September 12, 2011

Ministry in the Bible Belt: Buckle Up!

A seminary wife in my church reported that her women’s Bible study kicked off the fall semester with a talk entitled “How to Be a Southern Lady.”

I wish I had been there. I need to know.

I’ve only been a “Southern Lady” for eight years now, and my inner Yankee keeps coming out. Of course, every place has its
own vocabulary and culture. But, as a dear friend told my husband before he moved here: God’s people are everywhere. We have found this to be true.

And in this “Bible Belt,” God has put saints in abundance. In almost every grocery store, classroom, and office building, I can find someone who loves the Lord. This is a blessing. And, for those in ministry, it presents a special kind of challenge.

The Temptation to Compete In a place where multiple ministries occupy a single town, it can be tempting to compare myself to others. It’s easy to count how many cars are in the parking lots we pass on the way to our own church. It’s easy to get discouraged. And, because women are so good at sharing with one another, I can always find another woman who has my same ministry but is doing more and getting better “results.” It takes deliberate effort to focus on living before the Lord alone.

The Weight of Baggage The other difficulty of living in a church-filled environment is that the people to whom we minister have a past. There are few people here who do not have previous church experiences and, thus, expectations. For some, it was a favorite pastor’s wife who set the bar for every other pastor’s wife. For others, it was a wolf, wearing lamb's wool, who left them angry. I can’t always measure up, and I can’t fix every hurt. Again, I must return to my obligation before God alone, making His smile my greatest delight and His frown my greatest grief.

The Blessing of Fellowship A multitude of ministry families also means rich fellowship. I have been in pastors’ wives groups. My children play with other ministry kids. My husband has no shortage of men to ask for wisdom. We are thankful.

The Opportunity for Honesty Bible Belt culture means that outwardly well-ordered lives are the norm. Family life is valued. Church attendance is not unusual. But, underneath, people still experience the messiness of sin, and the looming menaces of doubt, fear, and discouragement. This is an opportunity for me to be honest about my own need for the Savior of sinners. Proclaiming Christ’s work in my own imperfect heart is a privilege.

The Value of a Soul My biggest struggle in Bible Belt ministry is restlessness. I love the church where God has planted us, but I also feel I should be somewhere with a greater need. I question why God didn’t send us to New England, to Nova Scotia, to Nepal. At those times, I have to remind myself of the infinite value of a single soul. One person, dead in sin and brought to Christ, causes angels to rejoice. (Luke 15:7) One person, anxious or hurting but loved by us, is precious in the sight of the Lord. (Matthew 25:40) Caring for even one needy soul is valuable.

Next week, my mom will write about ministry in a secular environment. For now, we’d love to hear what lessons any of you have learned in the Bible Belt. 

You may be interested in a discussion of ministry in the North.


  1. This post helps us in the North keep things in perspective. We might think the grass is greener south of the Mason-Dixon, but I have been there in mid-summer, and I know otherwise.

  2. 6 years ago I felt God's tug to go to Africa to serve because "the need was greater." How quickly I learned in a 7 day visit that the need was actually much greater in America, especially the South. The disguises of church attendance, seminary classes, multitude of church buildings always being built or "planted," and packed Sunday school rooms can be very deceiving to the inner workings of the heart.Thank you for being true to your calling. Thank you for sharing.

  3. What an encouragement; thanks! I'm sure it's partly my inner Eve that's always thinking something (somewhere) else would be better.

  4. My husband and I are preparing for missions overseas by studying at Oxford, so we've already left home. Since we've left, I find my mind is full sometimes of all the opportunities we had--and would have--in our families and contexts back home! And I think, "if only we weren't so unfamiliar with the culture" or "If we don't have a language barrier we could . . . " and so on. Thanks for this post and discussion--reminds me that the work is going on all over the world--and He knows best where to put us.

  5. Being one who was born a "Southern Lady," I had to laugh - I still am not entirely sure what that means!

    After nearly thirteen years of ministry in the Bible Belt, I can definitely agree and identify with the challenges you listed, especially that restlessness. Thank you for putting these into words!

  6. Glad to know that even true Southern Ladies (with a birth certificate to prove it!) sometimes struggle to navigate this life.


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