My 12.5 years in Jordan have seen 3 US Presidental elections. Each one has given me the same impression. My vote doesn’t matter. Let me explain. Jordan is in very rural Garfield County, Montana. By the time our ballots are counted and reported, the national news outlets have already declared a winner! If the winner is known before my vote is reported, does it matter?
The short answer is…..YES! It matters because I am an American with the right to vote. Failure to exercise that right is to give permission for that right to be removed. What you don’t use, you lose.
Feeling unimportant in a small town is not just present in US politics, but is also a common issue in the church. Many pastors are asking, “Does my ministry matter?” Serving a small church in the middle of nowhere means that you don’t get the book deals, you aren’t asked to speak at big conferences, and your name will probably not be recognizable outside of the small circle of people. I thank God that He didn’t call us to be famous but to be faithful.
Let me share with you the single greatest encouragement for my ministry in the most isolated county seat in the lower 48 states. GET CONNECTED! I mean, take proactive steps to be at gatherings, to talk to others in your denomination, to cast your vote, and to be apart of the greater Kingdom. An individual believer is expected to gather with other believers, as commanded in Hebrews 10:25. I think this command also applies to the local churches. No level of Christianity is helped by a “lone ranger” mentality. Get connected.
Here are five results, I have personally experienced, of getting connected.
Helps us to see the big picture. – In my previous role as a deputy sheriff, I was taught about the “totality of circumstances.” That is just a fancy lawyer way of saying look at the big picture. For example, if a person has had too much to drink and they are sleeping it off in their car, is that a DWI? Maybe, maybe not…what is the big picture? Are they behind the wheel, car running, and stopped at a stoplight? Or maybe they are in the backseat, in the parking lot of the bar, with the keys in their pocket. You have to look at the totality of circumstances rather than just one detail.
It’s easy to become short-sighted when all you look at is nearby. Now hear me clearly, I’m not saying neglect your assigned station. However, it does us well to look up from our work every so often to be reminded of the greater Kingdom. This has helped me to see how JCBC fits into God’s grand plan. Getting connected helps us see the bigger picture.
Reminds us that we are not alone. – I once ran a marathon with 1,000 other people. At certain times it felt like I was the only one out there. For miles, I was lonely. Then I would see an aid station or a policeman stopping traffic so I could cross the street. At those moments I was reminded that I was not alone, that there were a thousand other people running this same race!
Ministry has a tendency to be lonely anyway. When we fail to associate with others it can get extremely lonely. My spirit is lifted when I talk to other pastors in small towns that understand the struggles and the successes. Connecting helps us meet others on similar journeys in their small towns.
Links us to create a greater impact. – One big rock thrown into a lake may make ripples that reach all the shores, but a ton of little rocks can raise the water level, impact the ecosystem, and forever change that lake. The single greatest evidence of this is the Cooperative Program of the SBC. The SBC has roughly 46,000 member churches. According to The Caskey Center for Church Excellence, about 85% of SBC churches run less than 250 in attendance. Less than 2% have more than 1,000 in attendance. So what you have is a bunch of small churches working together to send out thousands of missionaries, run five seminaries, and many other works.
One big church in a big city can do a lot, but not as much as many small churches in small towns, working together, can do! This cannot happen if we refuse to connect with others. You have to show up to link arms! Getting connected combines our efforts for something bigger.
Motivates us to be better. – Duke Basketball is the best. I was watching a game this past season and the commentator mentioned that one of the nonstarting players could have gone to another school and been a standout star. His reason for choosing Duke was to challenge himself, to play against a higher level of competition. He wanted to be better. Getting out of a comfort zone can help us to grow in many areas.
The temptation to be the big fish in a small pond sidetracks too many pastors. The comfort of being a big fish in a small pond is the reason many do not reach their potential. Don’t let the size of the pond determine the size of the fish! This goes back to my last post about it just being a small town. God’s people, no matter where they are found, deserve more than just good enough. Connect with those who will challenge you to be a better preacher, a better leader, a better pastor, and a better Christian. Getting connected challenges us to be better.
Confirms God’s calling on our lives. – It has happened multiple times. I’m ready to quit, throw in the towel, find a regular job. Then, I attend a gathering of the MTSBC and that ember within is fanned back into a flame. A renewed ambition to get back to my place of service and get to work is kindled.
God called me to love and serve a small church in a small town. When I connect with others, it seems to all make sense. This is my place in the kingdom, He didn’t call anyone else to be here at this time. Seated among the 10,000 people in Dallas, I had a calm assurance that God had called me to pastor His people in Jordan, MT.
So how can you get connected?
Show up! Attend your associational, state, and national meetings. I know it can be time-consuming and expensive, but I promise that the results outweigh the costs.
In the next post, I’ll share some resources that help us stay connected to what is happening outside of the boundaries of our small towns.
One big rock thrown into a lake may make ripples that reach all the shores, but a ton of little rocks can raise the water level, impact the ecosystem, and forever change that lake.