On Thursday, June 9 – Friday, June 10, I spent time with a bunch of rural Mississippi pastors who are part of a program called the Rural Pastors Initiative, run by Belhaven University in Jackson, Mississippi.
Wow, was this ever a privilege! Almost all these pastors were African-Americans, and I heard great preaching and fantastic singing. These men are doing ministry in quite a different context than my own (although we’re all small-town pastors). Many are bi-vocational (there were short-haul and long-haul truckers there, and a bricklayer) and their churches are very small. Quite a few live an hour from their church because of family or other responsibilities. Some have had the privilege of formal theological education and others haven’t.
I was struck by their longevity in ministry – many have been at their churches for 14-15 years, some for 30+ years. I was also impressed by their love for Jesus and their commitment to his Word. I spoke four times on Friday and there were other speakers that day as well, and these guys were eager for the Word.
During meals, I spoke to two guys in particular who encouraged me as they told me how clearly God had called them to their churches. Chauncey was called away from a rural church, where he had served for 10+ years, to a church in Jackson, and he was willing to leave a comfortable situation for this new challenge. Terry has served his church for 32 years, and God clearly called him three decades ago and confirmed his call by making it clear to his mentor as well, and also by arranging circumstances to help provide for him and his family. Terry would like to serve for eight more years before retiring, in order to give his church 40 years of service.
I experienced in Mississippi what I often experience at our Small Town Summits in New England: the joy of seeing that God is on the move, that he’s working in little churches in little places, that he’s got talented, motivated, creative, godly, faithful men and women serving in these little churches. God is building his church everywhere, including in Mississippi.