Recently, my brother, a city boy most of his life, moved in with my family out “in the country.”
For the past 12 years of my life, I’ve lived and worked in rural environments. So, it’s been amazing to see rural life through the eyes of an urban dweller.
Culture shock doesn’t quite cover it. My brother has lamented the lack of sidewalks and conveniences. He misses concerts and professional sporting events. He is, however, astounded by the friendliness of country folks. (“Everyone is so nice around here,” he has said more than once. “Total strangers wave at me and even strike up conversations. They want to know about my life. I’m not used to that.”)
However, what he misses the most, is community. Specifically, he wants to go out with friends on Friday nights.
Now, I’ll admit I’m a bit older than him, and we’ve run in decidedly different circles. His idea of a good time and mine are VERY distinctive. Yet, I understand where he’s coming from.
Rural life can be isolating, particularly if you’re from a more urban environment. In ministry, the isolation is doubled.
Usually, as a rural youth pastor, you’ve moved into the area. You don’t have established friendships. Family may be far away. However, the need for companionship still exists.
A former minister of mine once advised me never to make friends within the church. “You’re their pastor,” he warned, “not their friend.”
To make matters worse, as a minister, you don’t get weekends. Sunday is a workday for me. My wife works Monday through Friday. I simply can’t go away once a month to visit family.
Few friends. Far away family. Rural ministry can be very lonely at times.
So what do you do? For me, I’ve learned to eschew the advice of my former pastor and make friends within the church.
We started by having members of the youth team over for dinner. Then we expanded that to youth parents and ministry staff. Next we hope to start inviting neighbors over. By planning the event, we simply invite and set an environment for conversation. Since we’re at home, the kids can go play while the adults can talk. It makes for an entertaining evening with no strings attached.
When it comes to family, I’ve learned that family has to visit us. We do not have the time (or vacation days) to visit them often. Being up front about the situation takes away the burden on visits.
Finally, a youth ministry network can help. Find some peers and meet regularly. When I ministered in Eastern Kentucky, I never missed a network gathering. That was often my favorite day of the month. I could be myself and share my struggles with co-laborers in the ministry who understood my plights.
Rural ministry can be isolating, but it doesn’t have to be. Find some ways to make community a possibility.