In it Hansen reports of the effect that rural flight is having on small town churches who desperately need qualified and gifted, and he even suggests "young" pastors, who are willing to relocate to what some might feel to be remote areas. To make matters worse, he suggests, the financial viability of small local rural churches often puts a significant strain on their ability to hire or support a full time, seminary trained, credentialed pastor.
I serve one of these churches of which Hansen speaks and all of which he says is indeed true.
To be able to sustain and ongoing vibrant ministry while paying a pastor even the minimum that her denominational tribe might require places a significant financial burden on the church. This is a reality that my little tribe of about 275 is dealing with right now.
But it's not just clergy people who leave Mayberry for the big cities. Hansen reports that:
Being a city boy, while I never imagined pastoring in a town the size that I am in now, and although I love the rattle and hum of an sub-urban/urban environment, pastoring in my current context has been a better experience than I could ever imagined.
Yet Hansen names the tough realities that I was plagued with when I first arrived to my current ministry context almost 6 years ago:
Can you believe it, "a town without a Starbucks!?!" [thankfully there's one in the larger city some 9 miles away, can I get an "amen.!"] But all joking aside, things like a lack of peer support, and an unwillingness to embrace the changing culture around the church can serve as a significant deterrent to wooing young pastors to a geographic locale.
Yet there is something alluring about these small places that seem to, at first blush, be a decade or so behind their sub-urban counter parts. As one who values relationships, pastoring in a rural setting enables any leader to be on a first name basis with anyone from the Mayor to the janitor at the local middle school. Coffee and camaraderie is shared openly, even if you are the outsider.
So ministry in small towns can't be just ignored.
In fact just this year I went to a conference, The Sticks Conference, whose entire focus was on developing a mission mindset in order to plant & redevelop churches in rural areas. It was so refreshing! So many of the conferences that I attend are put on by "big box" churches who have capital and resources that my congregation could never imagine. Yet here, in a small town in central Ohio, Wooster to be exact, was a vibrant, cutting edge, large rural church that was making a impact for Jesus and reaching a whole new audience.
Hansen issues a challenge to the conventional notion that rural pastoring is somehow a step child to its sub-urban counterpart:
Having ministry referred to as a "gig," although I realize that Hansen is simply using a hip term, reminds me of another important point: While it may be true that as pastor's there are different geographic and cultural areas where we might not wish to go, as women and men called of God to the gift of ministry I'm not so sure that we can pick and choose depending upon if a given place has the amenities that we prefer.
It seems to me that beginning way back with the call of God to Abram, Abram was invited to leave everything that he knew to go to the land that God would show him. Seems a pretty ludicrous idea doesn't, that kind of faith. Yet we are pastor leaders are heirs of Abram's call, and we too must answer God and leave everything that we have to follow.
Do I envision being part of a vibrant sub-urban ministry someday, and even plant a church? With everything that is in me. But has God been using me in my current rural context in ways that I could have never imagined? More that I could have even hoped.
So, hang in there Mayberry. Help is coming!