What is happening to the rural pastor? Is the small church pastor becoming a thing of the past? How are the changes occurring in society effecting this type of ministry? This past week I had opportunity to visit with one of our pastors in a small town in Saskatchewan. The answers I happened upon might make some of us rethink our ideas about rural ministry.
I flew out of Calgary Saturday morning and arrived in Saskatoon that afternoon. I drove for three hours, from Saskatoon through Prince Albert, to get to the village of Love where I would be preaching on Sunday morning. The day was warm and the drive was full of eye catching views. I arrived at the village about five in the afternoon. The village had all the typical elements of a small Canadian village. It had the local inn, the service station, town hall, post office, and the community hall. Being a history buff the opportunity of visiting this small village intrigued me.
I billeted at the pastorís house and was warmly received by him and his family. On Sunday he took me through a typical day in the life of a rural pastor. It has become one of the memories I will keep with me through the remaining years of my ministry.
The typical pastor in these communities has many hats to wear. Pastor Darcyís responsiblities include being husband, father, pastor, chaplain and itinerant preacher. During my stay in Love, Saskatchewan I was fortunate to go with him on his regular Sunday ministry. I ended up feeling as if I had stepped into a page out of a Canadian history book. The morning began with Sunday School in the sanctuary for the adults and in the fellowship area downstairs for the young people. Worship service followed and the congregation was very receptive. As is a favourite in most Baptist churches we followed service with a pot luck fellowship. Later that afternoon the pastor and I spent a considerable amount of time on the road. As we drove our eyes had to be on guard for moose, elk or deer crossing the road so we could avoid any undue damage to our car or ourselves. We visited a local camp and then we went to participate in a church service at Bagley.
We arrived at the Bagley church a little early so I had opportunity to look around. As we waited for the congregation I could hear the wind blowing through the trees and the dogs barking in the distance. There were only a few houses within view of the church building. The people started arriving about ten minutes before the service. The members of this congregation have a long time connection with the building and with each other. One of the members is the wife of one of the former pastors. Another member is the grandson of one of the founding members of the church. The church building itself is over eighty years old. These people now attend various churches within the larger communities but make a point of coming out to worship and fellowship every other Sunday evening. I felt as if I was participating in the work of an old time itinerant preacher. However, I came to realize that this was a part of present day ministry in our smaller communities.
Ministry is alive and well in the rural areas. The ministers that are working in these communities may be working in smaller churches but have as vital a role as any minister in our cities. The church at Love, Saskatchewan, for example, is reaching out beyond their community to start a work in another village. Many of the villages along the main highway do not have a church. Ministry opportunities abound in our rural community areas. However, the work is going unnoticed and unhelped.
Pastor Darcy shared with me some of his ideas about ministry. First, for a ministry to be successful the minister needs to serve an area for a long time. Many pastors today are only staying at a church for an average of two or three years. Many statistics state a ministerís most effective years in a church are after the third, fourth or the fifth year in a church. We need to find ways to encourage our pastors (ministers) to stay in a particular church for longer periods. Second, the need to build relationships or be involved in relational evangelism is primary to success as a minister of a smaller church. Third, a church ministry needs to fit the context of the community. Ministry needs to fit the minister and his/her community.
How can we support our ministers? First, we need to be in prayer for them. Second, we need to find ways to encourage them. Third, when we have opportunity we need to minister alongside them. Finally, we need to get to know them and their ministries. To do that we need to walk a mile in their shoes.