Monday, June 04, 2007

The Lack of Ministers for Rural and Small Churches

This is a piece I wrote late in the summer of 2006, and it's still a topic of huge importance to me. I do not believe the newer generation of ministers are as willing to serve smaller or rural churches and I would certainly like to hear from them about this topic -

Having just begun my sixteenth year of ministry at my church, I’ve been thinking about what is one of the great scandals of the American church – short pastoral tenures (as well as the short tenures of all church staff). The average pastoral tenure in our country, according to various estimates, ranges from eighteen months to about three years. How can we speak about faithfulness and commitment with any integrity when churches and pastors cannot remain faithful to one another? I fault both pastors and churches for this problem. Pastors know there is a career ladder that exists in ministry much the same as any profession. And there are issues of supporting a family; there are financial realities to life. But the Scriptures are clear about the calling of God when it comes to these matters. God did not talk to Moses about securing an adequate compensation package and he didn’t speak to Abraham about retirement benefits. Jesus didn’t tell Peter, Andrew, James and John to lease out their fishing business for a good price while they were following him or tell Matthew to get a good sale price on his tax-collecting business. He simply called them to follow him and they did, and greatly complicating their lives in the process. But churches, likewise, must remember what it means for a family to come into a community, oftentimes hundreds of miles away from any family. They need to understand that ministers have families who need their time and attention, especially when they have young children and face the difficult pressure of balancing family and ministry.

The reality is that it is simply too easy for a church and for a pastor to move on to the next person or the next place. The Scripture tells us the church is the body of Christ and his body should not be so easily pulled apart. We have, I fear, come to the point where we merely reflect our society’s propensity toward short-term relationships and the failure to enter into long-term commitments. It has become too easy to leave either church or pastor as a way of avoiding the hard work of growing together into a sense of oneness.

And further, what does it say that so few are willing to come to rural areas? Why are so few willing to enjoy any kind of tenure in a small town or rural area? I attended a meeting a few years ago and the leader of the meeting, during a break, told one of the participants I’ll never pastor another rural church. The person he was speaking to was in hearty agreement with him. I didn’t say anything, and I regret that I did not challenge them.

Most of Jesus’ ministry took place in rural areas. He spent time in Jerusalem, but it was in the small towns and rural areas that he spent most of his ministry. Today, many pastors understand that a large, urban or suburban church provides a platform that is far broader and more visible from which they can launch a more well-known public ministry. But we are called to be faithful to where we are called, and I fear that many can no longer allow themselves to hear the call to rural ministry.

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