Many seminary students are surprised to learn that the vast majority of churches are in rural communities. For pastors who are unfamiliar with what life is like in a rural area, the idea of moving to and ministering in a small town – or in a church in the country – can be intimidating. But, for many pastors who have spent time in rural ministry, ministry in these types of communities is tremendously rewarding. Of course there are rural ministry horror stories, and not everyone enjoys rural ministry, but for many pastors, rural ministry has some amazing benefits and opportunities. Here are 10 reasons why rural ministry is great, in no particular order.
1. There are ministry opportunities available to you that would not be available in larger communities. Religion columns are often looking for area pastors to contribute devotional material to the newspaper. Farmers might invite you to ride with them in the combine at harvest time. Schools might ask you to assist with coaching or substitute teaching. Local community clubs offer the opportunity for your church to connect with the community in a meaningful way. These kinds of opportunities – and many others – are available to the rural church pastor in a way that may not be true in larger communities.
2. Ecumenical relationships may begin out of necessity, but often end up being very fruitful and life-giving. When you are in a small, rural church, you may not have all the financial resources and people power to put on a big community program like Vacation Bible School. That reality causes area churches to lean on each other. Rather than this being a weakness or a difficulty, I think it is another reason rural ministry is great. These ecumenical relationships offer opportunities for collegiality among pastors, and a richness that comes from working together for the Gospel. Rural church pastors often end up working together in text study groups, helping each other with financial needs in the community, working together on special services, helping each other when another pastor is on vacation, and building relationships with each other. Because churches need to rely on each other, there is also usually less of a competitive feel between churches in the same community.
3. Rural churches often have parsonages. Most of the time having a parsonage is a benefit. There are, of course, horror stories of poorly maintained parsonages and churches that did not respect the privacy of the pastor’s family, but parsonage living also has some tremendous benefits. With the amount of student loan indebtedness many seminary graduates are carrying (and, often continuing to pay on for 15 years or longer), a parsonage alleviates the worry of paying rent or a mortgage payment. A parsonage is often near enough to the church for a quick trip back home if you’ve forgotten something. Parsonages are often big and spacious, which is a tremendous benefit for pastors with growing families.
4. Neighbors look out for each other. Of course this one can go awry too, if looking out for each other turns into spying on each other, but many times this is a positive thing. While on vacation, I received two phone calls from concerned neighbors who noticed raccoons in my yard. I’ve had neighbors tend my garden while I was out of town. If someone’s light is left on longer than normal, someone might call and make sure that person is OK. There’s always someone watching out for you in rural ministry, and most of the time that is a great thing.
5. Rural church pastors get to experience many types of ministries. Most likely, the rural church won’t have much for paid staff besides the pastor, if any at all. Pastors will probably get the opportunity to learn more about youth ministry, administration, pastoral care, brief counseling, and many other aspects of ministry. By getting to experience a variety of ministry types, rural church pastors have the opportunity to identify and hone giftedness in a way that would be unnecessary in a larger church with paid staff. Once the rural church pastor has identified primary giftedness and weaknesses that need to be improved upon, gifted volunteers can be sought out and trained for those areas where the pastor is not the strongest.
6. Quiet and solitude is only a short trip away. From where I presently serve as a pastor, I can walk to a park in under five minutes. Once I’m outside of town, it is all open country. There are nature trails and parks only a few miles away. Rural ministry provides a wonderful opportunity for solitude when solitude is needed.
7. Certain forms of recreation are a lot less expensive. Rural communities may not offer all of the leisure activities a larger community offers, but most of the things that are offered are less expensive, and many things are free. A trip to the movies (though they don’t show the newest releases) is only $2-4 as opposed to $10. Libraries offer many free activities for children. Running races cost about $15 to enter, rather than $40 or considerably more in larger areas. Most community events are free.
8. Rural church pastors often have the flexibility to work either from home or from the church office. Many parsonages are even built with an office in them so that pastors have the option to work from home, at least on occasion. Weather’s too bad to walk over to the church? You can work from home. A child has a late start at school due to weather delays? You can stay home an hour longer until your child gets safely off to school. The parsonage where I live even has the church phone set up to ring in one room of the house. When I’m on a day off, I can shut that door and not be bothered by it. But, I can also make needed calls without having to leave home. It’s a pretty sweet deal.
9. People in rural contexts are generally hardworking, kind folks. If you need help with something, help is usually only a phone call away. People are often willing to jump in and help when something at the church needs to be fixed. If you need directions someplace, nearly anyone is willing to help out. And it is not unusual for every person you pass on the street to wave “hello” as you drive or walk by.
10. Members of rural congregations tend to remain members most (if not all) of their lives. In rural congregations, there is often commitment to the church that may not be as present in a community where there are many churches to choose from. There is also a rich history because of this. Generations of families may have made the church their home, which means the wisdom of a long-term member is often close at hand. This can be especially beneficial as pastors work with elders and other church leaders to cast a mission and vision for the congregation, or as pastors seek to navigate any systemic issues that have a congregation stuck in a rut.
***Have you spent time in rural ministry? What are some things about rural ministry that you think are great? Share your experiences in the comments below!