Servant Leadership in Rural and Small-Town Ministry4 min read

 “And on the Sabbath day we went outside the gate to the riverside, where we supposed there was a place of prayer, and we sat down and spoke to the women who had come together” (Acts 16:13).

Much can be said of the servant leadership role of the pastor in a rural and small-town congregation. To be sure, he must often, as Paul puts it, “become all things to all people, that by all means [he] might save some” (1 Cor. 9:22). However, one must balance all of the things he is called to do and still maintain his own health and sanity. Congregations and their leaders must also be aware of this that all might work together for the benefit of the Kingdom.

In a recent class on missionary leadership, the instructor stated, “Leadership is not about how you handle people but how you handle yourself.” How can we as pastors and congregational leaders best handle ourselves in order to make an impact in the commu­nity to which we have been called? Dr. J. Robert Clinton of Fuller Theological Seminary defined leadership as a God-given capacity and a God-given responsibility to influence specific groups towards God’s purposes.

So perhaps a better question would be: How can pastors use the talents and abilities that God has given them to influence the groups within which He places them for His purpose of sharing the Good News of salvation in Christ?

Practically speaking, a good leader in the church must be where the people are. The ever-increasing demands for the time of pastors, leaders, and church members make this a difficult situation. So, perhaps the best answer is a simple one: Make the best use of the time and situations that are already a part of one’s life, and add in those things which make the most sense for the season in which they find themselves. This simply can’t happen only behind a desk and a closed study door or in front of a computer screen. There certainly must be some of that, but that cannot make up the sum total of ministry. Perhaps more simply put, the people by and large will not just come. Pastors must go to where the people are, as St. Paul tells us in Acts 16. Here, pastors have an opportunity to set the stage, engage the culture, and reach people.

Perhaps there is a ministerial alliance or the possibility to partner with other Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod con­gregations in your area to engage in acts of mercy or charity. Food and clothing pantries, indigent assistance, meals on wheels, and other philanthropic endeavors are excellent ways to engage the community without sacrificing the mission and ministry of the congregation.

Another great opportunity is to become involved with local service organizations. Events such as community cleanup days and local celebrations are often simple ways to have a presence in the community in order to make and foster relationships through which the Gospel might be shared.

A third option, and perhaps one of the best, is to have a connection with the local school or schools. Students are so often drawn away from church by so many activities. Being a part of the system helps the pastor’s voice to be heard, not to mention the great sense of community pride rural and small towns often have for their schools. Supporting this in a healthy way allows one to model the Christian life for others.

While this list is just a start and is certainly not exhaustive, I encourage pastors to be bold and creative. And while it is true that Paul said he became all things to all people, he didn’t do that all at once. Even St. Paul engaged people where they were based on the time and place in which he found himself. Furthermore, re­member that a little goes a long way. Sometimes just a quick visit or drop-in is enough. At times, a note, a call or even a text (Social Media isn’t all bad) is just the thing needed to connect at critical times in order to be the leader one is called to be.

Finally, none of this is pos­sible without consistently being in God’s Word and prayer. Apart from these things, the others are simply activi­ties which anyone can endeavor to do. The more time with God becomes a part of one’s daily life, the more God’s Word will become a part of everything, and those ways in which one can demonstrate servant leadership will have that Word as their very character.

Photo (c) Kirkikis/iStock

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About the Author

Rev. Todd Kollbaum is the director of LCMS Rural & Small Town Mission. RSTM supports and encourages rural and small town congregations in engaging their communities and growing together in Christ through Word and Sacrament. Learn more at or

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