A great piece on Rural Ministries with applications for all of us
This piece in the Summer edition of Bristol Baptist College Newsletter has some really helpful thoughts and insights and I republish it here (below) with kind permission from both the author and the college.
Rev Alison Griffiths is writing with a particular focus on rural settings as the Pastoral Care Director for Rural Ministries. This rural emphasis is a helpful counter-balance to an all too frequent over emphasis on churches in towns and cities.
I say that as someone who has lived in cities all of my life, but I also believe the points Alison raises offer clarity and challenge for us all, wherever we serve.
What would a church leadership discussion look like if we took this quote from the heart of the article and spent time prayerfully discussing it?
“It is my fear that we will just keep rehashing the old ways of being and doing church regardless of the lack of fruit but I also see many disciples around the country grasping the nettle of the challenging future, appreciating but also learning the lessons of the past and experimenting, living with substantially more risk than past generations have been prepared to do.”
It seems to me that there are 5 areas to meaningfully discuss and pray about within this quote. Within this paragraph there is the challenge:
1. to admit the negative consequences of churches maintaining and repeating the status quo.
2. to cheer on of those who are tackling today’s missional challenges in fresh and bold ways.
3. to recognise that Churches and Christians in the UK face a difficult and changing future.
4. to honour the past but carefully discern both the positive and negative lessons in our church stories.
5. to call one another, more than ever before, to go for bold, risk-taking experiments.
These points are very much in tune with the ‘where do we grow from here?’ message that I have the privilege of conveying to churches, colleges and associations this year.
I’m posting the full article below because, surely, it would be worth more of our churches praying through these points together.
Since I left Bristol Baptist College in 2011 I've been the minister of Lydney Baptist Church, a small church in the Forest of Dean but in January 2019 I also began working with Rural Ministries as a Pastoral Care Director. I hadn't had much to do with Rural Ministries as a minister but it had been on my radar for several years. Unlike many other mission agencies or 'experts' in church growth, they approach each new church or mission as unique with its own specific quirks, opportunities and challenges.
Instead of making one small Baptist church my focus, I now have the whole of the south of England and all of Wales to deal with plus several different denominations - that's quite a change! I still lead services, preach and chair church meetings but I'm also helping churches to re-imagine their own context and discern what God has called them to. I'm involved in delivering specific training to different churches alongside assessing what is needed and where and I am attending more conferences in a year than I ever did as a church minister. A lot of energy goes into the support and encouragement of leaders who are often particularly isolated in the rural context and this takes place in a variety of ways - through training, resourcing but also by building authentic relationships which take time to establish.
Although there are occasions when it can be discouraging - tackling church decline usually is - the major upside is meeting truly inspiring people from places as diverse as an Elim church in South Wales to a Baptist church in the depths of Powys. I constantly meet ordinary ministers and people who, regardless of the big challenges remain passionate about the gospel and are some of the most innovative leaders I've ever met. Such people inspire as well as challenge me.
I have a theory that the churches in the UK are declining because God is trying to tell us something and we haven't been listening to Him for a long time. Letting us die off so the next generation can take His Church forward seems a drastic step to take from our perspective but when you look at the history of the people of Israel there is a precedent. When they stopped listening, refused to pay attention to God and pushed Him to one side He did take drastic action to get their attention. Is this what is happening to the churches in the UK. Question is: just how bad does it have to get before we really start listening?
It is my fear that we will just keep rehashing the old ways of being and doing church regardless of the lack of fruit but I also see many disciples around the country grasping the nettle of the challenging future, appreciating but also learning the lessons of the past and experimenting, living with substantially more risk than past generations have been prepared to do. Often such people feel unrecognised or misunderstood within their own church communities or denominations and this is where Rural Ministries can be of particular help. We believe in taking risks for the sake of the Kingdom of God and we recognise that with risk often comes failure - after all, it's not a risk if there isn't something to lose! We want to encourage grace filled and Spirit empowered people to be deeply embedded in the rural context and we want to encourage anyone who is a risk taker and not penalise them when a venture falls flat.
I long to see spiritually healthy churches thriving in the heart of their communities across the UK with leaders who are confident in their calling. The rural context is often a tough place to minister in, far too often overlooked and dismissed as irrelevant, but if you're looking for a challenge or need encouragement where you are then please get in touch with Rural Ministries. We will probably ask hard questions helping you to probe what is going on underneath the surface of your calling, community or context - I can't promise you'll find it easy - but we will also be with you as you make the difficult journey from the known past to the unknown future. From my own experience of feeling isolated as a minister, having good companions walking the road with you makes all the difference in the world.
Revd Alison J Griffiths
Pastoral Care Director, Rural Ministries