What the Church Can Learn from Dollar Stores

July 5, 2024

Host: Dr. Isaac Crockett

Co-host: Hon. Sam Rohrer

Guest: Pastor T.J. Freeman

Note: This transcript is taken from a Stand in the Gap Today program aired on 7/05/24. This is a rebroadcasted program originally aired on 4/5/24. To listen to the recent podcast, click HERE.

Disclaimer:         While reasonable efforts have been made to provide an accurate transcription, the following is a representation of a mechanical transcription and as such, may not be a word for word transcript. Please listen to the audio version for any questions concerning the following dialogue.

Isaac Crockett:   Well, hello, I’m Pastor Isaac Crockett and I’m with the Honorable Sam Rohrer, the president of the American Pastors Network and the regular host of this program. And on this Friday program, we have a special guest with us today, pastor TJ Freeman of Christchurch in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, which is in Tioga County, Pennsylvania, the northern most part of Pennsylvania, and he’s also with the Brainerd Institute for Rural Ministry. TJ, thanks so much for making time to be on this program with us today.

TJ Freeman:        It is my pleasure, guys. Thanks so much for having me. I love talking about God’s work in rural places.

Isaac Crockett:   Well, TJ, you’re in Tioga County, which some people may not know a lot about it. Some people have heard of the Pennsylvania Grand Canyon, which isn’t too far from where you pastor and a lot of folks come up here just to see the beautiful colors and experience some of the beautiful, I call them mountains from the Midwest, but the hills and the lakes and streams and things, but it can be cold up here. This winter didn’t seem too bad until we got into spring and now it’s been pretty cold. And so you were ministering actually in the opposite of Tioga County. You were in a warm, tropical place, ministering. How did the Lord lead it in your heart to come up to this area and really put rural ministry at the heart and vision of your ministry and of the ministry at Brainerd Institute for Rural Ministry?

TJ Freeman:        Well, it was definitely God’s providence. I can tell you that because I think I was born for the tropical environment. I personally think the best temperature outside is when it’s so warm that you can get out of the swimming pool and not even need a towel. So that’s what I am into. I like warm weather and I like busy places. Even still when I go into a city, you start to see that city skyline and it’s like my heart can beat again. So from a young age, for whatever reason, I felt really inclined toward bigger populations than the small town I grew up in and had a desire to be in warm weather. And the Lord gave me those things when he allowed me to go as a church planter to southwest Florida, I thought that was it. I mean, I’m picking out burial plots thinking that that’s the kind of place where I’ll spend the rest of my life and die.

TJ Freeman:        But as the Lord would have it, that was not exactly his plan. I was taking a class online and I happened to see in the sidebar an advertisement for a pastor position in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, and we had just started having children and I said to my wife, sweetheart, if we ever wanted to get back to our rural roots, this would be the opportunity to do it. And we prayed. We thought long and hard about it, and I ended up applying and was called by that church. Even when the church called us, I was not entirely sure that that was really the right move, but we moved back. I wish I could say Isaac, that I was immediately glad about that decision, but it took about three years for the Lord to convince me that he actually is doing good work in rural places and that I should understand that I’m privileged to be a part of that and it’s an honor to work in a place like this.

Sam Rohrer:       TJ, I grew up in a rural area in Ohio, so I like rural areas and even where I’m situated here in Pennsylvania, it’s more rural than not, but I never really chose it. God chose this location now for you to choose a church or for God to choose a church location for you in your area and for you to shift from wanting to be in a populated area to one where you are now, God laid on your heart, something that you’ve kind of phrased as a Dollar General principle more or less, which is very intriguing. Would you share that please?

TJ Freeman:        Well, one of the challenges that I discovered when I moved back and I had a little bit of reverse culture shock coming back into a rural setting is the distance that I now live from the nearest. I mean to think about not being able to just go across town. Now if I want to eat that chicken, it’s a pilgrimage to get there. And I was thinking about the fact that it is not in Chick-fil-A’s business model to come to a little town like Wellsboro. And trust me, I’ve done the research, if we could get a Chick-fil-A in this area, we would do it. But that’s just not part of their plan. And I understand that, and a lot of businesses are that way. Bigger business needs a bigger population to thrive. Dollar General, on the other hand, has a completely different philosophy. Those things are everywhere.

TJ Freeman:        I think that their philosophy is you drive by one and you don’t want to go 10 miles before you get to another one. And what they’ve done is they’ve figured out how can I get into the place that has the lowest concentration of people and still be profitable? And as I just reflected on that, I thought, man, if Dollar General cares enough to find out where’s the smallest concentration of people, we can get in and still be effective, how much more should the church be thinking about that kind of thing? So rather than just seeing strategically where can we go and have the biggest bang for the buck as a church, we should be looking into these little places and saying, where can we be and thrive as a church in places that maybe other people aren’t thinking about?

Isaac Crockett:   That’s a really good point, and I can sympathize with you. This Christmas we got Chick-fil-A coupon or gift cards, and it was like, where are we going to spend these at? Just a week ago went out of town somewhere where partly was is there Chick-fil-A there? But I remember when the Dollar General went in near my house within 10 minutes of my house, how exciting that was that we actually had a Dollar General. But in our areas, and we don’t have much time here, but often in many areas, people see an old abandoned church building and there’s something innocent tugs at our heartstrings. What does that remind you of, TJ? When you see these abandoned church buildings

TJ Freeman:        That reminds me that the baton has been passed to us for the sake of the gospel and we don’t want to drop it. And when you think about these abandoned churches, we’ve all seen ’em across the countryside. I have one not far from my house that’s fallen down completely. I mean it was abandoned and now it’s completely fallen apart. No one’s even come over to clean up the mess. And I think the reason for that is because the people who cared are now all buried in the cemetery across the street. When we see things like that, we think about the fact that the Lord’s supper was being served there, baptisms were happening, the word was being preached, people were being married there and buried as a result of the ministry of that work, caring for the saints, and that’s a symbol of the gospel and we’re supposed to see the gospel advancing. That’s what we should be fighting for in our lifetime. It’s Christ who builds his church, but he does it through means and those means are the people living in places like we do. And as we start to see a shift away from rural and the rural church decline, it’s just a reminder, we really need to be fighting for the advancement of Christ’s kingdom in rural places and not content to just see it close along with the factories and some of the other things that are leaving the area.

Isaac Crockett:   That’s a really good point, and as you’re listening today, we want to talk about this. We want to talk about what’s going on in the country and so many times, and many of you listening, you feel this. You feel like you’re in an area that on the news maybe is considered declining. You’re in an area where maybe it’s harder to find a good church. And I think in America, we are starting to struggle to grapple with some of these issues in our churches, in our communities, and what do we do about it?

Isaac Crockett:   Well, here at the American Pastors Network and at Stand the Gap Media, we talk about these things. We have Dr. George Barna on quite a bit talking about how churches have made decisions that have distanced them from the word of God, and we have to engage culturally, we have to engage in our communities and all of those things apply in rural church ministry as well as any church ministry anywhere in the world.

Isaac Crockett:   And so today with Pastor TJ and Sam and I, we’re going to talk through some of these issues. We want to look at this, we want to look at pulpits and pastors and see what those wanting to get into ministry, what they should be looking at and expecting, how we can look at getting pastors to fill pulpits or to start churches in areas where Dollar General stores might go but other places don’t want to, but as well as what you, any of our listeners, any Christian living anywhere in the country, but especially even in rural areas, what we can do to stand in the gap for truth to present truth to those we love to those we know to those in our community. So we have a lot to look at, a lot to talk about When we come back from this quick time out to hear from our partners, we’re going to talk about some of the shortages going on in the pulpits of many rural churches and how we can find men to fill those pulpits with our guest pastor TJ Freeman when we come back right after this on Standing the Gap today.


Isaac Crockett:   Welcome back. It’s Pastor Isaac Crockett in the Honorable Sam Rohr. We’re talking to Pastor TJ Freeman of Christ Church at Church up in Wellsboro, Pennsylvania, but he’s also one of the founders of Brainerd Institute for Rural Ministry. TJ, can you tell us about Brainerd Institute for Rural Ministry? Explain what it does. You just explained this idea that the Dollar Generals and stores like that that are looking for rural areas where they can go, what is the smallest population that can keep this store going? Shouldn’t we as churches be looking at something like that? Where can we go? Can you talk to us about what led to this rural Ministry Institute, the Brainerd Institute, and really quick version of what it’s there for to do?

TJ Freeman:        Well, it really started out of that dark season I mentioned earlier when I moved back to Pennsylvania, it was truly three years of me asking the Lord to allow me to leave. I felt really compelled to stay here because I had committed to this congregation and I had no good godly reason to go anywhere else. Just some fleshly desires to be in warmer weather. I missed those palm trees and the higher population density, and I think I had even confused some things in my mind like equating size with significance. Some of those things we tend to do and being out here made me feel a little like I was put out the pasture literally. So I picked up a copy of the life of David Brainard, which goes through David Brainard’s journals and some editorial comments from Jonathan Edwards, and it’s really rich as I read that.

TJ Freeman:        First, I got really convicted, and then I got motivated. I’m not the only one who had that experience. Missionaries like William Carey, Adoniram and Ann Judson, Jim Elliot, they all cite reading that journal as part of what motivated them to go into ministry. And what you see is Brainerd did not intend to be a missionary in Pennsylvania, as a matter of fact, and into New Jersey. He wanted a pastorate in the New England states and through some really unfortunate circumstances he couldn’t do that. And he was called out to what at that time was the most remote part of the country. He became what feels to us like kind of an accidental rural pastor and it killed him. He gave his life to that ministry and it made an impact that we’re still talking about today, that God is continuing to use for the advancement of his kingdom.

TJ Freeman:        And I thought, man, what better guy to look to as a role model for rural ministry? So a lot of my reluctance is I think present in the hearts of many men who are going into ministry. They’re not looking at rural places as a primary desirable place to go for a number of reasons. I think Brainerd’s testimony would cause us to second guess that a little bit. I had that experience, then I started reading Genesis one, thinking about what it means for God to want the earth full of his glory. He made man in his image, he gave us dominion over the rest of the earth, and then he told us, I want you to be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. God wants his image and his dominion to be exercised and made visible to the ends of the earth. Every place that was not inhabited.

TJ Freeman:        He wanted earth to be inhabited with image bearers who care for his things. So you see the flood happened in Genesis six right after the flood. What’s the first thing he says? God says to Noah and his sons, he repeats that mandate, be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth and subdue it. You get to Genesis 11 and there’s a tower of Babel and we all think of that as they built this big prideful monument, which is true, but what’s the real problem? They said, we’re going to do this to make a name for ourselves so that we don’t have to be dispersed over the face of the earth rather than making a name for God that is global. They wanted to make a name for themselves that’s in a really concentrated area. And what does God do? He confuses the language so that they’ll have to be dispersed.

TJ Freeman:        If you go back and read Genesis 11, you’ll see at the end of that twice he comments on the fact that he’s confusing the language for the purpose of dispersion. God wants the earth filled with his glory through the presence of his people, which means we have to keep on going. It’s not an indictment against cities, but certainly cities are not enough. God wants the whole earth to be filled with his glory through image bearers, exercising his dominion everywhere. Beyond that in the New Testament, we know that it is through the church that the manifold wisdom of God has made known not just in your rural community or whatever community the church is in, but in a realm we can’t access in any other way to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places. So somehow God’s people gathering together makes a statement that transcends that place.

TJ Freeman:        God wants that to happen, not just in big places. God wants that to happen in the smallest communities to the ends of the earth. That’s his plan from the very beginning. And so you just look around and you ask yourself, why are there not more rural churches? I mean there’s a lot of rural church buildings. Many of them are empty, some are apartments, some are storage sheds. Why don’t we see more healthy rural churches? And that’s where kind of this idea of what Brainerd had done, what God means for his creation came together to say We need to do some work here to provide resources and some convictions that would help draw men who are in rural ministry to stay and be faithful and draw men who are not yet in rural ministry to consider that as a possibility for what the word would have them do.

Sam Rohrer:       Well, pastor TJ, I’m saying what you just did right there, it’s almost an apologetic, it’s a description of God’s principle of getting out a combination of what he said was all the way back creation and then Jesus coming, I mean his work was done with just a small handful of people and look as what has happened I think was just beautiful. So I appreciate that. One of the things that I’m contacted about a lot is empty pulpits or pulpits that are about empty needing people to fill them. It seems like it doesn’t make any difference where it necessarily is, but you’re specifically talking rural, small churches, less populated areas. What have you found? Obviously you’re talking about empty buildings, so we know we have empty buildings, but what about the buildings that are full? Is there a demand for pastors? What are you finding out there with a number of folks that are actually even considering filling a pulpit in a small area? What have you found?

TJ Freeman:        Well, empty buildings I think are the fruit of pulpits that remained empty for too long and the congregation just wasn’t able to keep the ministry going anymore. We don’t have the numbers. I wish we did. I’m sure there’s a way to get them, but we can tell anecdotally that the number of men entering ministry in general is not keeping up with the number of churches that are closing or losing their pastors. Beyond that, most guys are not thinking about going into rural ministry. I would love to know what is the actual rate of attrition? How many rural churches are we losing and how many men are going to replace those pastors who are stepping out or churches who are closing? I think if we had the data, we would be alarmed that the number of guys going in will not even get close to replacing the number of churches that are closing the existing churches who are there.

TJ Freeman:        We get the same kind of calls you do, very frequently for Pulpit Supply. That led to us saying we really need to be making known the need for pastors in rural places and the need to have some guys come in right now and help support the churches that are already in existence. So we have a rural residency program that we started here. We go to universities, we have a network of other churches that we work with and try to take men who are interested in rural ministry and give them an opportunity to receive some training from us. And then we empower them to go out into some of these local churches, some of who need pulpit supply, some of who are looking for pastors. And it really is a beautiful situation because it gives guys who are on their way up some experience and it gives churches who really need some help. The idea that there’s still faithful men out there who are willing to come and preach. That’s a part of what we do at Brainerd is train men to be able to go out into these churches and serve them, whether as layman who will go out and do pulpit supply or as guys who might be called into that kind of a role.

Isaac Crockett:   I love that. And just kind of thinking through that, what as a pastor maybe do you do or would you recommend that pastors can do to try to encourage the next generation to be thinking about going into ministry and maybe that ministry is going to be in a rural area? Are there things that as a pastor can be done to encourage that next generation to already be thinking that way before they even are old enough to go to college or seminary?

TJ Freeman:        Yeah. Well, I love seminary and I would never want to downplay that, but I do think a lot of the next generation of pastors and rural churches are going to come from rural churches and probably do a lot of their training right there within the context of the local church. I would have a conviction that we’re called to make disciples. And when you make a disciple, it has a lot to do with who God has made you, how he shaped you. You’re helping shape the next generation around some of those things that the Lord is entrusted to you. So if you’re a pastor, you certainly should have an eye toward raising up men, not just to be good faithful men in the church, although that’s good, but also with God’s help, it would seem that there would be some men who the Lord would call out of that church and into rural ministry.

TJ Freeman:        As a rural pastor, you should be investing in guys in a way that allows you to ask some questions about whether or not they would sense a call to rural ministry to give young men opportunities to teach, to keep entrusting to them, those kinds of things. Beyond that, we have four pillars here at Brainerd that we work toward. The first one is expositional preaching. I think the number one thing you can do as a pastor to serve the next generation is preach really faithful sermons, making sure that the sermon you preach matches the contours of the text that the sermon arises from. You’re letting the word of God actually speak, and that’s way more powerful than anything you can do.

Isaac Crockett:   That’s awesome. And Sam, we’re almost up to our break, but Sam, what have you noticed when it comes to just this problem that we’re talking about where there’s more pulpits that are needing filled than there are men going into it?

Sam Rohrer:       Well, we know that the Bible schools, Bible colleges have a lower enrollment, so it’s just what TJ you’re saying, there’s less going in. So your suggestion that perhaps mature lay pastors who may be individuals might find that this is something that they could do. I mean that’s certainly not foreign biblically. So I’d like you to explain that a little bit more about can a person survive? Does a person have to be a vocational type of an approach to pastor, a small church? Some of that our listeners and viewers may be thinking, possibly, could I do this? I’d like you to explain that a little bit more when you get a chance.

Isaac Crockett:   Alright, well we’re going to take another time out to listen to some of our partners when we come back. We’re going to have more questions for TJ already. We have a lot of questions for him. We’re going to look at what every Christian can be doing, especially those in rural areas, not just pastors but every Christian, what you can do in your area to have an impact on your community and to have an impact on those around you. So we’re going to hear from some of our partners and come right back on Stand in the Gap today with these questions for TJ Freeman.

Isaac Crockett:   Well welcome back to the program. It’s Stand in the Gap today. This is our Friday program. I’m Isaac Crockett, joined by Sam Rohrer, my co-host, and we’re talking to Pastor TJ Freeman. Before I go back with some questions for TJ, I just want to remind all of you that if you haven’t heard the whole program, some of you’re joining right now at the top of the program, we’re talking today about rural ministry, about everything from pastors to we’re getting into what just everyday regular Christians can do in their rural area and everywhere to have an impact on their community.

Isaac Crockett:   But if you like to hear the whole program, you can always go back to our website or go back to any of your favorite podcast platforms and catch the whole program or one of the favorite things that I like to listen to the program is through our Stand in the Gap app and you can get our radio programs, you can also get our half hour TV programs and other information right through that app. So if you haven’t downloaded that to your smartphone, I would highly encourage you to listen to the whole program that way. And then also on your favorite podcast platform or on the app, you can even if you don’t have time to listen to a whole program, our producer Tim Schneider oftentimes will put in podcast Q and A, so just a part of a program. Last week we were talking about Good Friday and had some things about Passion Week and Easter.

Isaac Crockett:   The week before that we were talking with the Christian musicians, Matt Papa, who was just releasing his latest album of hymns, and so some of those things, you may want to just hear a little bit of it. Maybe you’re just in the car for something or just have a little bit of time while you’re exercising. You want to listen five minutes or 10, 15 minutes of one of our programs. I would encourage you to look at those podcast Q and A’s on our website, on our app, or on your favorite podcast platform. Well, TJ, I want to go back to some things that we’ve talking about and just real quickly, we started talking about the Brainerd Institute for Rural Ministry and what a neat history it is to think about David Brainerd and what happened there, but could you maybe talk to us a little bit about those listening, how they could find out more information, where they could go there as well as what Sam brought up about that need for layman? For godly layman, I want to really talk in this segment about godly lay folks, but maybe even lay pastors or bi-vocational pastors or whatever hybrid maybe we have going on nowadays that might be helpful for people as they are looking at bringing good churches with expositional preaching into every community of our nation.

TJ Freeman:        Yeah, well, thanks for asking. If you wanted to learn more about the Brainerd Institute, you can go over to brainerd institute.com. That is our growing website with a lot of resources on there to help you. It gives some information regarding things like I mentioned before. We have our pillars that we are standing on as a foundation of what we think are the essentials for healthy rural ministry, at least from the angle of us providing some support. That first one you touched on and I mentioned earlier, expositional preaching. The second thing is godly leadership. We really have, I think in the rural church, seen a decline in faithful biblical leadership and that has become, in a large part because populations are in decline, it comes from maybe a history that is more focused on tradition than it is on getting into the scriptures and asking what they say about the way we lead our churches and maybe just from being a little bit isolated and insulated in a rural community.

TJ Freeman:        And so, reclaiming a biblical understanding of leadership in the local church is a big part of what we’re working toward. The next thing is we call it gospel saturation, but churches are not meant to work in isolation. When I was a church planter, to my shame, I went in with some kind of an unspoken feeling that I was in competition with some of the other churches around me that is so displeasing to the heart of God. He is not building just a local congregation. He has chosen to segment us into local congregations within the regions we live, but he is building a church that is much bigger than one congregation. It’s not about the four walls we gather in. And so we look at partnering together with like-minded churches who are preaching the gospel, who stand on foundations of truth and who want to see Christ made known throughout their region.

TJ Freeman:        And so, saturating a region with the gospel is saying with the number of Christians who actually live in this place, every man, woman and child in this location should have repeated opportunities to hear and respond to the gospel. That is a big part of the work that every layman must do. By the way we have a responsibility to in our communities for the sake of making Christ known. The last pillar that we have mentioned on our website is rest. God built rest into the very beginning. It’s part of his process in creation. It’s what he means for every Christian to do on a weekly rhythm. And pastors are some of the most guilty of not resting well.

TJ Freeman:        We believe that a lack of rest has a lot of issues associated with it, one of which is burnout, and we don’t want to see that happen especially to rural pastors because we need these guys staying in a fight. Those are some of the things that if you’re interested in those types of topics, head on over to Brainerd. Also, if you’re interested in a rural residency, you think you might be discerning a call to ministry. We’d love to talk to you more about that. But getting back to your question about the layman, I think one of the bigger problems we face in the rural churches, we tend to minimize the value of each person in a rural place. When your community is best known by others as the middle of nowhere, you say that, where are you from this little town no one’s ever heard of out in the middle of nowhere that mentally communicates something that I think we grab ahold of that would make us feel like the place we live in doesn’t matter so much otherwise it would be known.

TJ Freeman:        And so, the way that I live out in this place in the middle of nowhere may not seem to matter as much. Nothing could be further from the truth as the gospel goes forth, we’re kind of on the front lines of the gospel going to the ends of the earth. You might be the only Christian living on your street and when you’re there on some dirt road in the middle of nowhere that no one has a clue where your address would be. The GPS can’t even get someone there. You are representing the king of kings and Lord of Lords there in a way that no one else is. As a follower of Christ, living in the middle of nowhere, something about his character and nature is being seen through you and it’s making a statement beyond you all the way, as we said earlier, up to the rulers and authorities in the heavenly places.

TJ Freeman:        When you then go into the community, you should think of yourself as an ambassador. Paul talks about that all the time in the New Testament. We have an ambassador like presence in our communities as citizens of the kingdom of heaven who live here in these places. And then the Christians who live together, however few there are in a rural setting. When you gather to worship the Lord together, you’re making a statement that’s just so much bigger than what I think you often realize. So taking that responsibility seriously, really loving the Lord, really finding your all in him as you maybe sing about, but possibly don’t think about that often. Being really faithful to God, being a really faithful church member and then investing in your community for the sake of the gospel, remembering that whether you eat or drink or whatever you to do, you do, you’re to do it for the glory of God.

TJ Freeman:        Doing that in a rural context and understanding that to be the reason that God has you there, that is so significant. And if you happen to be in a community where there is no presence of the church, there’s not a healthy church there in your community, maybe consider just praying that the Lord would raise up people who are like-minded who could get together and not travel to some other bigger area for church, but meet right there in the community where you live, where you do your business, whatever, where you spend most of your time worshiping the Lord there and declaring the gospel. That’s a big part of the reason he has you there. So I would just commit to praying that the Lord will raise up a church in your community,

Sam Rohrer:       TJ, both you and Isaac, some of those watching us and listening to us may not be aware that Isaac who’s on this program right now, pastor Isaac, Dr. Isaac Crockett, is also working at a very small church in a very rural area and kind of reviving a church that was about to fall into the kind of category that TJ you are talking about. So both of you men have a quality, and I’m just saying someone just a little older than you, I’m saying God bless both of you for being willing to be at a spot that’s not glitz and glory and all the things that normally are the trappings of what this culture tells people they should do and all that to be successful. But TJ, you’ve used the word faithful. Be faithful where you are and understand that God has a design purpose for that. Can I just ask you one question? You want to have just a couple minutes here, and that’s what you referred to, is that churches generally, yes, they do not work together. They’re afraid of competition. They’re afraid of losing a member, a small church, losing a member or two is a really big deal compared to a big church losing a member of two. How did you deal in your own mind and heart before the Lord with getting rid of that fear of competition and losing somebody to somebody down the road or across the valley?

TJ Freeman:        Well, when I was church planting and had that experience where I came to the realization that I was sort of beginning to see other churches as competition, the Lord and his providence brought a brother in who spoke on that very topic to a bunch of us church planters, and he talked about the fact that this is a kingdom that Christ is building. It is not your kingdom, it is his kingdom. And he asked the question, would you be able to celebrate the growth of the church down the street if that came at the cost of your own church? And honestly where I was at the time, no, the answer was no in my heart and the Lord just got ahold of me and helped me to see that this is not about anything to do with me at all, nor should I have my pride in any way connected to the size of my church.

TJ Freeman:        There’s the famous quote about men who wish their church was bigger and then they stand before the Lord and realize that they had quite enough at any size, and we are going to give an account before the Lord for the shepherding we do. And the responsibility is great, whether it’s one or 100 or a thousand. So yeah, it’s developing a kingdom mindset and realizing that Christ began this work long before me. He’ll continue it long after me and he is building something much bigger than me. I also, I think a lot about the way we look at the church. We have a couple of lenses that we pick up. We have our reading glasses where we’re looking at our local church and that’s where we spend most of our time. You wear your reading glasses quite often if you need ’em. We also have a telescope that we look in every now and then and we know I’m supposed to look globally across the seas and see how I can be supportive of missions. I think there’s a third set of lenses we need to pick up, and that’s the binoculars we need to be looking around at the churches that are just a little bit out of sight, churches around us who we can partner with for the sake of the gospel and support each other as Christ builds his kingdom.

Isaac Crockett:   Amen. It’s all about the kingdom of God. Even Jesus Christ came to do his father’s business and to build his kingdom. Too many times we want to be kingdom builders of our own company, of our own. Even congregation can become that way, but when we come back, we want to wrap things up and we want to pray for God’s kingdom and for the Church of America. We’ll be right back on Stand in the gap today.


Isaac Crockett:   Welcome back to the last part of our program. Today we’re talking with Pastor TJ Freeman of the Brainerd Institute of Rural Ministry and TJ you get to talk to and work with pastors, especially in rural areas all over the country. And just a few months ago, I remember hearing from an older gentleman who was in your church before you came and then since you came and he was telling a group of other pastors about you, and he was just beaming as he was talking about what God did when you came back to that church and how God grew it and strengthened it and that it not only kept the older generation there but brought in, used you to bring in younger generations and things as well.

Isaac Crockett:   And it’s been exciting to see that in your church. And we have a number of churches that we work with, the American Pastors Network, so the Lord is at work, but we also hear from many pastors who are tired, they’re weary from the fray of the fight, especially since COVID-19. Things have gotten a lot more difficult for many small churches and other large church ministries as well. What words of encouragement would you have for a pastor or a church leader listening right now, especially maybe for those in rural areas that they describe themselves much like you did? Much like I find myself doing, oh, we’re out in the middle of nowhere kind of a thing. What kind of words of encouragement would you have for them?

TJ Freeman:        Well, I think you could look to the words of Paul at the end of second Timothy. He is writing and he’s asking for some things at the end of the letter and he comments on the fact that he really is by himself. Most of his friends have abandoned him, even those who seemed faithful for a time. He’s sitting in prison, he’s cold, he wants his coat, he wants his books so that he’s got these things to read and study. I mean, by all accounts, that’s like a failed ministry. If you get to the end of your ministry, you’re by yourself. You don’t even have a coat, your friends have all abandoned you. Nobody would say that’s the kind of glamorous glitz and glam like you mentioned earlier. That’s at all the kind of ministry road that they thought they would be on. Yet the apostle Paul is responsible for most of the New Testament.

TJ Freeman:        The Lord has used him in such a powerful way and continues to do so and will until he returns. Brother, we should expect a road that is marked by suffering and difficulty. Jesus made that clear. The apostle Paul is an example of a faithful brother who walked that road before us and he prepared us to walk that same kind of road. So couple that with the words of Peter and one Peter five when he says, shepherd the flock of God. That’s among you. That’s the charge that you’ve been given. And I think one of the most dangerous traps we fall into is comparison. You go away to some conference and you see the great resources they have or hear these awesome messages that charge you up and make you want to go back. And you sometimes get back and it’s like the air goes out of the balloon.

TJ Freeman:        And over time, that can be really discouraging. I think those things, as good as stuff like that is some of the comparison culture that it produces is not healthy. And we need to remove or resist that temptation to give the comparison and say, I think I want to shepherd the flock I wish I had. Instead of saying, I’m willing to shepherd the flock that God has entrusted to me scripture is sufficient. But in addition to scripture, God has given shepherds in local churches to use the scripture to apply it to the particular situations that the saints of our day are living in. And so we have a responsibility to just look at that flock as challenging, as difficult, as small as whatever under-resourced as it may be. Those saints are precious to our Savior who died for them. The lost in your community are just as lost as the people anywhere else.

TJ Freeman:        The work that the Lord has called you to is good work, brother. It’s hard work, but remain faithful to that good work. And the other thing I would just mention is watch out like a hawk for selfish ambition that just flips in there so easily. And that’s what Peter warns against. We shouldn’t shepherd. Shepherd out of selfish ambition. There should be nothing about that. We should just have a desire to please the Lord and one day that’s who we’ll stand before and give an account for this kind of work. And man, I can’t wait to hear by God’s grace and with his help, the word’s well done, good and faithful servant. And as the Lord helps us to get through even challenging rural ministry situations, he leads us to that point.

Sam Rohrer:       Amen, TJ so much. I mean that is I think for every person who is a believer and who is doing anything for the Lord, what you just said, there should be before us all the time. When we stand before the Lord, will he be able to say, well done. Good. And faithful servant involves all of those things. So today you’ve highlighted the importance of rural areas. You’ve highlighted the importance of men, young and old to be willing to pastor in areas like that. Look for smaller places, maybe all these things we’ve gone through. Now, let me ask you this question because it’s a question we get sometimes. I don’t have an answer for it. Talking to you here is probably the best we’ve come, but that is this. I hear from people who listen to this program. They’re all over the country. And as Isaac said earlier, there’s a lot of people who live in rural areas. I hear from many, many, many. There just isn’t a church that preaches the gospel in my area. Many of them are in rural areas. So here’s the question. What can the average person, a believer who is committed to the gospel, wants to have a fellowship of believers? What can they do? Supposing they are in an area that’s rural, what can they do to find a church or start one or be a part of a body of believers?

TJ Freeman:        We actually get that question pretty often. And part of what we aim to do here is raise up men that we can send out into communities like that which we’ve done. And that’s going to be a key part of this is churches being willing to give some of their best resources to hive it off and send it out into a community where that need is there. So number one, I would encourage those who are in healthy churches, no matter how big or small you are, consider what you can do sacrificially for the sake of communities around you who do not have a resource like what you are blessed to have in your town. That is not your thing. That is a gift from the Lord and it’s meant to be shared. So I think churches who are healthy in rural places and honestly bigger churches and bigger places need to think about that as well as part of their strategy for the advancement of the gospel.

TJ Freeman:        For those Christians who are in little towns, there’s some towns around us of 500, 700, a thousand, and you think, man, our town just wouldn’t even be able to support a pastor. Your responsibility, number one, is to be really faithful where you are. So you need to be a faithful Christian in that community. But maybe you could look at what would it be like for us to just start praying and meet with some other Christians in your community, start to pray, hold a Bible study together and see if the Lord wouldn’t raise up a leader there. And it’s probably going to need to be a bivocational guy who is willing to preach the word faithfully and look at what it would be like for us to be a church right here in this community. And you’re going to have to let go of some of the things that you think are really important but maybe aren’t essential for a church to do.

TJ Freeman:        A church needs the word to be preached. It needs baptism and the Lord’s supper. That’s what’s really required. And some faithful quiet singing for the encouragement of each other without feeling like our music program is what saves us or all of these kind of things that we get drawn to in our current cultural context. Strip that down a little bit and ask, well, what would the Lord say is required for a church? And start doing those things. And you’d be surprised that maybe the kind of work the Lord can do through something as simple as that.

Isaac Crockett:   Amen. Amen. Well, if you’re thinking about this, if you’re in an area where this is really like what you’re here, don’t forget to go to the brainerd institute.com. You can find all sorts of really helpful articles, not just talking about thing, but really practical hands-on articles, podcasts. You can see those four pillars that TJ was talking about. And I hope that that will be a great resource for all of you out there, whether you’re leadership in your church or you’re just praying about these things. And TJ, thank you so much for being on with us. Same. We just have a few seconds, but would you quickly close us in prayer as we finish our program? Yeah.

Sam Rohrer:       Glad to. Heavenly Father, we are so thankful Lord to be in your ministry. And Lord, everyone listening and watching is actually in your ministry too. If they love you, there are things that all can do called where they are. And Lord, certainly, it’s not just the big church in the big place, it’s the small church in the small group where you are just as much present. Thank you for TJ and his ministry. Bless him in the Brainerd Institute. We ask in Jesus’ name, amen.

Isaac Crockett:   Amen. Amen. Thank you for that. Sam TJ Freeman, thank you so much for being on the program with us today, and thank you for listening every one of you as you listen and pray for our ministries. We so appreciate all that the Lord is doing and all the prayers and support we get from you. And until next time, please pray and stand in the gap for truth wherever you are today.