From the Hood to the Wood: Ministering in Rural Communities

I was a youth and music minister, 2005-2007, in a small town called Wauchula, FL.  I enjoyed my time there greatly, and there were a lot of “salt of the earth“ type people. This was my first full-time job right out of college. The majority of my time was spent being a pastor to teenagers. It was something I really loved.

During that time I read up on current youth ministry and attended youth ministry conferences. The one year was really rough: the conference was held at Universal Studios. We had sessions all day and we were stuck riding rides late afternoons and evenings. I know you feel bad for me.

There were a lot of great speakers at that event. I learned a lot about how to communicate and minister the Gospel to teenagers. One  keynote speaker had a session called “From the Wood to the Hood.“

Referring to the term “hood,” neither the speaker nor I in this title, meant anything derogatory about the word. If my memory serves me correctly the speaker was from the inner-city. I think he mostly used the term because it rhymed. Hood is simply a slang word and nickname for “neighborhood.”

His contention to the crowd of some 2000+ youth workers was that often a lot of Christians like to live in a quiet rural setting while the inner city has many more challenges. He challenged some of us to consider moving to inner cities to minister there. The session was intriguing, but I guess not intriguing enough for me as now for over the last decade I minister close to home and in a community that does not even have a red light.

This session was not one of a kind. It was new in some senses to the conversation that was happening around the country and within theological circles about the need for more churches in urban areas. Many took on the challenge, and there has been some revitalization of Gospel-preaching churches  in larger cities. Several of my personal friends accepted the challenge and are now in mid-size or large inner cities serving in Gospel work.

The majority of the conference attendants were  from the Bible belt. So in this context I believe this guy was absolutely right. In the  small community that I lived in at the time there were almost as many youth pastors as there are red lights. Our area was saturated with Gospel-preaching churches.

If you move up north, however, specifically the northeastern part of the country, you will not find the same thing. There are many communities of at least several thousand people who do not have one Gospel-preaching church, or at least did not a decade or so ago.

I belong to one such organization which looks to start, help grow, and thrive healthy Gospel-preaching churches in small cities or rural communities. I’m not suggesting that we take people out of the urban areas and put them into the rural communities. I think that would be foolish. God wants to have churches in all areas. What I am advocating for is that in our desire to go to cities, go to where the people are just like Jesus did, that we don’t forget about our small communities. 

Several years ago someone from my church told me  he feared that as the church grew with my experience, degrees, and length of career in one church, that I would jump to a large church, which most likely will be held in a city. Ironically, at this time I have no desire to move. I don’t believe that God is calling me do that, in fact I would like to buy burial plots in my community to die here.

I understand the fear of this happening. Too many pastors treat ministries like the modern business world. They use jobs like stepping stones to move from youth pastor to associate pastor, to pastor in a small church, then pastor in big church. In some senses this makes sense because the progression continues in responsibility and ability. To many though use small community churches as such.

Here is my contention:  small communities deserve good pastors. I hope this does not come across as me trying to pat myself on the back. My point is, doesn’t a rural community deserve the pastor with degrees, solid theology, and experience? All I’m saying is that while God calls some from the wood to the hood, He also calls some to care for and minister the Gospel in small communities around our country as well. Investments in rural communities are worth as much as the investments in larger cities.

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