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Helping Small-Church Pastors Thrive

Editor's note: Bill Sukolsky serves as Pastor Liaison on the CRM team. Before that he served as a pastor for decades in Waynesburg, PA. He is heading up our Small-Church Pastors (South) affinity group, which kicks off in Waynesburg on April 6. A link to register can be found under the "pastor" tab at ruralministry.org.

I am looking forward to the first gathering of the Small-Church Pastors (South) affinity group on April 6 in Waynesburg, Pennsylvania. I love pastors, fully understanding the joys and sorrows, blessings and frustrations that are the experience of all of us who share in that role in the rural church. I served Christ in vocational ministry for forty years, and in retirement continue to serve in different congregations. These years have absolutely convinced me of my/our ongoing need for “meaningful pastoral partnerships that promote kingdom flourishing in the rural churches and communities of our region” (to paraphrase the purpose of the CRM).

The Need for Pastoral Friendships

I have learned that though pastors vary in temperament, age, experience, and ecclesiology, common to all of us is the need for what some call pastoral friendships: “Spirit-empowered intimate relationships of love, trust, and loyalty that enable pastors and those under their care to flourish.” 1 It is true of pastors in every context, but I have found it to be especially true for those of us serving in rural settings.

Goals and Hopes

My hope is that our affinity group will help each of us take steps into deeper friendships as we meet formally and informally over the next two years. We will focus on building resilience2 through becoming healthier physically, emotionally, relationally, spiritually, and intellectually.3 Though we will not address each of those aspects of our lives exhaustively, we will address them sufficiently to nurture and equip us to love our Triune God, our families, our congregations, and one another. We will take those steps together through such practices as:

  • Scripture study and theological reflection as we remind one another of Christ’s call to be shepherds and how that shapes our preaching and pastoral practices
  • Reading and discussion of books/resources aimed at developing our personal and vocational lives wholistically
  • Sharing case studies from our individual ministry contexts, to learn from one another’s life experiences
  • Individual and corporate prayer, when we gather as well as scatter

Meeting Pastors in Their Local Contexts

Though our initial meeting is in Waynesburg, I anticipate that future gatherings will take place in/near the congregations represented by those who attend. Those locations, as well as the dates of meeting, will be established when we gather on April 6.

I would be delighted to speak further with you about this opportunity through CRM, and even more so to have you join us as we walk this road together.


1 Pastoral Friendship: The Forgotten Piece to a Persevering Ministry, by Michael A.G. Haykin, Brian Croft, and James B. Caroll, Christian Focus, 2022, pages 16-17

2 See Resilient Ministry: What Pastors Told Us About Surviving and Thriving, by Bob Burns, Tasha D. Chapman, and Donald C. Guthrie, Inter-Varsity Press, 2013

3 See The Emotionally Healthy Leader, by Peter Scazzero, Zondervan, 2015.

*Featured image credit: Garrett Heath, Okiejoke Media

Bill retired at the end of 2021, after serving two Presbyterian congregations in southwest PA for a little over 40 years. He has been married to Karen for 45 years, with three married daughters and five grandchildren. He enjoys landscaping, fishing, and shooting. In retirement Bill continues to meet with numerous people for prayer and conversation; does supply preaching in various congregations; and leads a home Bible study and engages in prison ministry on a weekly basis. His long-standing desire to support and encourage pastors has continued into retirement, and he looks forward to serving Christ in that capacity with the Center for Rural Ministry." Bill can be reached via email at bill@ruralministry.org.