DRN Hosts Its First Conference

Over 80 people attended DRN’s very first conference.  The Small Place: Big Impact conference was held in Imperial, Nebraska, a town of 2,000 three hours from any major city. Everything about the conference was designed for rural pastors. The response was overwhelming. Most importantly, there was a strong sense of God’s presence and blessing from the moment we started until the final commissioning service.

The main theme of the conference centered around the idea that rural pastors and congregations are missionaries. Rural ministry is not a career steppingstone or the minor leagues; it is a calling. Our mission field includes at least 46,000,000 people who live in small and forgotten places. Our mission field is no Mayberry. In fact, the more remote an area is, the less churched the area tends to be. We are called, just like missionaries who are called to far away places, to bring the Gospel to a culture that is far from God.  

There were several highlights of the conference.

Doug and Dawn Routledge from Crossroads Farm did an amazing job of challenging us to give ourselves completely to the ministry. In the first session Doug encouraged us to hear the heart of God for rural America. He shared the story of King David’s mighty men who fought their way into Bethlehem to bring David a drink from the spring by the city gate. They did this because they had heard the sigh of the king. Like them, we go to remote places, making sacrifices not everyone understands, because we have heard the sigh of the King for rural America. Doug and Dawn also led two workshops that taught rural pastors how to build effective youth ministries.  

Mark Adams, lead pastor of Embrace Church, a DRN church plant in Emporia, Kansas, recounted the experience of moving from a suburb of St. Louis to the small town of Madison, Kansas (Population 800). His presentation made us laugh and cry as he recounted trying to help Lamont Wesleyan Church become more cityfied. The heart of his presentation centered on a shift that needs to take place in our thinking when we approach rural culture. He went from “What am I doing Here?” to “What can I do here?” As missionaries we must work to bring the Gospel to the culture we are in, rather than trying to change the culture to fit our backgrounds. Our goal is not to bring “city thinking” to rural America, but the Gospel to rural America.  

Laura Hurd, co-pastor of Wellspring Chapel in Gordon, Nebraska, presented us with a picture of the rural mission field. Many people do not realize the challenges of rural America. Rural teens are more likely to commit suicide, be in poverty, and have addictions than their urban counterparts. Poverty and a lack of access to resources is crippling many rural communities. Laura’s presentation reminded us of the urgency of our calling.

Kara Hurlburt, assistant pastor of Lamont Wesleyan Church, inspired us with a message from Luke 10. She highlighted principles from the story of Jesus sending the disciples out to small towns. She urged us to be prayerful, prepared, and present as we serve. She compared her experiences as a missionary to a primarily Muslim country to her work as a pastor in rural North Carolina and Kansas.

Shaunna Sturgeon, co-pastor of The Watershed, a DRN home church movement in Iola, Kansas, shared insights she and her husband David have learned while starting The Watershed. They have discovered that inviting people into their lives and home is key to reaching younger people. Rather than sermons, they have interactive Bible studies that engage people with the Scripture. At this point over half of the people who attend the Watershed are pre-Christians. She said that many times traditional church is like going on a safari. Everyone stays inside the bus and looks out at the wildlife. No one risks anything or gets hurt, but they get to “feel like” they are with the wildlife. She is learning to get out of the bus and engage the wildlife.

Andrew Hurlburt and Steve McVey led some very practical workshops. Andrew taught participants how to build relationships in rural settings. Steve shared insights into the different ways that urban and agrarian people think. Both sessions were incredibly practical for rural missionaries.

We were also very thankful that Jeff Clark attended the conference. Jeff works with the International Missions Board of the Southern Baptist Convention and Rural Matters Institute. He is a leading rural church researcher. He brought valuable insights and encouragement to the entire DRN team.  

The founder of Dirt Roads Network, Steve McVey, led the final session of the conference. After briefly detailing the long-term vision of DRN, Steve shared a short sermon from Acts 8. In verse 26 the angel of the Lord gives Philip directions country people can relate to. He told him to head south, down to the road that goes to Gaza, adding that it was a remote place. Steve pointed out that when God sends us to a remote place, he has gone before us and has a plan.

He then challenged us to revisit our calling. Are we called to be missionaries to places we serve? Do we believe in the importance of our calling and in God’s plan for us? Are we responding to the heart of the King? Steve said that in the end, we really only have two choices; resign or re-sign.

After a time of reflection and worship, Steve read from the story of the very first missionary commissioning service found in Acts 13. “While they were worshiping the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, ‘Set apart for me Barnabas and Saul for the work to which I have called them.’ So after they had fasted and prayed, they placed their hands on them and sent them off.” People were then invited to come forward to re-sign and be prayed for. The Holy Spirit fell on us for the next 30 minutes as nearly everyone came forward to be prayed over. Each person or couple was individually prayed over by one of the DRN team. It was a fitting end to a blessed 24-hour encounter with God.

We would like to thank the Mountain Plains District and the Kansas District of the Wesleyan Church for sponsoring this event. Thanks to District Superintendents Billy Wilson and Nate Rovenstine for adding incredible value to their rural pastors.  

Steven McVey