Response to Research Report 4.2,
and Further Insights on Finding Clergy for Small, Rural Congregations
Loren B. Mead
On finding clergy for small town and rural congregations, several points made in Research Report 4.2 might be stated more strongly and several other points added. Anyhow -- this is stuff that came out of my reflections.
# 1. On the difficulty for clergy in going to small churches, especially in rural areas:
- Many seminary graduates are carrying a load of debt now-a-days (see the recent study by Auburn Seminary).
- Somebody who gets located in such a place often has a devil of a time getting out -- they are often relatively invisible in denominational circles.
- Educational facilities for the children in the family are often quite limited.
#2. Cultural disconnect with rural churches: There is often a cultural disconnect between someone coming out of seminary and a rural or small-town congregation. Bruce Reed (as re-stated by James Anderson) talks about the difference between a "communal" and an "associational" culture of a community and a church (Carl Dudley re-stated this as the difference between an "affectional" and a "directional" church.)
- Seminary, other graduate study, and exposure to management experiences tend to make the seminary graduate an "associational" or "directional" leader (wanting to accomplish goals and make plans). While the culture of the people often seeks a "communal" or "affectional" leader, who has no pressures to accomplish anything -- the people just want to be related to each other.
- In my experience this difference is critical for seminary-trained clergy moving into rural congregations. Judicatory executives often are unaware of the culture war they can set off sending a "go-getter, church grower" pastor into an affectional/communal community and church.
# 3. Many recent seminary graduates get first positions as assistants or associates in larger congregations. In past years that pool has been a good one from which there can be "promotion" to a "senior pastor" role in a very small church. That movement to the small church has been largely blocked because assistants in larger churches often entertain considerably higher salaries than the small church can afford.
# 4. All the "solutions" need to be understood as being conceived of from the POINT OF VIEW OF THE JUDICATORY EXECUTIVE of the judicatory executive, which is not the point of view of the members or pastors of the congregations. That is probably both understandable and necessary, but it does screw up the communication. For example:
- YOKING CONGREGATIONS: What seems eminently rational and sensible to the judicatory sounds intrusive and insulting to the congregation: "Yoke our congregation? Like hell you will!" The judicatory SEES the three congregations as a "yoked" entity -- yet EVERYBODY in any of the three congregations sees itself as a single congregation. Their interest in the other two is very slight, except maybe for a picnic now and then.
- THE CIRCUIT RIDER. I've seen this tried in a situation we researched in Maryland (See “Shepherds of the Delectable Mountains” by Simchak) It worked for a while, then a bishop came along who didn't know the history, and a different method was introduced.
That comment is a strong one: “Along came a bishop/exec who didn't know the story” That comment is a strong one: “Along came a bishop/exec who didn't know the story” --Like the pharaoh who 'knew not Joseph'! THAT IS NOT THE EXCEPTION, IT IS THE RULE -- policies and practices are changed at the judicatory level as ideas and leaders change. The congregation feels whacked around, having to adjust to new and seemingly unnecessary changes of policy.
# 5. Another Solution: TRAINED INTERIM. I find some judicatory executives discovering that trained interim pastors can sometimes manage these situations better than those who are looking or needing career advancement.
# 6. CONGREGATIONS SPONSORED BY TWO OR MORE DENOMINATIONS: In my experience this is harder than people expect it to be. The denominations require the congregation to connect with more than one judicatory, more than one set of reports or accountabilities. It just doubles up the maintenance tasks in the congregation that is already operating marginally.
Use what is helpful!