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Project on Rural Ministry Hosts Local Pastors

Grace Leone

As part of the effort to connect rural pastors with their community, the PRM hosts an annual conference that gives pastors and members of the community an opportunity to connect with regards to ministry and the efforts that go into it. The recent “Better Together” Conference was a time for pastors to connect again in the wake of the pandemic, listen to engaging talks, a compelling panel discussion, and participate in an entrepreneurship workshop. Some pastors were gracious to tell us about their experience at the conference; many thanks to these pastors and all who came! 

Reflections on Rural Ministry and the Pastor 

Lisa Hosack, associate professor and director of the college’s Social Work Program, delivered two talks on the psychology of the pastor in light of recent times. “I found Lisa’s talk to be affirming to a number of steps I’ve already taken to surround myself with supportive relationships,” remarks Pastor Matt Wolfe. 

Lisa’s talks covered topics especially relevant to pastors in several ways. “Both of her talks were really applicable to the lives of pastors,” reflects Dr. Charlie Cotherman, PRM Program Director. “One thing they covered is positive psychology—things like a focus on flourishing and grit. A key part of the talk dealt with how we handle criticism in a positive way. This take was incredibly timely. As a pastor, the last year has been full of opportunities for folks to second guess and criticize the tough decisions church leaders had to make.” Lisa’s second talk on loneliness spoke to a reality many people—pastors and congregants alike—know all too well. 

For Mother Elizabeth Ivell, Lisa’s talks were important reminders: “That when things are stressful, I need to make sure to stay in contact with my important relationships. That thriving isn’t simply getting through each day, and there is more to thriving in life in Christ.” Vulnerability, resiliency, and discernment are all important traits that the hardships of the last year and more required, even as it proved an isolating period in more ways than one for many pastors. “It saddens me that by the numbers pastors and priests are so very lonely. There are thousands of pastors out there and there are thousands of ways to connect to them. We can do better about having colleague relationships,” comments Mother Elizabeth. 

In the evening, over dinner at Timbercreek Tap and Table, Bill Sukolsky presented a memorable talk on rural ministry, a momentous reflection on a lifetime in ministry. “Bill’s heartfelt encouragement, built around his exposition of Scripture, was the highlight of the weekend for me,” comments Pastor Wolfe. “What a blessing to hear from a brother who has run his vocational race well for the glory of God and for the good of his people. For those of us who still have a ‘few laps to go’, it was a grace-filled, Gospel-saturated encouragement to stay faithful to our privileged calling.” PRM Research Director, Dr. Adam Loretto noted, “It struck me that every point Bill mentioned out of his experience was absolutely affirmed by all the pastors in attendance. They all knew every joy and difficulty of pastoring.” 

"Bill's heartfelt encouragement, built around his exposition of Scripture, was the highlight of the weekend for me."

Entrepreneurship and Ministry 

Tim Sweet, professor of Entrepreneurship at Grove City College with 13 years of experience as a pastor, teamed up with Yvonne English, assistant professor of Entrepreneurship, for the entrepreneurship talks and workshop. Interested in the ways pastors and churches can benefit from entrepreneurial thinking, specifically how businesses can have a redemptive impact on the communities they serve, Tim presented a new perspective for many. 

Yet, Yvonne and Tim’s talks were also encouraging and affirmative of areas that pastors felt they wanted to grow in. “In the past, I’ve not necessarily thought of myself in terms of being an entrepreneur,” comments Pastor Wolfe. “But the reality is that I, along with so many other small-town pastors, are always innovating, problem-solving, and pioneering new efforts.”  

The Entrepreneurship workshop provided an opportunity for pastors to work together to illustrate their ideas on paper using a posterboard-sized design thinking worksheet. “I enjoyed the exercise and found the step-by-step process to be helpful,” comments Pastor Wolfe. “I plan on using that same process in the future, especially as I work with various committees and teams in my church.” 

The panel held the next day was a chance for pastors and student interns in all areas to participate in a discussion that highlighted what the PRM has done. In addition to this, the panel was also an invitation for others to get involved after seeing the ways pastors and churches have been blessed by the work and talents of the students in class projects, missional outreach, mutual learning opportunities in PRM churches, and summer internships. 

A Chance to Get Involved  

The PRM also brought in Dr. Walt Mueller, expert on youth ministry and culture, founder and president of the Center for Parent/Youth Understanding. In an effort to expand the range of churches who were able to benefit from Mueller's lifetime of research and experience, the PRM opened up the Saturday sessions to the public, and several area youth leaders took advantage of the opportunity.

Throughout the course of the day, Mueller presented talks on youth in today’s culture and the church’s position to implement relationships to encourage youth ministry. Part of this includes being aware of the ways youth are influenced. “I think we forget about the mass number of marketing ploys we see and hear in a day,” Mother Elizabeth notes. “For an adult, that is one thing, but for a child or teen who is learning new things all the time, those marketing ploys can become fact too quickly.” 

Walt Mueller of the Center for Parent and Youth Understanding (CPYU) addresses the group.

Better Together

After postponing and eventually canceling the 2020 annual conference, the 2021 PRM annual conference was a welcome return to semi-normalcy. Through shared meals and opportunities to learn, share, and reflect, the gathering was a reminder of the powerful kingdom impact college-pastor and college-church partnerships can offer. Truly, we are better together. It's a sentiment the PRM team is looking to continue building on in the months and years to come.

Grace is a writing intern for the PRM and a senior English major with writing and design minors at Grove City College. She lives in the Washington, D.C. area.