by Megan K. Mertz
A majority of seminary students come from the suburbs, yet 75 percent of 2012 graduates received their first call from a rural or smalltown church — placing these new pastors into a unique culture with many unexpected challenges and opportunities.
In February 2013, LCMS Rural and Small Town Mission (RSTM) took a few of these seminary students out into the country for a crash course in rural ministry. This first-ever “Rural Immersion” event included insights from experienced pastors and lay leaders, trips to rural nursing homes and Lutheran schools, and even the chance to milk a cow. Seminarian Mark Huston said the event gave him a “practical example of going out as pastors to the people.” Seminarian Aaron Spratt said, “This time will not only make better rural pastors but better pastors as a whole.”
The “Rural Immersion” event is just one of the many ways that RSTM seeks to help parishes and districts address the unique challenges facing rural and small-town congregations, which make up more than 50 percent of all LCMS churches. Although each congregation is different, many face similar problems such as shrinking populations, changing demographics and aging congregations.
Rural and smalltown congregations make up more than 50 percent of all LCMS churches.
Located in the small community of Concordia, Mo., RSTM provides guidance and support for rural church planting and revitalization efforts. The ministry also offers Seminarian Aaron Spratt gets a hands-on introduction to rural ministry during an event organized by Rural and Small Town Mission. leadership training through events held around the country. In 2012 it began sharing ministry “best practices” through webinars that address specific topics, such as outreach to older adults or Latinos. These webinars provide helpful training while saving pastors and lay leaders the time and expense of traveling to an event.
RSTM’s goal is to train church leaders to understand their role in rural culture, to make their outreach more productive and, most importantly, to lead dynamic change by being in God’s Word. To reach this goal, RSTM emphasizes the importance of working in partnership with districts and other congregations.
In April, the Rev. Todd Kollbaum became director of RSTM. “Rural and small-town congregations are positioned wonderfully by our Lord to be His hands and feet to an increasingly troubled world. I give thanks to God that through the Office of National Mission, the LCMS is focusing on strengthening and revitalizing this most important part of our church body. It is my humble joy to work alongside district and congregational leaders as we share the love of Christ where God has planted us,” he said.
Rural and Small Town Mission (RSTM) helps parishes and districts address the unique challenges facing rural and small-town congregations, which comprise more than 50 percent of all LCMS churches. RSTM offers training to church leaders through webinars and events and provides seminary students with practical experience to equip them for work in rural ministry.
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