Show Notes

Many rural church leaders are part-time or bi-vocational. With such high demands on their time, what does “excellent” preaching look like?

Patricia Batten, Assistant Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, provides encouragement and direction for rural church leaders doing their best with limited resources. She also shares her story of ministry among those with disabilities and explores what a more inclusive church experience could be.

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Interview Summary

“Everyone deserves to be transformed by Jesus through the body [of Christ] and it’s our job to help facilitate that.” 

Starting her preaching journey in the small, rural church of Kennebunkport, Maine, Patricia Batten learned early the importance of weaving scripture into the fabric of everyday life. Her experiences in these close-knit communities shaped her approach, emphasizing inclusivity and direct engagement.

Now, as a Professor of Preaching at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Pat enriches her teaching with vivid storytelling through her active ministry. Living with her family, including her daughter Audrey Grace, who has Down Syndrome, on the North Shore of Boston, Pat advocates for dedication and excellence in preaching and thoughtful consideration of the entire audience, including people with disabilities.

The Commitment to Preaching in Rural Ministries

“Make a commitment to preaching, because once you get to your church, you realize there are so many things that need to be done…it’s easy to get into that rut of the Saturday night sermon.”

The essence of rural ministry lies not just in the act of preaching but in the commitment to ensuring that the Word resonates within the hearts of the community. In the vast quiet of rural life, the preacher’s voice must carry not only the teachings of the Bible but the tangible presence of hope and connection. It challenges leaders to carve out time, amidst the myriad of pastoral duties, to craft messages that speak directly to the soul’s longing for understanding and belonging.

Navigating Time Constraints and the Value of Preaching

“Most pastors spend 14 hours a week on their sermons, some spend 20… thats a lot of time…[but] I can tell you some of the things I’ve done, over the years, I still think that preaching is a very high value when it comes to ministry, and we can’t let that go.” 

Rural pastors often find themselves at the crossroads of spiritual guidance and community leadership, wearing many hats that stretch their time and resources thin. Yet, the heart of effective ministry beats through the dedication to sermon preparation—a process that demands prioritization and strategic time management. This dedication underscores the transformative potential of preaching, serving as a beacon that guides the community closer to faith amidst their daily struggles and joys.

Integrating Faith into Daily Life Through Preaching

“That sermon has to be a sermon to you before it’s a sermon to anybody else.” 

Messages delivered from the pulpit must first deeply resonate with the one who preaches, embodying the lived experiences of faith’s challenges and triumphs. This personal connection ensures that preaching remains relevant and relatable, bridging the gap between the sacred text and the lived realities of rural congregations.

The Role of Preaching in Rural Renewal

“His word transforms us. It changes lives.” 

The role of preaching in rural renewal transcends the mere dissemination of biblical knowledge—it is about catalyzing a transformation that touches every aspect of community life. Through messages that inspire, challenge, and comfort, rural ministries can become wellsprings of spiritual rejuvenation, offering new perspectives on faith that encourage growth, resilience, and collective action in facing the unique challenges of rural living.

Embracing Inclusivity: The Church’s Role in Welcoming Individuals with Special Needs

“My experience with disabilities in the church…[began with] the birth of our daughter, Audrey….it’s a hard diagnosis, but I really felt like, in the church, she will be loved.” 

This reflection opens the conversation on the critical need for inclusivity within the church, especially concerning individuals with special needs. It challenges rural ministries to reflect on their practices and spaces, urging them to create environments where everyone, regardless of their abilities, can find a place of belonging and spiritual nurture. Embracing inclusivity not only mirrors Jesus’s ministry but also enriches the church community, highlighting the diverse ways God’s love manifests through each individual’s life and contributions.

Preaching For and With the Rural Church

“Every week we need to come in expectantly that God’s Word will change lives.”

The essence of rural ministry, as illuminated through practical insights, emphasizes the critical role of preaching in nurturing faith and inclusivity within these close-knit communities. Highlighting the importance of preparation, the integration of personal faith journeys into sermons, and the specific attention to inclusivity—especially for individuals with disabilities—underscores a broader call for rural churches. These practices not only ensure that sermons resonate more deeply with congregants but also affirm the church’s role as a beacon of transformation and belonging. The invitation stands: for rural church leaders to cultivate messages that speak to the entirety of their congregation’s experiences, fostering an environment where every member, regardless of their challenges, can see themselves in the story of faith.

Reflection Questions

  1. How much do you value preaching? Why do you feel that way?
  2. In what ways in preaching in the rural setting different from other settings?
  3. How can rural churches balance tradition with the need for innovative approaches to preaching and community engagement?
  4. Does your church have a plan to include those with disabilities? How does your preaching reflect this?
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Jeanette Staats
About the Author

Jeanette Staats

Jeanette has over 20 years of diverse experience in collegiate ministry, specializing in general oversight, staff coaching and development, children's ministry, and discipleship. She holds a B.A. in English with an emphasis in Professional Writing from Virginia Tech and a Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies from the John Leland Center for Theological Studies. She also serves on the board for The Ecclesia Network. Jeanette is an avid Hokie fan and rarely misses an opportunity to watch a collegiate sporting event.