RELIGION: One of the Greatest Challenges to Rural Ministry

A few days ago a friend asked me, “What is one of the biggest challenges you face in planting a church in a small community?”

I’ve been asked this question many times over the past seven years since my family has planted, led and cared for The RESCUE Church in the rural community of Flandreau, SD.  And without hesitation my answer to him was…


OK, wait a minute!  I know what you’re thinking.  “You mean to tell me that as a pastor you’re saying that RELIGION is one of the biggest challenges to doing your job?”  Yep!  And here’s why… 

I often say that Satan is the father of all religion.  The Bible makes it clear that one of Satan’s primary weapons in his arsenal against mankind is deception and disguise.  Religion is Satan’s counterfeit alternative to a real, life-transforming, eternal life-producing, RELATIONSHIP with Jesus Christ (who, claims in no uncertain terms in the Word of God to be the ONLY WAY  to enter into a right relationship with our Creator, to be forgiven of our sin, and to be granted the gift of eternal life).

Satan’s ultimate goal is the destruction of souls.  He doesn’t care if someone lives a somewhat moral life and adheres to a belief system that was passed down to them by their well-meaning parents…so long as in the end they are separated from God for all eternity because they never established a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.

My observation after seven years of church planting in rural America is that many people have an abundance of religion…but very little evidence of a personal relationship with Jesus Christ.  And their religiousness is exactly the thing that keeps them from seeing how desperately they need Jesus!

They wrongly believe that because they attend the church with the “right” denominational title, or because they were baptized as an infant (a decision they had no part in – and also a practice found nowhere in Scripture), or because they were confirmed, or because they faithfully attend church, or because they’ve given money to their church, etc. that everything is fine between themselves and God.  Essentially, because of their religion, they don’t need Jesus!  I’m reminded of Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:8-9, “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”

Furthermore, it has been my observation that very often religious people even feel threatened and offended when they see authentic examples of Jesus Christ at work in people’s lives!  Some of the most negative comments and criticisms and hate mail I have received in the past seven years have come from religious people as our church has lovingly reached out into our community, ministered to hurting people, boldly proclaimed the truth of God’s Word and as a result, experienced much growth.

In the days ahead I will have more to say on this subject and I will give more examples of how the spirit of religion is blocking so many rural people from hearing and responding to the most important truth in the entire world…that they need Jesus Christ…not empty religion! 

Until then, I’d love to hear your thoughts on all of this…

About Jon Sanders

Follower of Jesus; Husband to an amazing woman; Father of 3 great kids; Pastor of a multi-site church with a vision to reach rural America for Christ!
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