“Feed my sheep.” These are words that Jesus speaks to Peter in the 21st chapter of John’s Gospel. These words were read to me as I was consecrated into the Office of the Holy Ministry, and these words have deep impact for the understanding of what an undershepherd of our Lord is to do. While these words hold true for all times and all places, they have a great significance in the area of rural ministry. For many rural congregations, farming remains the primary means by which people continue to make a living. While larger farms are farming more land, there are numerous occupations that work hand in hand with farming operations themselves.
While rural ministry raises many challenges and perhaps many questions by those who did not grow up in a rural culture, it does come with many wonderful blessings. One of those blessings is the mere understanding of business itself. Upon arriving, the good natured jesting among the farming community towards the Pastor is the old saying, “Pastors only work an hour a week.” Of course, any who have talked with any Pastor, know this is not true. But as thinks about this phrase, I shot back to the farmer, “I’ve figured it out. I know why Pastor’s and farmers get along so well. We work an hour a week, and you only work three months out of the year. So, we have the same work ethic.”
Of those three statements, only one of them is true. Pastor’s and farmers have the same work ethic. Both are entrusted in their vocations to feed. A farmer, even if they have no sheep, feed animals from pigs to cattle to horses to people themselves. A Pastor feeds people with the Word of God. Farmers and those occupations that help to serve the food of the body are a wonderful and needed occupation. Thanks be to God! In like manner, Pastors are those that feed the soul.
Pastors and farmers do well by reminding us the living out of Ecclesiastes 3:1, “For everything there is a season, and a time for every matter under heaven.” The farmer relies on the seasons and the grace of God to live and feed and serve in his vocation as God would have him do. The Pastor relies on the seasons of the church year to feed and teach the whole counsel of God. There are busy times, and there are times where things slow down for a bit; there is time to work and time to rest; and there is always time to worship God.
One more closing story on rural ministry. Before the days of tractors, farmers around here would sow, reap, and plow outside and some would sing as they would pass the time (I know some still do today). It has been said around here that one would always know when those times would come, because one could stand outside and hear several farmers singing hymns and glorifying God in their work. Rural ministry has many overlooked blessings. How great a task to work together for the building up of the Body of Christ!
With this article we introduce Pastor Koepp to to regular writing crew here at BJS. Pastor Koepp is the pastor at my home congregation – St. Luke Lutheran in Posen Township, Wood Lake, Minnesota. He is going to be adding a dimension of what faithful Lutheran ministry in rural areas looks like and some of the unique challenges and joy of such ministry. Please feel free to submit questions about rural ministry to us through the Ask a Pastor link in the “comment policy”. Here is some more about Pastor Koepp: Rev. Joel Koepp is the Sole Pastor of St. Luke Lutheran Church in Wood Lake, Minnesota. He was married to Markie (Gusler) Koepp on August 19, 2005. God has given them three wonderful children, Joel, Elizabeth, and Kaitlynn. Pastor Koepp graduated from Southwest Minnesota State University in 2005 with a B.S. in Social Work and he received his Master of Divinity from Concordia Theological Seminary, Fort Wayne, Indiana in 2010. He is currently working on his Doctoral of Ministry degree from Sioux Falls Seminary in Sioux Falls, South Dakota. His sermons and church information can be found at www.yourstlukes.com.