Last week, I read a post and some comments on a Facebook site for Small Church pastors. It’s a great site, monitored with a firm, but loving hand so the conversations stay helpful, not argumentative.
When I read a post by a Small Church pastor’s wife, followed by a comment from a Small Church pastor, I knew this was something others needed to read.
Since the comments were on a closed site (for good reasons) I asked for, and received permission to reprint what they wrote here.
I wish I could give them full credit for what they’ve written. But, because of the nature of their stories, they need to remain anonymous.
– Karl Vaters
Say Goodbye to Mayberry
People have a vision of pastoring in rural America that is far removed from reality. Quiet streets, church bells wafting, autumn leaves falling, everyone knowing and trusting their neighbors. In most of rural America that has long ago ceased to be – if it ever was that way to begin with.
Few people know the gritty reality of rural America like those who pastor small town churches. They usually live at or below the level of poverty as their neighbors, using what little resources they have to try to fill a need that seems like it will never end.
I’m using two of their stories in today’s post. They’re not offering answers. They’re bluntly describing their reality.
We need to hear stories like this so we can have our eyes open to the real needs. It can also help us appreciate the enormous sacrifice that our fellow pastors and their families make in the often overlooked parts of the country that I, and most of my readers, call home.
(This post is exclusive to NewSmallChurch.com. I also posted at Pivot today. After you’ve read this post, scroll back here, then click over and read The Surprising, Guilt-Free Reason 80% of Churches Don’t Break the 200 Barrier. But keep reading here first. You’ll be glad you did.)
Quandary…Seeing the Need (By a Pastor’s Wife)
We minister in rural Appalachia. In one of the poorest counties in the U.S.
People are poor. Out of work. The majority of the children receive free lunch at school.
Because of the extreme poverty, we are overrun with benevolence-type ministries and services. Work teams are always pouring in to do projects. Many are very helpful, but some only enable the laziness of those they are trying to help. (Unintentionally of course)
Food, clothing, school supplies – any kind of giveaway is expected. In fact, the people in our community have become critical and picky about what giveaways they attend. Word on the street is, “XYZ’s giveaway is better – they’re giving name brand shoes.” Some giveaways aren’t even attended well at all.
Most of the giveaway and freebies come from those soliciting donations from churches, businesses and people out of state.
This overload of benevolence has created a severe entitlement mentality in our area. Freebies are expected, more than they are appreciated. (Don’t get me wrong, there are folks who are in real need, and are really grateful). Because of the closure or reduction of many main employers, jobs are hard to come by.
So here’s the quandary. What is the need of my area?
Poverty? Yes. But as explained, we’re overloaded with benevolence to the point where it doesn’t really have an affect like it may elsewhere.
What we really need is a spiritual revival. An awakening where people are energized and motivated to be the best they can be. To learn to spend their money wisely and not waste it. The local news stations have reported on people taking their Food Stamp money and using it to purchase cases of pop, which they turn around and sell to buy cigarettes, liquor or drugs.
People need their dignity back.
People need training for jobs. They need jobs to be trained for!
People need to have a work ethic instilled – trust in God and themselves rather than the government.
People need release from the bondage of drugs and sexual immorality.
People need to take responsibility to raise their immediate families rather than leaving that up to extended family.
People need to have their minds transformed to think rightly about their lives and their world.
So, how does the church meet those real needs? Especially small churches with few people and little resources?
We need much more than handouts. We need an awakening.
My husband heard a story (and there are many) of a dear pastor that has been in this area 50+ years. He’s known by everyone. And everyone loves and respects him. (It makes me smile just writing about him.) He told a story of taking a big bag of potatoes to a family that was hungry. When he returned a couple of days later to check on them, the potatoes had been thrown out in the yard, just discarded. He was astonished. This family was supposed to be hungry. He asked why they had wasted this food. They said they didn’t want to go through the trouble of cooking them. This is the mentality.
Please, not everyone is like this. Truly. But it is pervasive. The key is individuality I believe – the more I mull over this in my mind, the more it seems to take root. Like the story of “Alex” I posted the other day. An individual. His family is poor. Very poor. But just yesterday Alex called to say his dad had a huge box of corn, a watermelon and some cantaloupes from their garden they wanted to give to us. (Smile emoticon.)
Hmmmm….gonna have to pray and pursue this….
Among many other comments, this post received the following story in response.
Slavery In an American Town (By a Pastor)
Your original post reminded me of a similar situation that happened to me.
There was a family in my town that obviously needed money for school clothes, so the church gave them $200 to buy school clothes. Instead, the family went to every store in the area and bought cough syrup.
Because of this we decided to give actual clothing and groceries, instead of cash, to the next family that came. They also sold the groceries and clothing to buy cough syrup.
The local sheriff explained to me that we were inadvertently helping those people manufacture meth.
A week later one of the daughters of the second family was sold as a slave to another couple a county over. We tried to have the mom and grandmom arrested, but the police said they weren’t able to find them, since they were transients. The grandmother’s family ended up vandalizing my house, my car, and threatening to kill us.
When I found them, I asked if I could pray for them and help them find real help to get off the drugs and the street. I found the girl they had sold chained outside in her underwear to a tree. These people had moved in, knowing there was a girl sold into slavery and tied to a tree.
They slammed the door in my face and I called the sheriff over.
I have been through a dozen experiences like this. There is such a cultural divide that many times our efforts to love end up hurting.
By the way, the girl went into foster care but was later returned to the same family who had nine kids living in there.
No Easy Answers
The mind reels at stories like this. But they are all too frequent. And they are what many pastors face on a regular basis. Needs that seem impossible – that are impossible without God’s intervention.
That’s why I’m so grateful for ministries like our friends at Rural Compassion. And I’m glad that there are Facebook sites where pastors can help each other. (Click here if you would like to ask Dave Jacobs to be added to his Small Church Pastor Facebook group where this conversation started.)
I want this website to be a place where these kinds of stories can get a wider hearing. So when I hear them I will pass them on to you (after confirming them, of course). For three reasons:
- To expose the reality of how challenging Small Church ministry can be.
- To give us a chance to pray for each other.
- To start a conversation that might lead to some answers.
Thanks for coming along on this ride with us.
So what do you think? Do you have similar experiences to share? Some help to offer?
We want to hear from you. Yes, you!
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