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A Little Ocean Ambiance
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Doctrinal Writings
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Jesus was a Country Preacher

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Dr. Richard Flanders
Juniata Baptist Church
Vassar, Michigan
"Now when Jesus had heard that John was cast into prison, he departed into Galilee; and leaving Nazareth, he came and dwelt in Capernaum, which is upon the sea coast, in the borders of Zabulon and Nephthalim: That it might be fulfilled which was spoken by Esaias the prophet, saying, the land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up. From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:12-17)

Galilee—the land west of the Sea of Galilee, and the ancient home of the tribes of Naphtali and Zebulun—this was the place where our Lord performed most of His earthly ministry. And thus it must have been. Isaiah the prophet had stated with divine authority in the ninth chapter of his book that the Christ would bring light to that dark place. It had been a very dark place, too. A thousand years before, King Solomon tried to give Hiram, King of Tyre, "twenty cities in the land of Galilee" as a present for his help in the building of the Temple, but Hiram refused to take them! "They pleased him not. And he said, what cities are these which thou has given me, my brother? And he called them the land of Cabul [displeasing]." (I Kings 9:12-13) Of His home-country the people of Jesus' day said, "Can there any good thing come out of Nazareth?" (John 1:46), and, "Out of Galilee ariseth no prophet" (John 7:52). Galilee was part of the land that had been conquered by Assyria as God's punishment of gross and prolonged idolatry. It had been re-populated with pagan transplants from other parts of the Assyrian empire (I Kings 17) who inter-married and religiously corrupted the remnant of Israelites left behind. What a bad place for the Savior to serve!

When I first visited the State of Israel back in 1981, I learned something else about the place of our Lord's ministry. Galilee was a rural area. The towns were mainly small towns, and the people were mainly country people back in Jesus' day. Jesus went down to the great city Jerusalem only at the feasts. His ministry there (emphasized in the Book of John) was quite limited in its time and extent. Mainly, the Lord Jesus preached and ministered in the country and small towns of Galilee!

How strange often the dictates of divine Providence can seem to us! The Son of God was sent for an earthly ministry, not to metropolitan areas such as Rome, the political capital of the world, or Athens, the intellectual center of the time, or to any great extent Jerusalem, the focal point of the worship of Jehovah in the world, but rather to a despised, backwoods, country area, covered with pastures and dotted with small towns. He touched the lives of farmers, and fishermen, and government agents assigned to remote outposts. He walked rural roads, slept under country skies, and sat on green hills to teach. Jesus was a country preacher!

This fact was a great encouragement to me as one who has been sent to an agricultural community to pastor a country congregation. What I saw in the Holy Land, and what I learned from Matthew 4, have helped me to stay at this more isolated outpost as long as God wants me here, and to preach the Gospel and do the work of the ministry in a place less populated than the city. What does the account of our Lord's Galilean ministry tell us about serving God as a country preacher?

1. Rural ministry is God's will for some men.

This may not be logical to the human mind. I had a well-known preacher tell me when he came to our church that he would have liked pastoring where I am, "if the world wasn't going to Hell." We are commanded and commissioned by the Lord Jesus to "preach the gospel to every creature" in the world, and it is certainly part of this mandate to invade the population centers.

However, God's ways and God's will are not always in line with the way we would reason things should be done. The Lord called Philip away from "the city of Samaria" to a desert road literally in the middle of nowhere! There he met one man (Acts 8) who was won to Christ and then was used of God in the evangelization of a nation! God's ways are not our ways, and His thoughts are not our thoughts (Isaiah 55:8).

That's why preachers must stay yielded to God, and serve Him exactly where He leads for as long as He leaves them in any certain place, even when it's in the country. It was the Father's will for the Son of God to center His ministry in a country place for three and a half years. Perhaps He will call you to serve in such a place, too. The people of Israel traveled through a desert on the principle that when the cloud of God's presence moved, they would move, and that if God didn't move them, they would not move!

"But if the cloud were not taken up, then they journeyed not till the day that it was taken up." (Exodus 40:37)
Seek the will of God for your life, and do not discount the possibility that it might take you out into the country!

2. There is a need for evangelistic preachers in rural areas.

In Matthew 4, Jesus was "led by of the Spirit" (the Holy Spirit—verse 1) when he went from place to place. It was God that sent Him to Galilee, first because it was necessary to fulfill the scripture in the Book of Isaiah (verses 12-14), and secondly because there was a real need there for His light (verses 15-16).

"The land of Zabulon, and the land of Nephthalim, by the way of the sea, beyond Jordan, Galilee of the Gentiles; the people which sat in darkness saw great light; and to them which sat in the region and shadow of death light is sprung up."
So country places need the Light of Christ even in our day.

Traditionally in America, country churches have been led by part-time preachers with little vision or passion for their work. Yet people who live out of town have as great a need for spiritual, solid, soul-winning churches as the people in town do! The children of farm families need to be challenged to live lives sold-out for God as much as city kids. Every servant of God that is sent to pastor a rural church should be a man with a vision of the spiritual needs of his community and how they can be met!

When I first went to pastor a country church, I had trouble getting a burden for the spiritual need of my new field. When I served in the city, just the sight of the crowds pushing their way through the shopping centers or walking along the downtown sidewalks would move me with compassion for their lost condition. But out here, there were no mournful multitudes! The people (if you could see any as you drove along) live in houses and trailers separated by quite a distance along the road. Within a year, however, God showed me that there was a great need for the winning of souls out here "in the sticks." There were plenty of lost people in the country, but you just had to look harder and go farther to find them!

Every country church should have a big door-to-door witnessing program. In some ways rural congregations have some advantages over city churches in this kind of work. Whole towns or townships can be covered with Gospel tracts in a relatively brief time by a small band of determined workers. In a city, before you finish one section of town and are ready to comb the next section, a good number of the homes you just covered have changed hands! Country churches can stay encouraged about door-to-door evangelism because it doesn't seem an impossible task to reach everybody. Also, homes in the country are not usually being visited at the same time by two or three different churches or cults. Often your church has the only groups going house to house.

Every country church should have an active bus ministry. Workers should visit down all the roads in your area, inviting people to ride the bus to church. Of course, rural bus workers should not compare their numbers with the published achievements of city bus ministries. In our area we found that the same amount of work on a bus route would produce about half the numerical results of urban routes. But your workers should not let this discourage them. We are not in competition with God's churches in the big towns; we are at war with sin and Satan! Who cares about how our numbers compare? There are souls to be won for the Savior.

Country preachers should look into getting a Gospel radio broadcast over a little rural station. They should also be active in sending groups to preach in jails, prison camps, nursing homes, and juvenile facilities. Every open door should be entered with the message of salvation.

If a pastor will stop comparing the population of his area with that of his city-preacher friends, he can get a vision of the great opportunities that await his evangelistic labor. Country places are often dark places, and country people are often neglected in soul winning efforts. There are many who live around a country church that can be won to Christ!

I can remember, as I said, how long it took me to see my country field as white unto harvest. Then one afternoon I was having work done on my car at a service station in one of the villages near my place. I had an hour to wait, and I prayed about how to use my time. Quickly I remembered a family that lived only a few blocks away who had let us take some of their children to Sunday School on the bus. So I walked over there and knocked on the door. I was welcomed into the kitchen by a big assembly of adult relatives, as well as a couple of the kids. There were Grandma, some aunts and uncles, Mom, and some cousins. In a moment I introduced myself, and invited everybody to church. Then I passed out Gospel tracts to all the people in the room. To my surprise, the whole group became quiet. I suggested that they let me show them out of that tract how to be saved and ready for Heaven. The folks seemed agreeable, and before I had a chance to think about what I was doing, I was preaching a Gospel message to this kitchen congregation! At the end of my presentation, I asked a few questions to make sure that everybody understood, and then gave an invitation for people to receive the Lord Jesus Christ. To my amazement and great joy a good number (I think over ten) were saved in the home on that day. They all came to church in the following weeks, and I had the privilege of baptizing most of them in a farmer's pond on a special occasion! As time has passed, I have conducted the funeral of a few of the folks that were saved on that day in the kitchen. There are great opportunities to win souls in rural areas, and country preachers must take them. Your area needs Christ as much as metropolitan areas.

3. There are servants of God to recruit from rural areas.

After telling us about our Lord's early preaching ministry in Galilee, the Book of Matthew records the famous call of the fishermen.

"And Jesus, walking by the sea of Galilee, saw two brethren, Simon called Peter, and Andrew his brother, casting a net into the sea: for they were fishers. And he saith unto them, Follow me, and I will make you fishers of men. And they straightway left their nets, and followed him." (Matthew 4:18-20)

Not only did Simon and Andrew answer the call, but also their partners James and John (verses 21-22). One day these men would be known around the world as the apostles of Christ, but they began life in the country as professional fishermen.

Country churches should take care to challenge the young people, and all of their members, to the highest level of Christian life and service. Sermons on discipleship and full surrender should be preached, and the call to full-time service explained. Who knows what great servant of God sits in the pews of your country church? Elijah was from little Tishbe way over in Gilead. Amos "was among the herdmen of Tekoa." And our Lord himself was from the hillside town of Nazareth. Big men often come from little places!

4. Rural ministry can have a powerful and wide-ranging impact.

Look at the description in Matthew 4 of the effects of our Lord's ministry in Galilee.

"And Jesus went about all Galilee, teaching in their synagogues, and preaching the gospel of the kingdom, and healing all manner of sickness and all manner of disease among the people. And his fame went throughout all Syria: and they brought unto him all sick people that were taken with divers diseases and torments, and those which were possessed with devils, and those which were lunatic, and those that had the palsy; and he healed them. And there followed him great multitudes of people from Galilee, and from Decapolis, and from Jerusalem, and from Judaea, and from beyond Jordan." (Matthew 4:23-25)

His ministry touched "all Galilee" and "his fame" spread "throughout all Syria," down into Judea, and "beyond Jordan." He preached in the country, but before long people from great distances, even from the great city of Jerusalem, came out to where he was to hear Him! Rural ministries anointed by the Spirit of God can have a tremendous effect.

Many of the most powerful revivals of the past happened in rural areas. The early awakenings sparked by the ministry of Charles Finney were all in small towns and country communities. The many revivals in Wales were played out in rural settings. One reason for this might be the diminished influence of evil in locations away from the big cities. Another reason might be the relative importance of one preacher or one church in a less populated area in comparison with the influence of a few in a metropolitan area. Our country church has had opportunities to effect community affairs where we live far beyond the influence a church our size would have in the city. Anyway, if a full-scale revival breaks out in a country church, the community will feel the effects to an unusual extent. If a country church operates a quality Christian school, people will notice. If the people of a country congregation live upright and distinctively holy lives, the whole community will notice. If the country pastor lives a consistently godly life, pays his bills, treats his neighbor right, and stays for a number of years, a surprisingly large segment of the area will give him respect and pay attention to his message. When a church does something big in a small community, the impact can be very big.

Every year, our church puts on a big Christmas musical. We go all-out. Usually we have what we call "The Singing Christmas Tree" (usually named "The Living Christmas Tree" in big city auditoriums), and set up a huge tree-shaped choir loft from which our choir will sing seasonal songs for the public. The "Tree" is decorated with live boughs, Christmas balls, garland, lights, and ribbons to look like a giant Christmas Tree. It sits on our auditorium platform, and reaches to the ceiling. Literally thousands of people in our area have seen "The Singing Christmas Tree," and many of them have been won to Christ. Nothing to compare with it is done in our county for the holidays. With extensive advertising, and aggressive visitation, we always get a big crowd.

Every summer, we have a big "Bible Time" (V.B.S.) Program. We make it an evangelistic effort, and use our buses to reach (if possible) every child in the area. Many souls are saved every year, and we get addresses of folks to visit for months to follow!

"Big Sundays" can go over big in a small area, if they are planned and promoted well. Such things are often unusual for a country church, and as such may be more effective. Get some ideas from big-city pastors and adapt them for your rural church.

We always invite the best evangelists in the nation to conduct revival campaigns at our country church. Do you know how to get them? The best way is to ask them! True men of God are not disincline to accept invitations from rural churches, if you are in dead earnest about winning souls. We have had both successful local-church and area-wide campaigns that have accomplished much good.

If God has called you to a rural church, do not fret and sigh, nor think yourself unworthy of bigger opportunities. Surrender to the will of God for your life, and give yourself to your ministry. Remember that the Lord Jesus Christ was a country preacher!

Monthly Article
Fri, 8 Dec 2000
by Dr. Rick Flanders
currently Pastor of
Juniata Baptist Church
Juniata Baptist Church
5656 Washburn Road
Vassar, MI 48768
(517) 823-7848

Dr. Rick Flanders Biographical Data

Converted in 1963 through a radio ministry.
Earned B.A. and M.A. degrees from Bob Jones University.
Honorary D.D. from Pensacola Christian College.
Pastor at Juniata Baptist Church since 1973.
On BCPM Board, (Baptist Church Planting Ministry)
and also MACS. (Michigan Association of Christian School)

Articles published in the;
Sword of the Lord
Baptist Preacher,
Christian View of the News,
Pulpit Helps,
Maranatha Watchman
Church Bus News,
and other national periodicals.

His Majesty's Service
In His Service,
Teaching the Word
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Please e-mail your spiritual comments to Pastor's Pen
Please e-mail all other comments to WindJammer