Rural replanting: The challenge of family chapels

By Adam Wyatt

Football. Farming. Family. These three things can easily articulate some of the most important things in a rural context. In you are lucky, you can add faith into the mix but for a lot of us, that is not the case. Replanting in a rural context is incredibly rewarding but it brings with it a host of challenges.

Sometimes there is a lack of good healthcare, education, and jobs including the simpler things like coffee shops and high speed internet that are often taken for granted in other contexts. Regardless of the things that are lacking, there is a great opportunity for ministry.

One of the things that I have experienced and seen throughout my ministry in the South is this prevalence of what I call “family chapels.” You know the church context: smaller congregation; money in the bank; few people in leadership; most of them all connected by familial bonds. It is the typical situation where 10% of the congregations is both giving 90% of the money and making 90% of the decisions. This is a double-edged sword. On the one hand you can have good people who genuinely care about the welfare of the church but on the other hand you can have a small group of leaders rooted in the culture of the church who might be part of the reason that the church is in decline. Few people can find a place of leadership here because the leadership is not necessarily given it is inherited. In some cases, the last names of the people in leadership are the same last names of the leaders.

For a Replanter to come in and be the change-agent in a church is difficult in itself, but to do this is a rural context where a small number of people hold the keys to the church is beyond difficult. Added to this is the familial connections of the people in leadership where it can come across that any suggested changes can be seen as an attempt to “attack” an entire family.

Additionally, if you “offend” one person in a church you end up “offending” the entire family. Imagine doing church discipline in a case where an entire family is affected. Imagine a family who has suffered a financial loss or family death or any other hosts of issues that usually affect a church. A Replanter must be prepared to minister in a church context connected, for good or for bad, by important family connections.

 While family chapels can be incredibly difficult ministry contexts they also can be great opportunities. These family chapels offer a great network for dealing with grief and trauma. They have great fellowship among the members. And to be honest, once a family has established themselves as a viable member of the community, the pastor’s family is added to the family of the church.

The key here is to be patient. Love the members of the church. Understand that you might be like a stranger at a family reunion. You must patiently serve the folks there until you get accepted into the fold. Regardless of the inherent difficulties, it is worth it. It is worth your time. It is worth your patience. It is worth the effort. Family chapels give us a glimpse of the body of Christ. They offer us hope because it shows us that there is a place that we belong. Replanters need to understand that the journey is a difficult one but one that is honorable because it realizes that the body of Christ is a body that needs work. Be patient. Be loving. Pastor your church family. Eventually they will let you in.

Published November 15, 2016

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Adam Wyatt

Adam Wyatt is the senior pastor of First Baptist Church in Leakesvile, Mississippi. A second-generation pastor, he has developed a love for the rural church in the Southern context. He loves his wife, his three beautiful daughters, good conversation, books and coffee. He is also pursuing his PhD in Biblical Theology from Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Kansas City. Connect with Adam @pastor_adam