By Adriane Dorr
“The fields are ripe for the harvest,” says the Rev. Dr. Lee Hagan, director of LCMS Rural and Small Town Mission, who believes that the LCMS is uniquely poised to reach out to Christians and non-Christians alike in rural settings.
LCMS Rural and Small Town Mission (RSTM) has a specific purpose: strengthening pastors in rural settings for that same ripe harvest, providing them and their congregations with support and the continuing education necessary to engage their small-town communities in witness and mercy work.
There is plenty of work to be done.
“We continue to see that the unchurched population is growing every day, every month,” notes Hagan.
He is convinced that one of the most helpful and cost-effective ways to provide assistance is through webinars, or web-based video presentations, which are available at no cost for LCMS pastors and interested laypeople.
RSTM staff began purposefully using webinars in January 2012, recognizing this resource as a “cost-effective way for us to provide support from experts in the field,” says Hagan. “Many rural congregations are operating on limited budgets, but this way, pastors and laypeople can be involved in continuing education at no cost.”
“Webinars are actually allowing rural congregations to connect with Synod and each other in ways that they couldn’t before simply because of their location,” says the Rev. Bart Day, executive director of the Office of National Mission. “Rural parishes make up over 50 percent of the Synod. They are in every district, so to bring them together to share information is strategically directed toward mission, planting and revitalization.”
Webinar topics vary
On Sept. 6, participants will hear from Director of Christian Education Leland Jackson of Garden City, Kan., who will discuss “Youth and Regional Partnerships.” Jackson will focus on ways in which LCMS congregations can bear witness to Christ to the unchurched as well as to Christian youth in small parishes and rural settings.
Hagan sees great potential in reclaiming the Synod’s historic focus on the church’s young people. “We want to go back to our roots,” he says. “We want to capture the way in which many in our older generation speak so highly of the days of the Walther League.”
The October webinar will be led by Renea Gernant, for professor of Communication and Aging Studies at Concordia University, Nebraska, who will speak about the opposite demographic: the church’s older generation. Gernant will offer ideas on the topic of “Redefining the Graying Church: The Mission Field of Older Adults.”
While critics see the aging population of the LCMS as a challenge, Hagan believes old generations are some of the church’s greatest blessings. “Look at the possibilities we have for caring [for] those older folks who are a part of a congregation or who are unchurched!” he notes. “There’s no need among us for a defeatist attitude.”
The upcoming fall webinars, as well as future web-based discussions, will help “congregations, seminary graduates and pastors serving in parishes see that there are great opportunities for proclaiming Christ in small towns,” says Hagan.
In addition, RSTM will host its national conference Nov. 1-3 in Storm Lake, Iowa. Attendees will hear from Synod President Rev. Dr. Matthew C. Harrison; Luther Snow, rural-development expert and author of The Power of Asset Mapping: How Your Congregation Can Act On Its Gifts; Hagan; and Day.
“There’s never been a conference for pastors in rural and small towns to have an intensified conversation,” explains Day. “We have a unique opportunity for them to come together and talk. They have a special demographic, a unique missiological bent. Synod is trying to be more nimble to be supportive of them, especially because they’ve been under-served for a very long time.”
“The national conference is going to be a great way for us to spend time discussing issues facing rural parishes,” adds Hagan. Discussions also will provide “hope and encouragement for the parishes that are scattered all across the Synod in small towns, the very crossroads where the people we are trying to reach can be found.”
The conference will afford opportunities to “dig into some areas that participants have interest in and to be encouraged and supported in carrying out the work that God has for them in their particular place,” Hagan explains. To register or for more information, go to www.lcms.org/?pid=1309.
Pastors and laypeople affected by the summer’s nationwide drought also can watch a video message by Harrison, who offers Christ’s comfort to farmers in rural and small-town areas. Watch the video at www.video.lcms.org/archives/1375.
“It’s been a rough summer,” Hagan admits. “But the older generation has a wonderful attitude. They’ve seen times like this before, and the Lord has brought them through it, and He’ll do it again.”
Adriane Dorr is managing editor of The Lutheran Witness.
Posted Sept. 5, 2012