. Check out all our resources at www.ruralpastor.com
I remain…your Rural Pastor,
Johnny H. Moore