I am in way over my head.
Here I am, a recently 30 year old man that is the Senior Pastor of a small Pentecostal church in rural Newfoundland, in an area where churches all around me are closing down, are on their last legs or have died. Legalism has ravaged and bound this area to the point that now; to many in our community, Christianity is nothing more than some sort of folklore religion and a list of do’s and don’ts. It is a place where the good news of the Gospel has been overshadowed by the bad news about hell and where for many, the hope of seeing a spiritual renewal is on the same level as hoping for a Strabucks to be open beside the local Foodland.
About 9 months ago, the Lord saw it fit to place my family and I into the small community of Carter’s Cove and into an amazing church family. It is not a sexy city. It is not a bustling metropolis, but for this season of our lives, it is our home.
The truth is that there are many rural places within our great country that are currently undergoing the same things that are happening here on New World Island in central Newfoundland. At one time, God by his grace allowed many brave men and women to travel around the country to small towns, convinced as the Apostle Paul was that the gospel had to be preached where Christ had not yet been named (Romans 15:20-21). They literally left everything and started to preach in barns, in front of stores, on community wharfs etc. What came out of this incredibly fruitful evangelistic time was the planting of many churches. Especially for Pentecostals who were ostracized by much of the mainline and Evangelical communities, the birth of these congregations was a clear vindication of what they believed God was doing. For so many years, people had pointed fingers, laughed at and had persecuted early Canadian Pentecostals, but by the late 1950’s, the movement had exploded and was growing at a rapid pace.
For decades, these Pentecostal movements grew. They influenced much of the greater Evangelical world in various ways. But by the early 2000’s, everything changed. Church attendance had already been declining and many people were thinking very differently about the role of the church in daily life and what a relationship with Christ was all about. Many people also had left churches where the Gospel and Christ were secondary to legalistic, works righteousness rule keeping. With the dawn of the internet in the mid 1990’s many people were now exposed to a plethora of different doctrinal and theological perspectives that would have never been explored in their denominational contexts previously. It was a new Evangelical world and unfortunately, many rural churches in Canada were not ready for it.
It’s 2014. Our rural churches are not even treading water anyone. Many of those churches are now filled with older saints who are tired and bear many battle scars. They have fought an amazing fight, but due to economics and apathy, there are whole generations missing within these churches. It is at times like these that many are of the opinion that the best thing to do is to watch these congregations die and then plant new churches in more strategic areas.
I absolutely believe we need to be church planting in strategic areas, but we also need leaders who will step into our rural communities with fresh vision for revitalizing and a desire to rebuilding our rural Gospel hubs.
My hope is that when we are done our work here, at the very least we’ll be able to hand off to the next Pastor a healthy church that has been rebuilt. And so, the journey has begun. Over the next few months and years this blog will be dedicated to ideas, challenges and the hope that is found within church re-vitalization.
The future is bright and there is much to hope for.