Editor’s note: John Shields is one of the featured missionaries for the 2020-21 KNCSB Associational and State Missions Offering. The offering goal is $210,000. Half of all receipts will be returned to the association where the money was given. Find offering resources on the KNCSB website at https://tinyurl.com/ya8atzx5

By Sue Sprenkle

The secret to ministry in rural Western Nebraska is pretty simple: participate in a pastors’ cluster group.

At this meeting other secrets and helps are revealed such as:

  1. Go to the coffee shop and talk with the farmers and ranchers.
  2. Get involved in the community beyond church.
  3. Don’t rush -– life is slower paced in rural America.

John Shields, pastor of Parkview Baptist Church, Lexington, Neb., is a KNCSB church-health consultant. He explains that pastoring in a rural setting can be “culture shock” for some first-time pastors. It was for him when he moved to Nebraska from Florida 25 years ago. He left a larger town and place where there was a church on every corner to most things being an hour or more away.

“We had never lived in a small town,” Shields recalls. “The director of missions at the time, Dennis Hampton, stopped by our first month and gave us tips on small-town culture in the Midwest. He kept checking in on us and introduced us to other pastors in the area.”

Shields says meeting other Nebraska pastors was an important part of their transition and longevity. It helped him not feel so isolated and alone — one of the main reasons for leaving the area cited by other pastors. It helped so much that Shields now mentors other rural pastors through cluster groups.

Most pastors moving to Western Nebraska are from the South or larger cities. Everything around them can be new including the need to be bivocational.

The cluster groups match pastors who have been in the area for a long time with those who are new. They meet as a way to offer support to one another. They bounce ideas around and lend a listening ear.

“The idea is to help pastors not feel so isolated from their peers. The guys that have engaged have found strength, encouragement and care,” Shields says.

“My dream is that every pastor has a chance to be involved and form trusting, lasting relationships with his cluster group. It’s a place to download challenges and praises with a group of peers who understand.”

Gifts to the KNCSB Associational and State Missions Offering help ministries like pastor cluster groups throughout Nebraska and Kansas. Shields believes these gifts are a long-term investment in pastors, impacting the health of churches.