By Caitlin Magness
The Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod held its annual Rural & Small Town Mission (RSTM) conference Nov. 8–10 in Kansas City, Mo. The conference brought in over 170 attendees from 22 states and Canada, including pastors, lay leaders, and district and Synod workers.
According to its webpage, RSTM “supports rural and small town congregations because, while the work to which God has called them is the same across the country, the context in which that work is carried out varies from setting to setting.”
The annual RSTM conference helps equip Lutherans in rural and small town settings to engage with their communities in witness to the Gospel.
The theme of this year’s conference, “Have No Fear,” encouraged attendees to continue faithfully doing God’s work no matter what their situation is. Reinforcing this message was the focal verse of the conference: “With God all things are possible” (Matt. 19:26).
The Rev. Timothy Koch, pastor of Concordia Lutheran Church, Cresbard, S.D., and Immanuel Lutheran Church, Wecota, S.D., gave the opening plenary, which focused on the many blessings of rural and small town ministry.
Other plenary addresses were provided by:
- Dr. Robert H. Bennett, executive director of Luther Academy, Fort Wayne, Ind. Bennett spoke about spiritual warfare, emphasizing the need for God’s people to be on guard against the attacks of the devil, as warned in 1 Peter 5:8.
- Chaplain Craig Muehler, director of LCMS Ministry to the Armed Forces. Muehler discussed ways for congregations to engage and encourage military members and their families with the Gospel.
- Tom Schlund, senior pastor at Trinity Lutheran Church, Algona, Iowa. Schlund and some of his congregation members talked about the many possibilities that are opened up when congregations work together.
The Rev. Dr. Roosevelt Gray Jr., director of LCMS Black Ministry, led a series of Bible studies on the conference theme, focusing especially on the gifts of Word and Sacrament and how those gifts equip servants of the Word for any context into which God places them.
Breakout sessions covered many of the issues that arise in rural and small town ministry, including disaster preparedness, youth ministry, family outreach, ministering to the disabled, transitioning to a new parish, using endowments to fund rural missions, and working with LCMS Recognized Service Organizations.
“Our 2018 National Rural & Small Town Mission Conference once again exceeded my expectations,” said the Rev. Todd Kollbaum, director of RSTM. “We were once again blessed with a fantastic group of attendees who are genuinely passionate and excited about sharing the love of Christ.
“Folks walked away with a wealth of applicable resources they can take back to their congregations and implement right away. … It is our sincere hope … that our conference was and will continue to be a blessing and resource to the church and to those who live and work in rural areas and small towns.”
The conference provides an opportunity for attendees, who are often separated by long distances, to connect with fellow Lutherans serving in rural and small town contexts. Many come back year after year.
“This conference is a joy, primarily for the reason that there previously wasn’t anything in the Synod like this,” said the Rev. Dr. Keith Schweitzer, pastor of Immanuel Lutheran Church in Greenfield, Iowa, and a five-time RSTM conference attendee. “[We] can come here and receive a program full of resources that are specifically suited for our context and spend time with others in similar situations and share experiences. Plus, it’s a little bit of a vacation!”
The 2019 National RSTM Conference will be held Nov. 14–16 in Minneapolis, Minn., under the theme “Running with Endurance: Eyes Fixed on Jesus,” based on Hebrews 12. The 2019 conference will also include a youth track with special rates for youth and their families.
“It is so uplifting to spend the course of the conference with these special people from rural and small town communities all across the country and hear about God’s work happening in the places He has put them,” said Amy Gerdts, RSTM project coordinator, adding, “We hope to see you in Minneapolis!”
For more information about LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission, visit lcms.org/how-we-serve/national/rural-and-small-town-mission.
Caitlin Magness (firstname.lastname@example.org) is a writer and editor living in High Ridge, Mo.
Posted Dec. 19, 2018