By Patrick Bowler
Valley Life Church (Lebanon, OR) 

There is a modern form of folklore better known as “urban legends.” Urban legends are stories repeatedly told and assumed to be true, which tend to be rooted in myths more than facts. In regards to church planting in small-town America, there are some legends as well—rural legends. Klassen and Koessler identify five such legends in their book, No Little Places.[1]

The first, “The Numbers Myth: To be significant, a ministry must be big.” Jesus’ very incarnation debunks this one. In Philippians 2, the Apostle Paul said of Jesus, “Though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men” (Php. 2:6, 7). Or consider what the Prophet Isaiah prophesied concerning Christ:

“Who has believed what he has heard from us? And to whom has the arm of the Lord been revealed? 2 For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or majesty that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. 3 He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not” (Is. 53:1-3).

Greatness is not defined by size and stature. Jesus said greatness is defined by service (Matt. 23:11).

The next two legends are similar—“The Big Place Myth: To be significant, my ministry must be in a big place;” and, “The Recognition Myth: One measure of the significance of my ministry is how much recognition I receive for it.” Unfortunately, we have equated the spotlight with achievement. The Oscars, the Emmys, the Tonys, the Video Music Awards, among others, have become the industry standard for greatness. We are tricked into believing that if we are doing well, people will notice and make much of us. John the Baptizer said, “He [Jesus] must increase… I must decrease” (Jn. 3:30). In Jesus’ parable of the talents (Matt. 25), both the servant who received the five talents and the one who received the two were commended for a job well done.

A fourth rural legend, “The Career Myth: Career advances are signs of a significant ministry,” is influenced more by the American dream and professionalism than anything else. John Piper said, “We pastors are being killed by the professionalizing of the pastoral ministry. The mentality of the professional is not the mentality of the prophet. It is not the mentality of the slave of Christ. Professionalism has nothing to do with the essence and heart of the Christian ministry.”[2] One need only read the book of Jeremiah to render this myth meritless.

Finally, “The Cure-for-Inferiority Myth: If I can just succeed professionally, I’ll no longer feel inferior,” is really a combination of all five legends. Success is determined by size, significance is determined by success and the subsequent recognition that follows, and if you have all that then you can feel good about yourself. What a destructive way to live! The Apostle Paul said we are not ignorant of the devil’s schemes (2 Cor. 2:11). Believing these myths is right where our enemy would have us. Let me help by swapping the word “myth” with the word “lie.”

  1. The Numbers Lie.
  2. The Big Place Lie.
  3. The Recognition Lie.
  4. The Career Lie.
  5. The Cure-for-Inferiority Lie.

These lies are robbing rural America of pastors and movement leaders. Klassen and Koessler offer the following truths to combat the aforementioned lies.[3]

  1. God judges my work not by its size, but by its quality (1 Cor. 3:13).
  2. Wherever God has called me to minister is an important place (Php. 1:12-13).
  3. God calls me to seek his glory not mine (Lk. 6:26).
  4. I am to approach my ministry as a calling, not a career.
  5. God loves me because he is love, not because of anything I do for him.

[1] Ron Klassen and John Koessler, No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), p. 20-23.

[2] John Piper, Brothers We Are Not Professionals (Nashville, TN: B&H Publishing Group, 2002), p. 1.

[3] Ron Klassen and John Koessler, No Little Places: The Untapped Potential of the Small-Town Church (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Books, 1996), p. 23-30.