Dear Rural Church Pastor,
Thank you for loving the church entrusted to you by Christ. Thank you for laboring there, year after year, with little notice or fanfare. I know the cities are all the rage these days when it comes to ministry, but the fact that you have decided to plant your life among a relatively small community of largely unnoticed people is truly wonderful. Christ loves these people, and therefore it is in no way beneath you to give your life to the task of loving them in his name. Rural ministry brings with it the blessings of relative community stability, loyalty, and tradition far removed from the transience of so much urban and suburban life. Along with those blessings come many particular challenges, of which you are no doubt aware. I'm writing to you today with the hope of offering some small bit of guidance that I hope you will find helpful in your labors.
First, continue your education. You have resources available to do that. Whether formally through a seminary or informally by your initiative, make it your goal to continue growing in the whole range of the theological disciplines. Just as we expect physicians to be well-trained and to continue updating their education throughout their careers, we should also expect pastors to do the same. If human health matters enough to hold physicians to high standards, how much more the matter of human souls? If you look to the "Ministry Resources" tab at the top of this page, you will find links to various pages listing resources that I hope will be worthwhile to you as you seek to continue growing in your knowledge and abilities.
Second, devote yourself primarily to prayer and the ministry of the Word, which includes not only your preaching ministry, but also your application of the Word to the hearts of your people in any setting (e.g., Sunday School, counseling, etc.). Rural church pastors often wear many hats, and the number of things you may be expected to do can become unwieldy. Protect your schedule. Get to your planning calendar before others do, and carve out specific times for prayer and study to prepare yourself to herald the Word of God. These are your primary tasks, and it is worth it to let other things slide if you have to in order to devote yourself to these. Do not allow yourself to be enslaved to the tyranny of the urgent, where you find yourself rushing around from one fairly insignificant task to the next simply because it feels like these things have to be done in a hurry. A ministry that is properly focused requires active, intentional planning on your part, and it is the best and most loving way you can pastor your people.
Third, give attention to training men who will share the load of leadership with you. In all likelihood, you are the only staff member at your church, but that doesn't mean you have to be the only pastor/elder. In the New Testament, it seems that plural eldership was the norm, even for newly planted churches (Acts 14:23). If your church is the typical rural Baptist church, your people are accustomed to a leadership structure that includes a solo pastor who reports to a board of deacons. Work within your structure, all the while leading your people gently and patiently toward a more biblical understanding of eldership. Leading your church to affirm qualified men who will share in the task of pastoral oversight with you will be the most significant structural change of your ministry. Don't rush it, but don't neglect it either. And while you're on the way there, build friendships with men you have identified for this future role, and work on deploying them for less formal service to the church before they are ever recognized as elders.
Finally, be grateful for your calling. Thank God for your people, your community, and the rural life that you have been given. Be grateful for the families in your community, the businesses, the traditions, the natural beauty of rural settings. Be grateful for your town (or whatever town is closest to you) and its history, for your local high school football team, for the community bank where the employees know virtually every customer who walks in, for the small local public library, for the woods, rivers, hills, and backroads that constitute your little piece of the earth. It may be a place that the bustling world has forgotten (or never noticed in the first place), but God has filled it with wonders. And the greatest wonders of all are the people in your pews every Sunday.
Blessings to you, Brother.