One of the most personally exciting ministry developments in 2010 was the Union’s decision to form of a Mission Council in the place of the previous Mission Secretary role. This shift to a Council approach reflects the facts that the Union’s sense of mission 1) is appropriately diverse, 2) requires a corporate response, and 3) is a denominational priority and 4) is developing enough to require multiple heads and hands. The council is composed of 12 members and is chaired by the Union president and vice president. Each member of the council answers for a particular area of mission ranging from church planting to ecumenical relations. But the real strength of the council comes in the collaboration that can now happen by having all of these people in the same room. When I learned of the Mission Council I asked if rural church mission had yet been represented and if not, could I represent those needs on the council. To my delight, in November, I was assigned to the Missions Council, representing Rural Church Mission.
So what is that going to look like? I have a pretty good idea of where I’d like to go with this. Generally, the idea is that Rural Church Mission isn’t so much about helping rural churches sustain ministry but about coming alongside rural churches as they express mission in their context and finding ways together to maximize rural missional potential. Following is a bit of an outline of the kinds of questions I’m asking.
- Information Gathering
What are the challenges faced by rural Estonian congregations?
How are rural realities changing and what is the prognosis?
What are the hopes of rural churches in regards to these questions?
- Regional Strategy
What part does the rural church play in the EKKBL’s overall mission?
How do small churches fit understandings of “church growth”, “church planting”, or “missional church”?
Can rural churches express themselves missionally in coordination with existing structures or must new ones be developed?
- Appreciative Inquiry
What unique resources and capabilities can the rural church contribute to the Kingdom of God?
Are there ways of translating limitations faced by rural churches as opportunities for mission?
Can rural church resources and capabilities be utilized not only locally but also in a more coordinated way regionally or nationally?
- Congregational Equipping
How can a particular rural church realize its full missional potential?
Are there ways in which rural congregations can build one another up as “volunteer experts”?
Are there resources in the wider body of Christ that can be brought to bear on this process?
All of this is of course focused on our context here in Estonia. But I see lots of parallels with the churches of the Inland Northwest. I also tend to think that the answers we will find as we explore these questions will apply not only to rural churches but perhaps to small churches in general, especially those dealing with low resources and challenging environments (inner city, rural, church plants). It is an exciting journey to be embarking on and I hope to use this space to process my thoughts and hear your feedback!