Eleven challenges unique to rural pastors


By Able Baker

Rural church on Cape Breton Island

Eleven mental, emotional and spiritual challenges unique to the rural pastor:

11. Multi-denominational non-denominationalism. The rural pastor can often be stretched when they are the only church for 20 miles and they are ministering to Charismatic’s, fundamentalists, liberals, Lutherans, Catholics, or any one of the many evangelical sects in attendance any given Sunday.

10. “Can you…?” This question is asked so many times. It is usually connected to things like…

…Mow the church lawn
…help fix the septic tank
…clean the church gutters
…lead worship-communion –give a sermon-baptize all on the same day
…take Ms. Thompsons 3 truckloads of garbage to the dump,
…make youth come back to church so it doesn’t die while not bothering the retired people.
…drive me to town for my dialysis and take me home again.

9. Money. ”He doesn’t farm, log, or do any kind of “real” work so his pay is sufficient” or “Why doesn’t your wife have a Job?” Many pastors in the US have no or very poor insurance. Many rural pastors are crippled by debt.

8. Vehicle. “We want to give you this car.” AKA… “Our daughter didn’t want it because it’s ugly, unsafe and doesn’t run well o yeah and it’s a tax right off if we do it right…and don’t ever sell it or our feelings will get hurt.” The rural pastor will go into debt to buy a brand new car with a warranty so the mechanic in your church who spends more time in his shop than with his family doesn’t have to fix it when it breaks all the time. After the purchase of the new car some people in the congregation question if you spend your money wisely and maybe they are paying you too much. One of my favorites is when they see that you are driving your car on bald tires and we hear things like “hey it’s not safe to drive on those things” or “you need to get some new tires those are illegal”

7. Living in a Fish Bowl. “We drove by your house several times yesterday (Saturday Morning @ 8:00) slowly and noticed your curtains were drawn… is everything O.K.?” We have actually had people walk into our home without asking because “The parsonage is church property”. Maybe a person decides to mow the church lawn on Saturday at 9:00 in the morning waking up your baby because the parsonage lawn is a part of the church lawn. Many times pastors who live in a parsonage on the church property cannot take their family outside because someone will want to come up and have a spiritual conversation while you are trying to spend some quality (spiritual) time with your kids.

6. Wife: “Why doesn’t your wife sing more, play the piano, teach Sunday school? Isn’t this a two for one deal?” or “Did the pastors wife just say that!?… o my” or “I went to the pastors house on Saturday morning @ 11:00 and she was in her robe with messy hair!?… o my.” Or “Wow your wife with three young kids misses a lot of church.”

The rural pastor’s wife can be afraid of the phone ringing because of what people have told her or how they have spoken to her husband vicariously through her in the past. The rural pastor’s wife is a single parent on Sundays. She can be criticized for wearing the same thing over and over because she cannot afford the latest fashions (or cant sew her own clothes). If people in the community get to know her and find out she is a pastor’s wife she is usually not going to be“in” with their groups. There can be an unspoken expectation that she has the bible memorized.

5. Doctor: When you visit the doctor’s office many times the doctor’s secretary or someone else in the hospital office happens to go to your church and they actually know a lot about your private health issues. This can be very difficult with members of the family that have sexual, mental or emotional health issues.

4. Shopping: When you shop locally in rural town, community members can take extra inventory of what you purchase like movies, books, food, condoms or alcohol.

3. Pastors kids: Pastors kids in rural churches have a hard time blending in when they make up half the youth group. Dad is ALWAYS working when they go outside the house together in a rural community. A simple trip to the grocery store usually means that they will run into someone from church and this can translate to sitting for 20 or 30 minutes in the car waiting for dad. Many times there are very few Christians in the rural schools for your kids to hang out with… because they all go to home school.

2. Our family is “on” all the time: The rural pastor is on call 24/7 for the community not just the church and usually without staff that can help. Because of this the rural pastor is often always in “conflict ready” mode.

1. Sermon prep, further study, cell phones and book money: In many rural communities things like book allowances, computer software, cell phones and further education are simply not available or deeply undervalued by the ones holding the purse strings because they don’t need them on the farm, in the woods, at the mine or in the factory.

A GOOD cell phone can be one of the most valuable tools to a rural pastor but many rural church board members still use rotary phones and expect the pastor to be at the office or at home when they call… o yeah and many won’t leave messages on those new fangled machines.

A book allowance of $600 to $1000 a year is not much for a reading leader. Many rural pastors can only dream of a book allowance. As a result the rural pastor can become theologically emaciated because they are unable to have access to good, challenging and exciting material to read and feed on.

There are so many opportunities for a pastor today further their education in an inexpensive way. Often a rural pastor has heavy demands on their counseling skills for example and a little training would go a long way to encourage and equip the rural pastor.

I try very hard to put 20 to 25 hours into my sermon prep. The visitation demands alone on a rural pastor can be so heavy sometimes that getting the 20 to 25 needed into the sermon prep is very difficult.

If you are a rural church pastor what experiences have you had with any of these? Or perhaps you could add some that I have failed to mention. If you are thinking about going into rural ministry… you need to talk with the congregation about some of the things on this list if you value your marriage. If you are in the congregation of a rural church you need to take this to heart for the sake of your pastor and his family.


Able is the lead pastor of Fort St James Evangelical Free Church (BC, Canada) and has been a senior pastor for six years. He has a passion for rural ministry, enjoys reading, movies, playing sports, chess, coffee, beer, watching MMA, hunting, fishing, and songwriting (he’s written over 25 songs and recorded three CD’s). He’s been married to his wonderful wife, Abbe, for 11 years. Together they have three beautiful children (Jackson, Chloe, and Lucy). Go to his blog here.