Things We Are Learning About Pastoring
In A Small Rural Community
By Pastor Selwyn Long (Waimate New Zealand0
What is stated below is not intended to be conclusive - we are still very much on the learning curve. The points mentioned may well be common to many pastoral situations. This is simply some stuff we have observed, learnt, or are learning in relation to pastoring in Waimate,South Canterbury , New Zealand . The views expressed are ours - they do not necessarily reflect the views of other Assembly of God pastors or churches, or Assemblies of God in NZ. Some of the following may however be helpful to others pastoring, or contemplating pasturing, or planting a church in a small town.
Waimate (the town) has a population of around 3,000 - with a further 4,000 people in the wider district. We therefore serve a total population of some 7,000 people in quite a large geographical area. It is largely rural, so anything we do has to take account of this. For example, when planning anything for late winter and spring we have to take account of the impact of lambing and calving which can make some key farming folk “unavailable” for weeks on end.
Like many smaller communities, Waimate tends to attract people for the life style. This “life style” approach is clearly reflected in many folk’s view of - and involvement in - the church. Coming from the city we have had to learn that the key is to appreciate the unique local culture and values, and work with them rather than against them. This takes time, patience and a long-term commitment.
Some rural folk can tend to be fairly independent. Some of our people live, farm or do business in fairly isolated areas so they need a high level of independence to survive. They think on their feet, do what they think best, and live with the consequences. This is who they are, so we are slowly learning how to channel this “strength” for the good of the Kingdom.
Also, like many smaller communities, higher education and employment opportunities are very limited. This results in us losing almost all our young people when they finish High School. These young people quite properly leave the district for their advancement. Our role is to ensure that they are as well equipped for service when they leave as they can be. This means however that there is an absence of effective relational pier group mentoring/rolemodelling for youth after the age of about 14 or 15. We simply have to put in extra effort and find other ways to navigate around this challenge.
We have been called to pastor the district - not just the Assembly Of God congregation. This involves us being heavily involved in the community. In our case, this means serving on community committees and assisting to organise community wide events. One minister in town is a volunteer fireman, another the local Health Board member, whilst others are involved in schools and sports clubs.
As a fellowship we take our turn doing things like leading the weekly services at the local rest home and delivering meals on wheels. In a city it is “nice” to work together with other ministers and congregations - in a small community it is “essential,” because you simply do not have sufficient resources within your self or your congregation. The level of this co-operation of course varies.
We come together with all ten churches for several events during the year because we all agree on one thing: the power of blessing. So we focus simply on blessing - through various events, fully sponsoring Bible-in-Schools and resourcing the town's library with family-based materials. This serves to lift the profile and reputation of the wider church in the community. We are seen to be working with rather than against each other.
With a fewer number of churches, we work at a more significant level. We pray together weekly as ministers, we share pulpits, we share programmes (e.g. youth and children's ministries), and we lend or borrow the skills of teachers, preachers, musicians, etc. But with one other church (Elim) we work very closely. We plan and pray together; as ministers we are accountable to each other, we share leadership in some ministries and there is a considerable amount of friendship between the congregations.
From all this we make the following observations and comments - some of which may challenge current thinking within our denominations:
Other Things We Are Learning
Here is a list of other things we have learnt or are learning - some of these are quite different to the way we did things in the past:
Added benefits of living and ministering in Waimate include indulging in two of our favouritepast times: Offering hospitality, and exploring the countryside. These, combined with the prophetic word over Waimate (being a place of refreshing), has encouraged us to offer our home and 4WD vehicle to be used by ministry and missionary folk who need a little relaxation in the country. People benefit from the quietness of the town and the opportunity to view and experience the hills and high country scenery. We, of course, consider it vitally important to take time out of our "busy" schedule to bless these guests! We are happy for ministry folk to be made aware of this invitation.