4 tips for preaching in a rural church

By Matt Henslee

Excerpted from Replanting Rural Churches by Matt Henslee and Kyle Bueermann. Used by permission.

When you accept a call to pastor an existing church, you’re entering ministry in a church that has a history. The pulpit you stand behind each Sunday has been a launching point for the proclamation of the Word of God, week in and week out.

In my current church, different people had preached close to 12,000 sermons before I got there. Now let’s be honest. Some of those were great sermons and some were not so great (and let’s be even more honest: That’s still the case).

Maybe your church has suffered through a dry spell in the pulpit for a few years and is in the spot it’s currently in because the preaching of the Word has been neglected for a season.

That stops now!

The future health and vitality of your church depends wholly on a move of the Holy Spirit. And a large part of that depends on your faithfulness to preach the Word.

Paul charged Timothy, “Preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; rebuke, correct, and encourage with great patience and teaching” (2 Tim. 4:2).The future health and vitality of your church depend wholly on a move of the Holy Spirit. A large part of that will depend on your faithfulness to preach the Word.

Trust us, there’ll be seasons when you don’t want to preach, and you’d rather call in sick than suffer from another sermon where it feels like you’re talking to a brick wall.

In fact, because of those dog days of preaching, you’ll be tempted to reheat an old message or focus on the felt needs of your church.

Resist this temptation.

Stake your ministry on the inerrant, infallible, and inspired Word of God.

Listen: You’re not inerrant. Your sermon is not infallible.

But you’re entering the pulpit with the Word that’s not only inerrant and infallible but inspired by God (2 Tim. 3:16-17).

Preach the Word, preacher!

Biblical preaching may not always be popular. In fact, it may even cause you to lose some folks. The point, however, is to be faithful.

Biblical preaching takes time. You may have to look for it in every nook and cranny of your schedule, but it’s absolutely necessary. After all, when Jesus said, “Feed my sheep,” it wasn’t a suggestion — it was a command.

There are countless ways to “grow” the church you serve. You can build a full-size basketball court in the sanctuary or give away a car. You can chase after whatever the latest gimmick is.

Jesus doesn’t expect you to hit a home run each Sunday; He expects you to preach the Word. Your people don’t need you to be the next Adrian Rogers; they need (insert your name here) to preach the Word.

Fads will come and go. Trends will shift by the seasons. But there’s only one “church-growth strategy” that’ll last: a church built on an everlasting foundation: the Lord and His Word.

It’s Jesus’ job to build His church.

If you’ll put your fruitfulness on the altar — along with your desire to grow a platform or build a name for yourself — and follow Paul’s encouragement to Timothy to “preach the Word … with great patience,” Jesus will take care of the rest.

Perhaps it’ll be fast. Maybe it will be slow. Perhaps it won’t even be that noticeable. Over time, however, as you continue to preach the Word, they will come.

Stay faithful, stay patient, and preach the Word.

Make a firm commitment to preach the Word faithfully. There’ll be times you don’t want to, but we beg you to keep your hand to the plow.

Stick to the Bible, preach the unchanging Word, and watch the Spirit do His work. As you do, here are four tips for preaching in rural churches:

1. Get up early

In a rural church, it’s likely you may have to jump in the car at a moment’s notice to go to the hospital that’s an hour or more away.

While you’re there, your wife may need you to grab some milk on the way home, because you’ll pass by that beacon of hope known as Walmart.

While such trips are worth it, they’ll make deep cuts into your sermon prep time. Get up early, grab your Bible, and get to work.

2. Read your passage a million times

Okay, that may be a bit of an exaggeration, but you might be reading this as a bi-vocational pastor. If so, you may not have time to write out a 4,000-word manuscript, nor even need to.

Read your text, know your text frontward and backward, and sketch out a healthy outline.

If the week gets away from you, you’ll at least enter the pulpit and lean far more heavily on His Word and a simple, easy-to-follow outline than your ideas and pontifications. Come to think of it, that’s the point!

3. Know your context and your people

I (Matt) preached a revival in Kentucky during their undefeated run to the Final Four in 2015. I’d been in Texas most of my life and had what I thought was a money illustration involving football.

As people started entering the sanctuary, however, I noticed several Kentucky basketball shirts. I didn’t know much about basketball, but I knew enough to shift my illustration on the fly to connect even more with the congregation.

It was — forgive me, I’m gonna say it — a slam dunk!

If you know your context and people well, you can be a city boy and still connect with people who think a traffic jam is their cows coming in to feed.

4. Books are your friend, and so is the Internet

Your church likely won’t provide you with a book budget, and money might be tight. When you’re able, however, grab a book on preaching and read it when you have some downtime.

Also, many seminaries have blogs like Southwestern’s Preaching Source, which offer sermon outlines and articles to help you in (and out of) the pulpit.,

Published October 11, 2019

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Matt Henslee

Matt Henslee (@mhenslee) is the pastor of Mayhill Baptist Church in Mayhill, New Mexico, D.Min student of the Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary and author of a few books, including Evangelize to Revitalize and Text-Driven Invitation.