I’m fortunate to pastor in a rural church that has a really great building (and it’s paid off, baby!).
OK, sorry. I was getting a little excited there. But along with a nice building, there is a really nice-sized office with the title “Pastor” hanging on the door. My “office” has a full bathroom, too—shower and all. The square footage of that office actually allows for me to fit all of my books, too. Seriously, it’s really big. I’ve had a ton of visiting guest speakers walk into it and attempt to call it home. Heck, I have a French press, excellent coffee and candles. The room is ridiculously nice.
And I’m no longer using it as my office.
Here are five reasons why I believe rural pastors need to get out the church office:
1. Many rural pastors don’t actually have an office.
There are probably thousands of churches in rural communities that own or rent buildings with zero office space. For many rural churches that are more than 50 years old, there was simply no reason to construct a church building that was large enough to fit more than 50 people, which means having a full-time pastor was probably not going to happen.
Hence, no office. Thus, a really good reason for rural pastors to get out of their office is to start by acknowledging they might not even have a church office (and that includes getting out of the small closet located in the back of the worship auditorium!).
2. People in rural communities struggle with getting help or counseling from a pastor because they are worried other people in the church might find out and then tell everyone else.
Put simply, your office makes people nervous about gossip. In the small-town church, the pastor’s office might as well say, “Enter all who are really messed up and who want everyone to know.” So few people will make an effort to even enter your office because rather than seeing it as sacred ground, that office is cursed! All who enter will become the subject of the next ladies social where tea, cake and gossip is served. At least that’s what everyone thinks.
It’s hilarious. You’ll keep office hours, and no one will ever schedule anything. You’ll wonder why. You may even foolishly just think the congregation you serve is really healthy and has no problems. And after you’ve been around for a while, you’ll notice you’ll keep your office hours and no one will ever use them and then when you leave the office, people will stop by and talk to you as you are leaving, right there in the parking lot. Why? Because the parking lot says, “safety” and your office says, “death.” People talk in parking lots all the time, especially in a rural community! It’d be a much better office for you, trust me.
For those rural pastors who are required to keep office hours, here’s a little piece of advice. First, spend time building trust with your board so they will eventually take your advice on whether or not you should be required to spend 40 hours in an empty office. Second, if the board is foolish enough to insist you spend 40 hours in an empty office twiddling your thumbs (I’m sure you’ll do some studying too), you can slowly change the culture of the church to become a little more open to meeting with you in you office, but it’ll take a lot of work.