You know you’re in a rural Texas town when you notice that first tumbleweed bounce through town. 

You know you’ve settled in when you don’t notice them any more. 

You’ve fully embraced the atmosphere when you bring it into your home and decorate it for Christmas. (They may not be druids, but in so many ways I could be convinced that “Texas” is a cult…) 

By the grace of God, and the home interior savey of my wife, we are planted, firmly, in “stage two.”

Previously, I had occasion to write about the Lord leading my family to Wellington, a farming community in the Panhandle region of Texas. From the moment there was even a hint that this could be our assigned territory, a question lingered in the back of my mind, “What can God do in a a church in a little farm-town?”

Right off the bat, let me go ahead and address all of the obvious answers: Jesus died for these people too, You don’t have to be big to be important, Jesus loves the little cities of the plains, etcetera. These are all true, and please understand that they are certain valid reasons. But allow me to show you a bit of my world and the reality I live with:

  • The reality is, I’ve been here seventeen months and I am not the newest pastor in town. In fact, there have been three pastors “blow in” since my arrival.
  • I am the thirty-third pastor of a church that is seventy-seven years old. I like to watch people’s reaction when I tell them that. (I wish the hackers would send me a picture from your webcam so I can see yourreaction to that. Maybe they will…) Considering the fact that we have some of the nicest folks in the world, I can only conclude that many of these preachers found opportunities to, as they would see it, “move up.”

Here is the hard question: is there a purpose for these small community churches, other than to train the pastor for something “better”? After a short time here, and through the encouragement of some wise preachers, I can confidently say, yes there most certainly is! Here are couple of thoughts that keep me going:

The heart of the heartland must beat strong

Attending Southwest Baptist Church in Oklahoma City was such an awesome experience. To see that many people gathered and ministering together is just amazing. But the thought that my entire rural church, and everyone that has visited in the last five years, could easily fit into the choir loft, could be discouraging at first! Large churches in large cities certainly have a huge impact, and they are criticalto the work of God! In an day where the culture is becoming more and more liberal, and truth is becoming less and less of a priority, it is vital for “flagship” churches to hold the fort. 

But do you know what is even more tragic? When that last rural assembly caves in under the pressure to compromise for survival. When the old country church becomes a “satellite” to a big city “mother-church.” Or probably most tragic of all, even closes the doors.

There may have been a day when every little Texas town had a solid Independent Baptist Church, but that day has passed. Those of us that still here must be strong. Not just “existing” but alive! It is critical that our preaching is hot, our people are loving, and our Savior is magnified. 
The little rural churches in many ways are our last line of defense in this spiritual battle. What a tragedy it would be if the typically unseen “remnant” of New Testament believers ceased to be a strong presence in the heart of our nation.

The legacy of timeless truth must remain

Several times throughout the year we will have out-of-town visitors pop in who used to attend Calvary Baptist “back in the day”. You can see this faraway look in their eye as they step in and are seemingly transported back in time. I caught one man wondering around in an unused upstairs classroom after a funeral muttering “It’s still the same…” Now in all honesty, I think he was talking about the wood paneling, and believe me, we’re working on that! 

What challenges me the most however, is when those grown-up children of faithful saints express their excitement that the ministry, the preaching, the doctrine, all of it is still the same! While many have grown and left town, this little country church bears witness to the Truth that they were once taught. It may have been a different preacher, and the wood paneling may eventually (by the grace of God) be gone, but the timeless truth will remain! The same Bible preached to them in their youth, claiming to be the hope of the ages must remain twenty or thirty years later!

Some of those “kids” are faithful church members, and even pastors and missionaries. But others have strayed from the old path. When they pass through their hometown, they must see that some things are important enough to last indefinitely. A gas station or two may be closed down, the old hang-out spot could be overgrown, but God can use the old, vibrant church-house, still preaching the Truth, to speak volumes to a wondering prodigal who needs to come home.

Little is much when God is in it

It may be cliche by now, but I can’t help but mention this in closing. It continually amazes me how the Lord currently uses this little church on the prairie. I was talking to one of our missionaries in the Philippines who mentioned in passing, “You know I grew up in Wellington…” There are others that tell me we were one of the first churches to take them on, years ago. This year I got to experience the thrill of giving away a good chunk of missions money at the Church Planter’s Conference. And on and on…

Do the little rural churches really matter? Ask the Filipino family who is feasting on God’s word every week under a Texan preacher. Ask the church in Maine whose pastor is able to go full-time this year, in part because of the faithful giving of some Panhandle parishioners. Or if you really want to get an answer, come on out sometime to a little town in Texas where folks still tear up as they think back to the day when they were begging God to provide a way to keep the doors open, and He did!

God has given me an amazing group of folks that I can call family, who are somehow even more excited than I am to see His work flourish once again. There are times when I get a little nervous under the pressure to return this congregation to the “glory days,” but that’s when I remember that this whole thing wasn’t my idea to begin with! Jesus will build His church, my job is to stay faithful, even in a dusty Texas town. No doubt I’ll see my share of tumbleweeds bounce through the various pulpits around the area, but by the grace of God I’ll still be here when the dust settles. –I may or may not be decorated with Christmas lights by then, but I’ll be here!