Are there key features that characterise appropriate styles of leadership for rural congregations in South Australia?

Author: Damien Tann

Tann, Damien, 2017 Are there key features that characterise appropriate styles of leadership for rural congregations in South Australia?, Flinders University, School of Humanities and Creative Arts

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Abstract

That life in a country town is different to life in a capital city’s suburbs is universally acknowledged, but the ways in which these differences manifest in the styles of leadership appropriate to local churches appears less well understood. This study explores those differences and it seeks to present them in ways that might be helpful to placements committees within Uniting Church presbyteries and to ministers seeking to move from a suburban to a rural placement. Such leaders in ministry must be willing to learn and embrace the specific ways in which life is different in rural areas and what the implications of those differences are on the ways in which ministry is gone about. A literature review was undertaken and expanded from the wisdom of former and current practitioners of rural and urban ministries in South Australia. What was found was that whilst it is thought preferable to have ordained leaders in congregations it is better to have appropriately trained local lay members presiding than to bring in an accredited stranger. Where an ordained minister is present he/she is most effective when he/she acts primarily in the mode of dialogue partner and facilitator of the congregation’s ministry rather than as a resident theologian or expert. It is vital that local lay members are empowered to serve and lead their congregations, therefore a catalytic style of leadership is the best fit since rural placements often do not last long enough for ongoing mentorships to be effective. The minister must enable and equip the local people such that when he/she departs to take up a placement elsewhere the ministry is not left without direction or directors. Ministers within rural communities are expected by their congregations to serve and comfort the community beyond the church; a rural minister, isolated from other ministers, may be the only person available to fill the many representative roles required, therefore he/she must have a preparedness and a willingness to do so. It was also found that ministers in isolated placements need to take greater personal responsibility for their own and their family’s self-care and resilience than urban ministers who tend to have support networks closer-by. Whilst the majority of people who live in rural areas are socially and theologically conservative this is by no means the case for everybody. The minister must be able to lead the whole congregation in discipleship and learning with respect for every person’s theology and worldview whilst simultaneously upholding the distinctive flavour and form of the Uniting Church.

Keywords: Uniting Church, ministry, rural, leadership, South Australia, clergy, laity
Subject: Theology thesis

Thesis type: Masters
Completed: 2017
School: School of Humanities and Creative Arts
Supervisor: Rev Dr Ian D. Wilson