I'm reminded of the parable of the 99 sheep and 1. The good shepherd left the 99 sheep to go and find the one lost sheep in Luke chapter 15. "And when he finds it, he joyfully puts it on his shoulders and goes home. Then he calls his friends and neighbors together and says, 'Rejoice with me; I have found my lost sheep.'" Luke 15: 5-6
We all understand this conceptually every soul is important, and there is great rejoicing in heaven when even one lost soul is found. But the parables in Luke 15 go beyond a numbers game as Jesus narrows the focus from 99 to 1, to 9 to 1, to 1 to 1. In each parable, the emphasis is on finding that which is lost, and spending all of one's energy on the lost rather than more programming and hospitality for those not lost.
Certainly, you do not have to travel far from home to find the lost when your ministry is located in a densely populated urban area. There are perhaps larger deserts with lost souls in big cities than in small ones. But Jesus' parable was about going through the extra effort to find the one lost sheep, depicting a search that was not so close to home. In Jesus' second parable in Luke 15, he describes a woman sweeping her whole house and searching everywhere until she finds her lost coin. And in the story of the prodigal son, the lost soul had ventured to a distant country, yet his father kept a watchful eye while the boy was still a long way off.
Serving God in rural places is a lot like the parables of Luke 15. Even if it is just one soul that was once lost and now found, there is great rejoicing in heaven! The parable of the great banquet in Luke 14 further proclaims this message, "'Go out to the roads and the country lanes and compel them to come in, so that my house will be full.'" (Luke 14:23). The search may be difficult, and the harvest may be small in numbers, but there is great rejoicing in heaven whenever those independent, far-from-home, lost souls are found, and brought into the Kingdom of God.
Serving God in rural areas is indeed a calling, one accepted by many strong men and women of faith whose talents are not being wasted on a few, but whose efforts follow the spirit of Jesus' parables to diligently seek that which is lost, no matter how far from home, and care for those most difficult to find. So, for those who have heard that call and followed God's direction, be encouraged that the Lord sees your good works, and delights in even one soul who receives salvation.
What are your thoughts? In what way has being a rural ministry leader been a tremendous blessing to you or to your ministry?