Small town has big ministry

By Jeff Campbell

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Community Giving Tree gifts for needy families

Eddie Pennington is a pastor who figured out one of the keys to ministry success in a small town is to reach out to everyone, including pastors of other churches.

Sublette, Kansas, is a small (population 1,400) bedroom community near Liberal and Garden City.

“Sublette is definitely rural. It’s all about agriculture,” Rev. Pennington said. “There are about 100 cows for every person.”

As pastor of Sublette United Methodist Church, he admits small town ministry can be fun when he takes advantage of the relationships he has formed with pastors from the Southern Baptist, Christian, Gospel Mennonite, Nazarene, and non-denominational churches.

“Even with different theologies, we can learn a lot from each other and work together,” Rev. Pennington said. “It’s all for the benefit of the community.”

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Weekend food packages for students

Being a small church of fewer than 100 attendees, they choose to primarily focus on “their own Jerusalem” for their ministry. They have made it their purpose to reach out to the local public school district.

Members started a weekend food program after hearing a presentation by the school superintendent about the number of kids who have food shortages on the weekend.

“We decided to jump right in and create a food ministry for all students,” Rev. Pennington said. “No restrictions, no singling out. Any student can take a food package home. We’ve been so pleased at how successful that has been.

“Along with that, the school district identified 35 families with 68 kids in the community who were not going to have much for Christmas,” Rev. Pennington added. “ The church started a giving tree and asked all the churches in the community to contribute to provide for these families. The churches adopted all the families, not only providing Christmas gifts, but also developing relationships with them. I don’t believe any one church could have done all that on its own. It’s been so satisfying to hear the testimonies about how the love of Christ has been shared.”

“Even with different theologies, we can learn a lot from each other and work together,” Rev. Pennington said. “It’s all for the benefit of the community.”

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Rev. Eddie Pennington

Rev. Pennington, who is beginning his sixth year, has been at Sublette UMC his entire ministry career.

“I am a Kansas native, lived here my whole life,” he said. “I had worked in the aircraft industry, but began to experience a call to ministry. This calling went on for years, and while I didn’t exactly fight it, it took a while for me to accept it. I really believe that this is what I was created to do.”

Having experienced this call himself, Rev. Pennington is intentional about leading his people to examine the possibility of their own call, and teaching them to be disciples is part of that.

“We’ve had good participation from the congregation in moving more from a pastor-dependent church to a member-dependent church,” he said. “It’s been slow, and there have definitely been some relearning. That is essential part of changing the mindset.

“Growth has been slow, as it is in small town churches,” he said, “but it has been consistent. We’ve added one or two people a year, and have had no decreases in five years. I’m proud of that. What I have done for the past five years is to teach a consistent message on the Great Command and Great Commission and live it out inside and outside the church.”

Rev. Jeff Campbell is the General Secretary of Discipleship Ministries. He comes to this role having led Discipleship Ministries as the Associate General Secretary for Strategic Programming, where he coordinated the work of the agency around three strategic priorities: an Intentional Discipleship System in every church; equipping local churches to engage their communities; and lifting up and creating local, contextual resources globally. Rev. Campbell joined Discipleship Ministries in 2013 as Executive Director of Conference Relationships.