By Rich Brown
JOPLIN, Mo. —
In this day of mega churches and evangelists preaching the word of God over airwaves throughout the world, J.R. Burr begs to differ. Last month, Burr, 78, marked his 50th anniversary as minister of Stark City Church of Christ.
Being minister of the country church, which is located in a small community nestled between Neosho and Monett and has about two-dozen members, is just fine with him and his wife of 57 years, Joy.
Burr is no stranger to rural communities such as Stark City. He was been born just 18 miles down the road from the village and has only left the area for a stint in the Navy.
Religious training not required
He was discharged from the military one day before his 21st birthday and despite no formal religious training, Burr said he decided that he would do a few things for the Lord rather than against him.
"I did not have any education, but I lived the Bible and educated myself," he said. "I am just a Bible-educated country minister. All the education I got came from the good book."
Although Burr's parents did have some influence on him, he admitted that the biggest influence on his decision to take the pulpit came from another country preacher not unlike himself.
The influential minister was like many others from that day Ñ he went from church to church and was known as a circuit preacher.
"He got to be old so he couldn't preach much anymore, and he had to hold onto the pulpit to deliver his messages," said Burr, who prefers only the title of minister rather than reverend or pastor. "He was around where I went to church and (was) the one who convinced me that I could preach."
Joining the circuit
In order to get training, Burr decided to try circuit preaching for himself after returning home from the Navy. He found himself ministering at a different church each Sunday of the month.
"I started in Stella with a sermon, then I would go to Ridgely the next Sunday and improve on it and then go to Powell and improve a little more," he said. "By the time I got to the end the last Sunday at Jane, I knew that sermon and the Scriptures by heart. By the end of the month, I made it a point to know at least 30 passages of Scripture by heart for every sermon I preached."
During this time, Burr also worked at the Longview General Merchandise Store. Then, in 1962, he got the call to take the full-time minister's job at the Stark City church. Hesitant at first, Burr decided to accept the challenge for a year after being told by one of the church elders that "anyone can sell potatoes, but not anyone can preach." That same elder then asked Burr, "Are you going to spend your talent selling potatoes?"
After the first year, Burr said he was never asked to leave, so he stayed.
When Burr began preaching a half-century ago, he estimated that attendance averaged between 40 and 50 people at Stark City Church of Christ. However, as youngsters grow up and get married, they don't usually stay in rural areas anymore, he said, and country churches often feel the effects. In fact, one year Burr counted 20 families that had moved.
Country church or not, Burr and Stark City Church of Christ have not been content to keep their ministry within their own walls. Their outreach has been responsible for starting four different congregations and three churches in Honduras in the two trips Burr has made there.
Address correspondence to Rich Brown, c/o The Joplin Globe, P.O. Box 7, Joplin, MO 64802, or email firstname.lastname@example.org.