I never imagined the Lord leading me back to a small town. I am so glad that he did.
I spent my elementary years living in a town so small that even the most popular fast food restaurant in the world failed. I have also lived in the suburbs and major cities. I had never thought that I would return to live, let alone pastor, in a small town.
For some, the idea of living and pastoring in a small town creates vast anxieties. Yes, the small town misses some things compared to the big town. But there are also some incredible advantages to small town life and ministry. Just as big-city life isn’t for everyone, neither is small-town living. You certainly need to know yourself, your spouse, and your family, but don’t discount what God can do where it seems there isn’t much to do.
There are three of some of the many advantages of life and ministry in a small town. Three benefits I would like to have told my younger self who didn’t want to return to the small town.
First, your ministry in a small town is both to your church and to your community. In every pastorate, you are expected to carry out ministry to your congregation. In a small town where the sense of community runs deep, you can become a pastor to your town. Friday night football, basketball games, and the county fair all become opportunities to be a pastor for the community. In the small town, you can more easily grow into being a familiar face. As a pastor in a small town, you not only shepherd your people but can speak into the lives of many others.
I count it a privilege when people in my town, who do not go to my church, call me pastor. (I still have trouble with being called “preacher,” but I’m learning to live with this term of endearment.)
Second, life and ministry in a small town can offer some great opportunities for your family. In a small town, your children may have more opportunities to participate in sports, extracurricular groups, and even community sponsored events. Instead of watching the parade they may able to be in the parade. A kid who is interested in a sport may get an opportunity that they might not have in a larger community. Small-town living can offer different opportunities than the big town.
Finally, ministry in a small town incorporates your whole life. Going to get a gallon of milk can become an opportunity for ministry. You may find yourself praying with a church member who just discovered they have cancer while you are in the peanut butter aisle. There’s a good chance you’ll see that church member you haven’t seen in a while the next time you go to buy a loaf of bread. Small-town living offers a great chance to practice a fully integrated life and ministry.
In every community, you have to make intentional efforts to build relationships and get involved. A small town is no different. Efforts to get involved in a small town are often simpler than a big town. Some small towns are closed off to those who did not grow up there. That is, everyone who moves in will always be the outsider. Especially in those small towns, the pastor must show that he cares as much about the town as those who live there.
Much to my surprise, the Lord led me back to a small town. I am glad he did. To quote a famous advocate of the small town, “Got nothing against the big town…but my bed is in the small town, oh, and that’s good enough for me.” Don’t discount the small town. God may do much where there isn’t much to do.