I live in the Bible Belt, but I spend a lot of time ministering to church leaders in more pioneer areas of our country. Every time I do, I’m reminded of how much I don’t often think about ministry outside the Belt:
- The work is not unlike work on the international mission field. Believers are sometimes trying to reach people who have no background in Christianity at all. Many have never owned a Bible, and they haven’t missed it.
- The fields are sometimes saturated with philosophies and religions deeply entrenched in culture. I’ve seen this reality particularly in the West and the Northeast. In some settings, to call people out of their “ism’s” is to call them to reject their family and their tradition.
- The work can be lonely. All the faith you can muster to trust God can be challenged when it feels like you’re the only believer in hundreds of miles.
- Fellowship matters. This point is directly connected to #3 above. When you seldom get to hang out with other church leaders, you love the time when you do. And, some of the squabbles that occur in more traditional church settings seem really silly.
- The stress on families can take a toll – especially when leaders have moved their families to that mission field. I’ve seen as much spiritual warfare in some North American pioneer settings as I’ve seen in the most non-Christian places around the world.
- Pastors are often working several jobs. Sometimes they do that out of a calling to bi-vocationalism; in other cases, though, they do it because their small congregation can’t pay them more.
- It’s hard to “stick it out.” Lonely days + hard soil + slow progress + financial burden can quickly equal burnout. The young couple that moved to the mission field sometimes begins to yearn for the routine of the Bible Belt again.
- Leaders long for support. Sure, they’d take our dollars to help them do ministry, but many leaders I know want primarily a ministry friend who prays for them and encourages them regularly.
I realize that some of these characteristics also describe the traditionalism and cultural Christianity of the Bible Belt (and maybe that's another post). My point is to say that we need each other. So, pioneer leader, know that we’re praying for you today. Bible Belt leader, reach out to someone in a pioneer setting. I think you’ll find somebody just waiting for a friend.