Editor's Note: The following article is a book review. The views expressed in this article are those of its author.
Believe it or not, some things that rural church pastors must do well will benefit any pastor of any church of any size in any place or city. But, hearing those things from rural pastors, along with their anecdotes, can be refreshing and inspiring. Two of New Mexico’s rural pastors said that “towns in the middle of nowhere matter to God and that they matter to God’s people.” They believe that rural churches should not “discount the power of the Gospel.” “He still has a purpose for your community,” they said.
New Mexico pastors Matt Henslee and Kyle Bueermann wrote “Replanting Rural Churches: God’s Plan and Call for the Middle of Nowhere.” Their 68-page tome, published by Acoma Press, is both uplifting and accessible. The book was released in 2019. For transparency, I know both men personally and have visited their churches.
Henslee pastors Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico. Mayhill lies in the eastern foothills of the state’s Sacramento Mountains. The last census listed its population at 75. It has a store and a café. Henslee’s church, the book reveals, “often runs three times” the town’s population in its worship service. He leads the congregation in prayer, plays the piano while leading worship and then preaches. He covers a lot of roles, much more than preaching alone.
I attended Henslee’s church on a routine Sunday. When I arrived, the service was already in progress and the worship center was filled. The congregation and service refreshed and encouraged me. The church is a hub of activity and hope in the Mayhill community.
Bueermann pastors First Baptist Church, Alamogordo, New Mexico. His church has experienced challenges. I preached at the church during the search that brought Bueermann to the congregation. It was once a sizeable church, but had fallen on hard times and was small and in severe financial trouble. Collapse was near when Bueermann arrived. Today, the church is healing and stronger. It has vision and hope. One of their 2020 goals is to baptize 20 people.
Alamogordo’s 31,248 population eclipses Mayhill. It boasts a U.S. Air Force base. Still, it retains a distinctly rural feel at the western base of the Sacramento Mountains. Both Alamogordo and Mayhill are part of New Mexico’s Otero County, though a mountain range separates them. That is rural America.
Henslee and Bueermann became friends over the mountain and started a podcast together: “Not Another Baptist Podcast.” As of this writing, their latest episode had garnered just over 25,000 plays in five days. When they wrote the book, they were also serving Southern Baptists. Henslee was serving as LifeWay’s managing editor for LifeWay Pastors. Bueermann was serving as the North American Mission Board’s director of replanter development.
Replanting Rural Churches has six chapters. Within them, Henslee and Bueermann enthusiastically encourage ministers to consider pastoring rural churches. They frame their four key ideas into “the four p’s of reclaiming rural churches.” They say rural pastors must master preaching, praying, passion and persevering. I agree; every pastor should master those four things. Each of those four items receives its own chapter, followed by a page of practical applications - actions to do. The two authors are clear that pastoring is an activity to practice, not a position to hold.
When explaining perseverance, the two young pastors admitted their short time in ministry compared to others. In their chapter on the topic, they interviewed “a couple of men who have persevered in rural church settings.” Those two men had pastored their rural congregations in small communities for 30 years and 20 years. Their interview answers contain treasures for pastors. One of them said, “If you think the grass is greener on the other side of the fence, look for a septic tank. Those are probably leach lines.”
I read the small book in 45 minutes and found it accessible, practical, humorous and helpful. I reread it, too. While it is biblical, it is not a Bible study or a complex philosophical examination of rural pastoring. It aims to change churches by changing pastors. A reader walks away from Replanting Rural Churches with strong hope and concrete steps to take.
Rural churches are not a hideaway for preachers who neglect their preaching, barely pray, lack passion and continually scan the horizon for a larger congregation. Instead, Henslee and Bueermann plead for men of God to settle into rural churches, preach powerfully, pray consistently, fan their passion and stay. From their perspective, a pastor can impact the world from a rural church while still profoundly impacting his church and community. Both authors live that claim.
Bueermann said he had two hopes for the book. “First, I hope it is an encouragement to guys who are serving in the middle of nowhere, guys that will never be on a conference speaker list,” he said. “Second, for seminary students or guys looking to step into a lead pastor role for the first time, I hope it’s a reminder to consider rural churches.” Likewise, Henslee hoped the book would help pastors “stick with it.” Admitting he has quit too soon at times, he said, “They are not alone.” “Hold on a little longer,” he encouraged. “Give the Lord some time and stay faithful where you are at.”
I hope more pastors will discover rural churches. I recommend Bueerman and Henslee’s book for every pastor and ministerial student. Even more, I recommend that every one of them master preaching, prayer, passion, and perseverance. Those things matter.