My name is Joe Bridgman. I am the founder and director for Agros. This is my wife, Becca, and our two daughters. Thank you for your interest in this ministry!
The treasure of small-town churches is personal to me. I lived my early childhood in a rural town of less than 400 people. Besides the school, the barbershop, and the gas station, there wasn't much more in town besides churches. And I grew up in the small Baptist church. It was hidden from me at the time, but that church was a treasure. Everything we did just felt ordinary. We had simple Sunday morning and evening services, small Sunday school classes, summer VBS, prayer breakfasts, and (I'm sure) other ministries that a young boy didn't find remarkable. But looking back, what made that church a treasure was how they loved an unremarkable boy like me, and in a deeper way, how they loved Christ in an unremarkable place. There wasn't fame or fortune to be gained in that church. There weren't strategic people to be reached for Christ. There were no standing ovations for defending the truth of the gospel. There wasn't a big platform for a pastor to expand his influence. The prevailing motive for teaching God's Word and loving others in that church had to be the reward that only Christ can give. And so far as the members of that church did this, they bore witness to the treasure of heaven's kingdom to me.
But the treasure of small-town churches is also theological to me. After the Lord graciously saved me and called me to follow Christ, I aspired to vocational ministry. After seminary training at Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, I sought to become an overseas missionary with my wife. We had the privilege of serving a church in Scotland for two years. During these years of ministry experience, some theological convictions deepened in me. The romantic delusions that had drawn me into ministry died. Even some selfish ambition to prove that I was somebody had to die. Those two years left me convinced of this: ambitious gospel ministry must be driven, above all, out of faithfulness to Christ. Ministering to a church must matter to us, not because of its size or its strategic value, but because it matters to Christ. The church of 3,000 (Acts 2:41-42) matters as much as the church of 2 or 3 (Matt. 18:20) because Christ is among them both. So, whichever one Christ puts us in, we must sustain our ambition for the advance of the gospel in that place out of our supreme love and faith in him.
As these convictions were deepening in me, I was also becoming aware of how small-town churches in the rural Midwest were being neglected. We returned in the fall of 2020, and I began interviewing friends and pastors. The stories burdened me. I heard of new pastors treating the small-town church like a temporary career step or a dead-end to waste their potential. Few stayed long enough or even cared to build the relationships that are so crucial to Christian discipleship and maturity. I heard of seasoned and lonely pastors whose confidence in God's Word had weakened and so filled their pulpits with moral lessons, funny stories, and inspirational quotes. I encountered young men who did not leave their small towns, loved the Lord, and wanted to learn how to teach His Word, but were unable to attend a theological institution. The ones who did uproot themselves and go to those institutions rarely came back.
As these burdens were growing on my heart, I stumbled across Matthew 13:44 in my devotional reading. It says, "The kingdom of heaven is like treasure hidden in a field which a man found and covered up. Then in his joy, he goes and sells all that he has and buys that field." That's when Agros began. The Greek word for "field" is agros. I wanted to see a ministry begin that works to treasure what is hidden in an agros, specifically churches in the small towns of northeast Kansas and northwest Missouri. The ministry launched in 2021. We are focusing on finding, training, and supporting pastors for small towns in our region. We want to connect and equip these laborers so that gospel-preaching churches can spread all over our region, even into the tiny communities. It matters to us, because we believe it matters to Christ.