By Jeni Miller
To help prepare up-and-coming pastors for ministry in such settings, LCMS Rural and Small Town Mission (RSTM) hosted its first “Rural Immersion” event Feb. 25-March 4 at the request of Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Ind. It took place in and around Concordia, Mo., during the seminary’s spring break.
The four participating seminarians engaged in a number of activities, including a visit to a family farm, a tour of a rural Lutheran high school and a visit with residents in a small-town nursing home. They also discussed a variety of topics related to rural and small-town life, such as agribusiness, immigration, outreach and community leadership.
“We wanted to immerse them as much as possible in the culture, provide them with hands-on opportunities and let them be in contact with lay leaders, seasoned pastors, churches, Lutheran schools and Recognized Service Organizations,” said Amy Gerdts, RSTM coordinator. “Time and again we hear new pastors in rural and small-town settings say, ‘We wish we had known some of those common-sense things,’ which aren’t so common sense if you’re not from those areas. We want to help equip them for possible future ministry in rural and small-town settings, encourage them to see new opportunities for engaging their communities and fill them with hope for the future.”
The Rev. Todd Kollbaum, newly installed director of RSTM, believes that Rural Immersion events provide tremendous benefits for seminarians and their future congregations.
“The learning curve is so much faster; [new pastors] get acclimated more easily and know what questions to ask when they get there,” explained Kollbaum. “The whole personality of rural/small towns is such that it’s good to have a handle on communication styles, history, agricultural background and other information that you don’t get in urban settings.”
According to seminarian Aaron Spratt, who participated in the Immersion event, “These congregations are unique and [the event was] a great balance to academic work. I feel this time will not only make better rural pastors, but better pastors as a whole.”
The Rev. Dr. Paul Grime, associate professor of Pastoral Ministry and Missions and dean of the chapel at Concordia Theological Seminary, helped coordinate the event with RSTM.
“There are a number of new calls each year to congregations in these settings,” said Grime. “While the seminary curriculum is very comprehensive, we cannot teach everything. That’s why we try to offer several contextualized instruction opportunities each year so that students can learn in the field. It’s also the case that some of our students truly envision themselves as a country or small-town pastor and want to learn more about it. Our hope is that trips like this will better equip our students wherever the Lord chooses to place them, either in a first call or perhaps later in their ministries.”
Based on the success of this first event, RSTM plans to host future Rural Immersions for seminarians.
On behalf of the LCMS, RSTM helps rural and small-town congregations assess community needs and find opportunities to engage in acts of witness and mercy. It supports pastors, as well as professional and lay leaders, through ongoing leadership training, a National RSTM conference, “Engaging Rural Communities” events and webinars — providing a forum for discussion on topics such as congregational partnership, evangelism, stewardship, ethnic outreach and Lutheran day schools.
For a Reporter story about the 2013 National LCMS RSTM Conference, Oct. 31-Nov. 2 in Kansas City, Mo., click here.
Jeni Miller is a freelance writer and member of Trinity Lutheran Church, Cedar Rapids, Iowa.