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PRM Annual Conference Recap

Emma R. Whiteford

On the weekend of September 14th -16th, pastors and laypeople along with Grove City College professors and students gathered for the fourth annual Project on Rural Ministry conference. The theme of Leading like Jesus colored the discussions, topics, and workshops of the weekend. Overall, the conference proved to be a rich weekend of communing with old friends and fellowshipping with new friends, of celebrating five years of PRM, of reflecting on the connections that have been made and growth that has happened, and of looking onward to the bright future that lies ahead for the Project on Rural Ministry. Here’s a glimpse into what the weekend included.

Pre-Conference Gathering for Pastors in PRM Cohorts

Thursday evening offered a time of reflection and celebration for the pastors and their spouses who have participated in PRM over the past five years. Gathered for dinner on an open-air patio, this fellowship exuded a profound sweetness as various shepherds of God’s people, knit together by their shared work in rural churches, swapped stories, talked about the past seasons of their ministries, and chuckled over common experiences. PRM program director, Charlie Cotherman, delivered a timely encouragement on what it means to live in “faithfulness right where our feet are” as we wisely operate within our creaturely finitude. This, Cotherman reflected, necessitates looking to the “the intentional inefficiency of God” exemplified within Christ’s incarnation.

Pastor Mark Sentell, a member of the PRM's Rust Belt Cohort, reflects on contextualized ministry during the Thursday evening pre-conference gathering.

Afterwards, Glenn Daman, pastor and author, spoke on the illustration that Psalm 23 provides for how God tenderly cares for His people and, thence, how shepherds can care well for their sheep. Pastors Calvin Cook and Mark Sentell shared remarks on the complexities and blessings of rural ministry, reminding the pastors that they are not without fellow laborers who encounter the same hardships and joys in the task of building the kingdom of God within forgotten places.

Hosted at Tower Presbyterian Church in Grove City, the events of Friday morning and afternoon rang with these same themes as the pastors from PRM cohorts met for concluding discussions, prayer, and a final blessing from Cotherman.

Members of the PRM team and PRM pastors and spouses gather for a photo on the steps of Tower Presbyterian Church in Grove City, PA.

A Resource for Pastors and Lay-Leaders from the Region

Friday evening marked the beginning of the public conference. Pastor Glenn Daman opened the second half the conference by speaking on The Landscape of Rural Ministry. In this talk, Daman cautioned against chasing after the embodiment of a “visionary leader;” he exhorted pastors to walk with the people of God slowly, and sometimes in obscurity, as a “faithful shepherd.”

Sam Allberry addressed pastors and lay leaders on Friday and Saturday.

Sam Allberry, associate pastor at Immanuel Nashville and author of numerous books, furthered these points made on Christian leadership with a discussion on Mark 10 and what it teaches us about Cruciform Leadership. “There are still some under-evangelized parts of our hearts,” Allberry warned, “we’re not above using Christian ministry for our own glory.” Through exploring what this passage teaches about Christlike leadership, Allberry reminded the audience that, “In Christian leadership, putting someone in their place is putting them above us and not below us.”
Furthermore, church leaders are only ever under shepherds and “the best way we can shepherd anyone is bringing them under the voice of the chief shepherd.”

These applications were centralized around the truth that servant leaders must first learn and continue to learn how to be led by the One True Shepherd. “Leaders,” after all, “are sheep as well,” Allberry reflected. Ultimately this life of servant leadership is catalyzed and sustained by the fulfilling reality that, as Allberry stated, “we serve a servant, and our risen and exalted servant is still serving us.”

Continuing into Saturday, the conference presented a combination of keynote addresses and two-part focused workshops. Allberry delivered two messages out of Ephesians 6 on Spiritual Armor and Persevering Prayer respectively. The morning and afternoon workshops were divided into three tracks. Counseling was led by Bob Shull. Youth & Children was led by Kim Greenleaf and then Duffy Robbins. Finally, Dr. Seulgi Byun and Matt Koerber teamed up to provide a framework for preaching the book of Isaiah.

The afternoon offered a panel on sexuality featuring Dr. Seulgi Byun, Sam Allberry, Dr. Carl Trueman, and Bob Shull. These four men thoughtfully replied to various questions that laypeople and pastors asked about how to respond to difficult situations pertaining to transgenderism and homosexuality.

At the close of the conference, all attendees gathered in the sanctuary to conclude a weekend spent learning how to lead like Jesus and a sketch of the exciting future as the Project on Rural Ministry transitions to the Center for Rural Ministry at Grove City College in 2024. In his concluding remarks, Cotherman, who will lead the new center as executive director, highlighted several ways that the Center for Rural Ministry will continue and expand the work of the PRM. He also noted that pastors should be looking for opportunities to apply to affinity groups organized around topics like youth ministry, small-church ministry, and rural church planting. Cotherman also expressed the team's continuing commitment to connecting students with pastors and local congregations.

From left to right, Byun, Trueman, Allberry, and Shull field questions during the afternoon panel on sexuality.

In total, the Project on Rural Ministry was delighted to serve the 31 PRM pastors and their spouses, 52 lay leaders and local pastors, and 47 Grove City College students who attended the conference. Members of the PRM team are looking forward to building on this success in the coming years. The dates have already been set for next year's conference. If you are interested in being part of this unique opportunity in our region, mark your calendars now for September 6-7, 2024.

Emma Ruby, raised in central PA, is a writing intern for the PRM and a senior studying English, Christian Ministries, and Redemptive Entrepreneurship with the hope of spending a lifetime doing vocational ministry.