Can someone who grows up in the city successfully pastor in a rural community?
Some can’t. I know of examples where the person from the city just couldn’t fit it. Sometimes the new pastor just can’t relate to what is happening – or not happening – in the rural community he now lives in.
Here are some thing that can make it difficult for a city slicker to become a country boy:
- Less conveniences: No mall, few options for shopping, only one movie at the local theater, etc.
- Less privacy: Even though I don’t know everyone, everyone knows who “the pastor” is. And people like to talk – even about the new pastor.
- Less driven: Sometimes rural people, rural churches, are more used to thinking long term and so changes may happen slower in a rural church.
Sometimes the differences between the city church and a smaller rural church are too big for the city slicker to figure it out. I followed one pastor who only lasted about two years in the rural town before heading back to the city. When I joined the denomination I’m part of, the District Superintendent came to my smaller Bible School looking for young men from rural backgrounds who would be willing to pastor in rural communities. He saw the difficulty that pastors from the city were having in some rural places.
But it doesn’t have to be impossible. If you come into a new community and a new church, you need to come with a desire to learn and to fit in.
Here are some things you can do to figure it out and to fit in:
- Be willing to learn. Ask questions. Let people know that you know you don’t know. If you don’t know anything about farming or about logging, ask questions and show interest. Listen.
- Get involved in the community. Attend the local sports events. Go to the community dinners. Have a lot of coffees in the local coffee shop.
- Ask about the history of the community. Are there some “big moments” that people talk about? Sometimes its the last flood or a big storm or a local guy who made it to the “big leagues”.
- Buy locally as much as possible. If the local people see you in their stores and in their restaurants, they will notice and be more accepting of you.
Rural ministry may be difficult for those who come from urban places, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are called to a rural church, come with a willingness to learn and listen and you may just have the best ministry ever.
P.S. Just to be clear, after 15 years of rural ministry, I know I would have a hard time to do ministry in the city. I came to this realization as I dropped off my daughter in downtown Vancouver this summer. She is attending Vancouver Film School and lives very close to the center of the city. I would have to do a lot of learning and listening myself.