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Getting Stuck in a Rural Place

June 10, 2024 -- Joshua MacClaren


Do you live in a rural place and feel stuck? Do you pray that God would call you to a place bigger and better than where you’re at now? Well, that was me. I was right there with you. I tried to leave twice, but in God’s providence, He kept me in a rural place. Let me explain:

My wife and I dreamed of living in a city as we prepared for marriage. We were both from small towns, went to college in a small town, and longed for bigger and better things. Living in a city seemed like a rite of passage for a young couple. After college, we thought our time had finally come. I was sure we’d end up in a city.

First, we thought Boston, MA, was it. Boston was the best place for my world-traveling wife to get a job serving students studying abroad. What we didn’t anticipate was an unrelenting pull I felt towards pastoral ministry. God could’ve provided an outlet to pursue this in a city, but instead, the door opened for a pastoral internship in another rural place.

So, instead of the city, we moved to a small rural town called Wellsboro with a population .5% of the size of Boston. I was privileged to discern my call to ministry in a healthy church with faithful elders and a growing membership. But we still wanted to be in a city.

Over our year there, I received an excellent theological education with ample opportunities for hands-on experience. I saw the church's impact on the rural community around me, and I was humbled to be a part of it. Despite the benefits of serving here, we still wanted to end up in a city.

This time, we thought Louisville, KY, home of the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, was it. What does someone do if they’re called to ministry? They go to seminary, of course! What we didn’t anticipate was a loving challenge from a pastor friend in the dining hall of Chick-fil-A. (That’s where all holy conversations happen, right?!) He asked: “Why would you leave the context of a healthy church, if that is where you want to pastor one day? You see God working there. Who cares about location?! You can always get your education online.” 

Maybe we weren’t supposed to end up in a city after all. What came after that conversation was a long process of discernment filled with prayer, fasting, and tears. Where did God want us? The answer was right in front of us: serving the church in a rural place.

Now, almost 5 years removed from that decision - after a cancer diagnosis, two children, and a church plant - we can’t imagine being anywhere else. God is building His Church in rural places. He intends to display His glory through local churches in rural places, that can’t be done elsewhere. It is not less exciting, nor is it less strategic to serve Christ in a town like mine or a town like yours.

So, if you are like I was, stuck in a rural place trying to leave for greener pastures, consider a few things. Is your motivation for leaving self-serving? If you chose to stay, how could God use you to strengthen His church and spread His glory in rural places?

Don’t allow the pull of ease, adventure, or relevance keep you from serving in the most obvious place: where God has you, no matter how small it is.


Joshua MacClaren has been working at Christ Church Wellsboro since 2018 after he graduated from Bloomsburg University and married the love of his life, Lydia. He joined the ranks as an intern, became a pastoral assistant, and currently serves as an elder, wearing many hats! You can often find Josh fishing with his daughter, Willow, studying Greek, wood working, or dabbling in nerd interests such as Star Wars.


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