so says Tim Keller over on his blog. At least, that is the advice he gives young pastors and or seminarians. He argues that being a country parson will allow the young or new pastor to learn the pastoral ministry in the general sense. He rightly argues learning general pastoral ministry is more effectively learned in small churches rural or elsewhere than when filling a more specialized position in a large church either in suburbia or the city (which is his emphasis). He writes:
Many young leaders perceive that the ideal first ministry position would be a position on the staff of a large church with an older, mature pastor to mentor them. The limits of this model are several. You can’t teach a younger pastor much about things they aren’t actually doing. And in a large church they aren’t a) bearing the burden of being the main leader, b) leading a board of elders, c) fund-raising and bearing the final responsibility of having enough money to do ministry, d) and doing the gamut of counseling, shepherding, teaching, preaching.
In a smaller church as a solo pastor you and only you visit the elderly, do all the weddings and funerals, sit by the bedside of every dying parishioner, do all the marriage counseling, suspend and excommunicate, work with musicians, craft and lead worship, speak at every men’s retreat, women’s retreat, and youth retreat, write all the Bible studies and often Sunday School curriculum, train all the small group leaders, speak at the nursing home, work with your diaconate as they try to help families out of poverty, evangelize and welcome new visitors to the church, train volunteers to do some (but not all) of all of the above tasks, and deal with the once-a-month relational or financial crisis in the church. No amount of mentoring can teach you what you learn from doing all those things.
He’s right. I know because my wife and I pastor a small rural church and there, we cannot be specialists. We are generalists. We do a bit of everything – and I think this is the task of the true pastor, to be a generalist and not necessarily a specialist, not that there is not a place for specialization, but I happen to think the true pastor is able to minister in just about any given situation, and if they don’t know how, they learn.
Remember, pastoral ministry is a holy vocation, a calling, not a career or another job. If the Lord is calling you to pastor, fulfill that calling and seriously consider the smaller church. Yeah, it doesn’t pay much if at all and yeah, you’ll have to get real job, but that is how it is. Being a pastor is as much a spiritual gift as it is a vocation. Last I checked, people weren’t paid in the Bible for expressing a spiritual gift to the body of Christ. The simple fact of the matter is, the vast significant majority of churches in the US, if not the world, are on the smaller side of the small church scale (50-100 people out of the supposed 0-200/300 range).
Think about it.