I know Seminary is over and the whole world is before you, but I’d like you to consider something you may not have.
Dear Young Pastor,
So Seminary is ending, you are either out and trying to find your first call or you are entering your final year thinking about all that is to come. You are young and you have been waiting for this moment for three or four years, you are confident in your call and you have the passion to back that up. You also have confidence in the God that you believe and know, that He will place you where He wants you to be. In your mind you are the next Timothy Keller or Charles Spurgeon, or in our times, Martin Luther or John Calvin. You are going to start the next big movement, pastor the next big church, you just must pay your dues and God will move you on up. You are the future of pastoral leadership in America and maybe in the world. Yes, you are hot stuff, out to change the world with your one or two seminary degrees with all your applications in for the big city pastorate.
Young Pastor, can I ask you to consider something with me for a minute?
Will you consider taking a small pastorate in the middle of nowhere, in a town with a population only slightly larger, or smaller, than your seminary student body? Will you pray about giving up your “big City” dreams and your aspirations of moving up in five years? Will you set aside your dreams of being the next big thing in pastoral ministry for something small? If you are in a small congregation at the moment and anxiously looking forward to the day God calls you to a bigger Church, if you see your current congregation as a “Starter Congregation” will you give up that view?
I am afraid, dear sister or brother, that you have been led astray by a vision and mentality about and within the church that says the City is where Ministry is needed, that’s where the “people are” and so we must go there. Pastor, I know this mentality well, I am writing to you with a Bachelor in Christian Education with a Concentration in Urban Ministry while looking out the window of my church office in my house right next to the church building in a town of 900. I believed as you do, the ministry in the city will trickle down to the small towns, right? As people carry their churches message from the city to their families at home. That’s how it works right? Besides, didn’t Andy Stanley tell parents its “Selfish” to send your kids to a small church, and he’s a mega church pastor so we listen to him right? Well, he did say that, and I told you at the time He was wrong and the idea that ministry “trickles down” from city to small town is a myth.
The fact is, while there are unreached people groups in Cities there are also unreached people in small towns. The truth is that small town churches are dying because for too long they received the “Left-overs” or were viewed as “Starter churches” where you came if you were washed up and ready to retire or you were looking to step up into the next big thing, do your time in the rural until that mega-church called and took you away because of your dynamic preaching or your insane exegesis or creative sermon style. The Fact is these small-town churches are full of people, living and breathing people who feel abandoned and alienated both from a Political and Religious standpoint. In your small town you may be the only church that is doing anything, but it may also be that none of the churches in your town are engaging and they need your passion, your energy, and most importantly the Spirit of God and Word of God that dwells within you and which you have been trained to teach from. Chances are they have been starving for the truth of the very Gospel you have been called to preach and when they hear it they will soak it up and hopefully be changed and transformed by the Holy Spirit who dwells within them. The Truth is you can have just as effective a ministry in the rural church as you can in a city church, perhaps even more so because you have a chance to get to know people and serve them on a much deeper level. The fact is the Rural church needs you and even wants you.
This does not mean rural ministry is any easier than city ministry. Indeed, it may be harder as you get to see just how messy people can get. Your Congregation may be older at first, your facilities may need some TLC and it can be lonely, very lonely at certain times. There are always going to be the naysayers and the people who just want to “maintain the status quo.” Your friends and family may question why you are devoting your time to what they see as a “pointless” or ministry that is “below your talents.” You may have to be bi-vocational; you’ll have to figure out how to have a good work life balance so that you do not burn out. You’ll have to work to change systems of apathy and exhaustion and you’ll have to fight those off within yourself. The Truth is all your education, all the classes you took, even that class on Ethnic (Racial) Reconciliation, every class you took in seminary is relevant and applicable working in the rural church. All those things that are true about the church in the city are true in your small town calling and they all ask of you to be fully engaged in your calling wherever you are.
Because if I may brother, the “starter church” mentality that many of us adopted in College and Graduate school is really quite sinful. It suggests that some churches, specifically small or rural churches are not worthy of your full potential or the service of the church at large. It prioritizes one part of the flock of God over another part and requires you to think of your brothers and sisters as somehow unworthy or less worthy of the Gospel or of your best. We should run and hide from this mentality and put it far away from ourselves for fear that one day we will stand before God and asked if we cared for all His flock.
The fact is, God has called you, or is calling you, to this small-town ministry and you are there because of that call and God has no preference between city and small town. When Jesus told His disciples to go into all the world, He meant both the small towns and the cities. These small churches need you and your training, and the small towns which have increasingly been abandoned by the church and left to darkness. Well, they need the Gospel too, maybe even more so now than the big cities that are often over-churched and over-evangelized.
When I answered the call to come to Buffalo Center Iowa for my first post-seminary pastorate. I did not come here to spend five years and move on. I came here to preach and live-out the Gospel and to spread the Word of God and the Good News of the coming Kingdom of Heaven. I came here to engage with the people in my congregation and to love them and to encourage them and to work together with them to reach the town with the Gospel. It really does not matte to me that to some I was wasting my two masters degrees on a small church in a small town because in my mind God has called me here and if He has called me here He has a purpose to work in and through me. He could have planted me anywhere; He chose to bring me to small-town Iowa and so far we are loving it. Is it lonely at times? Yes, but God has introduced us to some amazing young families in our community including another pastor and His wife.
See young Pastor, the God who gave you this call has not called you to a small town just to abandon you there. He is still God, He is still watching over you and working within and through you. Small town ministry is not the end of the line for you, it is the beginning and not the beginning to a step-up but the beginning of a ministry in which you have to trust God for everything little thing. Again, this is nothing different from ministering in the City, but the small needs you, and not just for five years, but as long as God keeps you there.
So come and join us, the mission is at hand but the workers are few.
Your fellow worker in the Faith.
Jonathan David Faulkner
Jonathan David Faulkner is a Graduate student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary working on Masters in Divinity and Church History, a Pastor, Musician and Writer. He holds a Bachelor’s Degree in Christian Education & Administration with a concentration in Urban Ministry. He lives with his wife Rachel and daughter Erin in Buffalo Center Iowa and seeks to be a part of the project of reconciliation in the local and international church. He is currently serving as the Pastor of First Congregational Church of Buffalo Center.