The time of the year for New Year resolutions has come. Most people make resolutions and end up breaking them quickly. Whether kept or not, the habit of New Year resolutions in our culture speaks to humanity’s desire for new beginnings. Lucky for us, and lucky for the church, our God is a God of new beginnings.
What would a new beginning look like in your small town church in 2015? Here are four New Year resolutions for every small town church in 2015:
1: Obedience over Activity.
Like many churches, small town churches face great temptation to pad the calendar with activities for the sake of “doing ministry,” “giving people opportunities,” and perhaps worst of all —“filling out the calendar.” What if in 2015, our need to busy ourselves gives way to listening to promptings of God’s “still, small voice?”
The prophet Ezekiel’s final vision of a restored temple, a restored priesthood, and a restored Israel came at the beginning of a new year (Ezek. 40:1). A vision from the Lord is rarely a regularly calendared event.
In 2015, let’s not become so busy with business as usual that we don’t have room for a fresh vision from God. Obedience over activity is not about doing nothing. Rather, it’s a call to do what God is calling us to and not what makes us comfortable.
Take advantage of the fact that small-town life often moves at a slower pace than urban life, leaving plenty of room on your church calendar, and seeking fresh vision from God. The Lord just might lead you and your congregation to a season of renewal.
2: Contentment over Worry.
Many small-town churches focus on survival, and understandably so.
- Rural populations suffer brain drain; the best and the brightest leave for college and never come back because there are no jobs in their field at home.
- Carey Nieuwhof and others have pointed out that young adults are not magically flocking back to church when they have kids anymore.
- Manufacturing and industry sometimes leave small-towns in the U.S. for major cities or even developing markets overseas.
- In many ways climate change threatens agriculture as weather patterns become less predictable and more severe.
Small-town people and churches seemingly have much to worry about.
One small town clergy couple in an online forum recently shared about taking a HUGE pay cut, nearly their entire salary, in order to stay at a church in a county impaired by rural poverty. Instead of being gripped by fear, the couple is working to find contentment, even though they both work jobs outside of church to pay the bills. I’m inspired by their commitment to God’s call on their lives.
If small-town churches and clergy in 2015 embraced contentment over worry, we might find incredible freedom to live into God’s unique calling. This means not copying other churches in more populated areas, but finding Fresh Expressions of faith in the setting God has given us for ministry.
3: Risk-Taking over Playing-it-Safe.
Like obedience, contentment is not the same as inaction. If we find contentment in our unique calling as small town churches, embracing the unique mission field God has given us, and if we are obedient to God’s call, then we will likely take bold and exciting risks in ministry.
What if, in being closer to creation and the earth than many of our urban counterparts, small-town church began bold new initiatives in creation care, living out God’s call to stewardship of the earth?
Might your small-town church partner with other area non-profits and faith-based groups to create a women’s shelter to tackle rural domestic violence? There is not a single woman’s shelter within an hour of the church I pastor, and I bet your small-town church is in a similar situation (if not a women’s shelter, then a homeless shelter, food pantry, free health clinic, or mother’s day out program).
How might God call your church in 2015 to embrace risk taking mission and service, as Robert Schnase writes about? The needs are urgent. The time for bold mission and fresh expressions is now. In 2015, don’t play it safe.
4: Prayer over Everything.
Finally, but certainly not least, we should cover our ministry efforts in prayer. Obedience to God, finding contentment, and taking bold missional risks will certainly not come without a sincere commitment to prayer.
Too often in our churches, when we want to see new life in our congregations we turn to the latest poll, the hottest new program from a best-selling book, or congregational consultants/coaches to tell us what we’re doing wrong. When we want to grow, we are quick to chase after everything but God.
I like a saying attributed to John Wesley: “Prayer is where the action is.” Theories of leadership are helpful. Knowing of best practices for stewardship is great. Making sure your campus is welcoming and you have enough parking is ideal. But none of those things take the place of or trump prayer.
Prayer is essential. It’s life. We can’t expect God to work in mighty ways without listening to the voice of the One who calls us to mission in the world.
So, in 2015 how will you embrace these four principles, 1) Obedience over Activity, 2) Contentment over Worry, 3) Risk-Taking over Playing-It-Safe, and 4) Prayer over Everything? I would love to hear your comments below.