The Plague of Control in the Rural Church

Control is the kryptonite that destroys rural churches. I know this is true in every church, but it holds deeper roots in the rural church. Why? In small towns, the elders and church leaders are the same people who serve as mayor, substitute teacher, and football coach. Every area of life is intertwined and must work together. Everything in town must run to the same standards. When the coach makes a decision, it is his way! When the teacher gives instructions, it is their way. This idea of leadership works well until it collides with the church.

The church is not ours to run in the first place. There is an enormous difference between own and steward. We have too many leaders in church trying to own the church instead of stewarding it as a leader. If we are driven to lead a church because of voting rights, power, and a say, we have no place leading a church. If your search to keep church the same is more significant than your search for the lost, it’s time to step down. Control is an earthy charade that erodes the eternal purposes of the church.

If your search to keep church the same is more significant than your search for the lost, it’s time to step down.

In more than a decade of working in and around rural churches, I have watched churches fire their minister because too many people with messy backgrounds came to the church. I have seen other ministers lose their jobs because their sermons on community outreach were against what the elders “wanted.” Years ago, in the church where I serve, I heard phrases such as, “They need to remember who pays the bills around here,” or “there are too many people here, I don’t know everyone anymore.”

I can’t think of many examples less gospel-focused than too much life change in christian communities. The context of the rural church leans toward the temptation of control. We typically know most people in town. We become comfortable with people in town. We know who does what and when they do it…to a fault. We are so used to who is around us that we become exclusive with who we know instead of inclusive of a lost and broken world. We have muzzled the mission of Jesus in a desperate overreach for control.

The church must always place mission above control. Church leaders must always point to the mission of Jesus. Questions need to be asked that undercut Satan’s attempt to grasp for control. As leaders, we need to ask questions like:

  • How does this complete the mission of Jesus?
  • Does this lead people to Christ or to our way of doing church?
  • Is Jesus more noticeable than us as leaders?
  • Are we against change because it is a different method or because it changes the message of Jesus?

When we ask questions that point toward the mission, it helps hold ourselves and other leaders accountable to who Jesus is more than what we want. Just because we may know everyone in our rural area doesn’t mean that everyone knows Jesus. Our mission is not complete, and so, therefore, it must be at the center of everything we do. One of my favorite phrases that I regularly hear among our leaders is, “It’s God’s church; we just have to make sure to stay out of the way.”

The plague of control is eradicated when Jesus and His mission are placed front and center at all moments.

When we ask questions that point toward the mission, it helps hold ourselves and other leaders accountable to who Jesus is more than what we want.

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