Small towns are not often seen as destinations, but the people who live there deserve to be led by people who’ve taken them seriously. If a leader is only interested in leading at a church in a small town so they can advance to something bigger and better down the road, people will know immediately. Jim Elliot once said, “Wherever you’re at, be all there.” There’s something to be said for someone who can put their hands to the plow and work the field that God has given them.
A pastor or church planter in a small town who wants to make a long-lasting impact on the community will need a strategy to develop good leaders. What should you be looking for?
Leaders Who Are Reliable
Paul tells Timothy in 2 Timothy 2:1-2 to, “Entrust to faithful men who will be able to teach others also.” You can’t “entrust” things to people without knowing you can trust them! And this is not something you can learn in an interview.
Finding out if people are reliable takes time. You have to invest in them and watch to see what they do with what they’ve been given. Jesus said that those who are given more are those who have been “found faithful.” Don’t skip this simply because you really want them or need them. These are people, God’s people, who are being led, and He wants reliable people leading them.
Leaders Who Love Your Small Town
If you bring leaders in from the outside without vetting them for your context, you are playing a dangerous game. A love for your small town is imperative for everyone who is a leader on your team. Snarky comments and cynicism that come from someone who feels ‘stuck’ in your small town will cause long-lasting damage to the ministry you are trying to build. If they don’t love your small town, don’t give them a platform from which to trumpet their poor attitude.
Leaders Who Love Your Church
Leaders who don’t share your vision for the church you are leading can be very harmful. However, many pastors and church planters I meet don’t have a clearly defined philosophy of ministry or a process of making sure potential leaders agree with it. If you are only looking for doctrinal alignment, things will get ugly fast. There are plenty of great people that agree with me on doctrine, but would be horrible leaders in the church because we don’t share the same philosophy of ministry.
Perhaps the first step for you is figuring out what is distinctive about you church. Maybe you have that already and now need to work potential leaders through those. Whatever you do, don’t settle for someone who only aligns with you theologically. You need people who get what you’re trying to build and HOW you’re trying to build it.
Leaders Who Are Teachable
One of the biggest challenges I’ve faced as a church planter and pastor in a small town is trying to work with people who have had previous ministry experience. It occurred to me that these people would have been vital in church plants. Why are they so often difficult now? I think it is because of our relatively new fixation on the gospel and mission.
Leaders from previous churches in small towns more than likely have never experienced a centrality on those two key elements of modern church planting. If they are unwilling to be taught how to lead, preach, and disciple with things like mission or gospel at the forefront of their methods, they will prove unhelpful in the end. Take heart, however. More often than not, I am seeing that you can “teach old dogs new tricks.”
Leaders Who Are Willing To Get Their Hands Dirty
Many churches in small towns cater to letting leaders do what they feel led to do, which is often a spiritualized way of saying, “What they want to do.” However, leaders who only want to do what they want to do are selfish and should be avoided until they grow up. If we learn anything from watching Jesus washing His disciples’ feet, we see that in gospel ministry, things are not beneath us.