I was very impressed and encouraged by your article “It’s Not All Downhill!” in the February Lutheran Witness. Small churches need the encouragement to know that there is an alternative to declining attendance and membership. Most rural churches, especially in Middle America, are small, and many are declining. In some cases, they may be the only surviving church in a small town.
A pastor of a church who finds himself in this situation becomes the pastor for the community, and he can build a church’s attendance and eventually its membership. The main reason, of course, is to share the love of Jesus with all who are searching. A pastor’s visibility in such a community makes the church he serves a safe and visible place. The members of his church also feel encouraged, and then they will reach out to those in the area who have lost their home church and bring them into a family of believers.
A small-town pastor who is first to give a visit, a word, or just be there when a need arises sets the stage for a hurting person to find a relationship with Jesus and with a church that cares about the community, not just its own fellowship.
I so agree with the February Lutheran Witness that valuable, significant, and effective parish ministry has nothing to do with congregational size or geographical location. Thanks for featuring pastors and teachers who honor our Lord and the entirety of The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod by the magnificent way they serve challenging rural parishes. After visiting hundreds of congregations, and 50-plus years of interviewing pastors and teachers, I know of no more demanding, productive, and sometimes lonely ministry than that carried on today in rural/small town churches and schools. May the Spirit continue to breathe on these jewels in our LCMS crown, and through them on all of us.
Rev. Charles S. Mueller Sr.
I want to share a story about Pastor Brad Birtell, whom Roland Lovstad profiled in your February story about rural ministry.
In the early 2000s, he was coaching St. John’s elementary school basketball team, and the team was quite good. Our much younger and shorter team played them in a Lutheran school tournament. At halftime, Pastor Birtell made adjustments and set restrictions on his team to help make it more competitive for our team. He required his boys to keep one foot in the paint on defense, and only one boy on their team could shoot on offense—and he happened to be their shortest and possibly youngest player.
It was an amazing thing to see, and it spoke volumes to our boys’ team, and to my husband as the coach. After the game, Pastor Birtell told my husband to point out to our team that we had outscored them in the second half. What an example for the youth of his congregation!
I think you can see that he has a special gift for working with youth, and that God has richly blessed his congregation and others through him.
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