Transformational Hallmarks for Small-Town / Rural Settings
by Tom Lyberg (September / October 2004 — Volume 20, Number 5)
Three hallmarks — while not limited to leadership in small town and rural congregational settings — are especially pertinent. These hallmarks include:
Deliberate, Patient Steps
Transformation is going to happen in slow and deliberate steps, not at the rapid pace seen in new mission starts or the rapidly growing suburbs. If you have a new idea from a conference or a new opportunity that God has placed before you, double the time you think it will take to accomplish the change. Talk and explain the ideas to leaders, nurture key people in the congregation, and prepare for congregational votes when necessary. After a certain amount of change, there may be a push to rescind the changes, and you will have to readjust your leadership style and short-term goals if you are going to achieve long-term transformation.
Your ordination and seminary diploma can mean little in these settings. That is not to say small-town and rural congregations don't value your preparation and expertise; it's just that most of these congregations are not leader-driven.
Congregational ownership and participation are important values. Congregations often equate the result of a vote with the will of God. While that is not necessarily biblical, partnering for consensus through prayer and conversation is biblical. Pastoral leadership for transformation has to know how to change a community subtly by planting the Word where it will take root and nurturing its growth over time.
You aren't going to be in that congregation forever, and the congregation knows this. With an average term of call standing at about four years in these settings, there are countless congregations worshipping 110 or fewer who have seen nothing but a changing train of seminary graduates who stay three to four years and then move on. They often leave behind unfinished changes that never take root.
A leader in rural and small-town settings needs to understand this and plan for transforming changes that someone else will complete. You will likely not be thanked or even know about these changes until long after you have left. It's always good to remember that ministry is all about Jesus, not you.