My father used to imagine what he would do if he were King for a day, so today I want to reflect on what I would do if I were the Presbyterian Pope for a day. The media have recently reported the ongoing difficulties associated with the scheme to have GPs placed in regional areas throughout Australia. The debate has centred around how to make the doctor’s position more attractive, though one writer to the papers suggested the answer is to make the specialists’ positions less attractive.

This is a serious concern, ensuring that Australians, wherever they live, have access to expert medical care. Pastors are doctors of the soul, physicians of the eternal, ‘overseers of the soul’ (Heb. 13:17). It is vital that people have access to faithful pastoral care, access to pastors who preach faithfully, who provide a listening ear and wise Biblical counsel. In short, pastors who live on site!

Large regional centres are generally well staffed but towns with a population around 1000 – 2000 people are often without resident pastors. Yet the needs in such towns are very great. Fluctuating weather conditions, limited availability of sporting, cultural and educational resources, the pressure of living in a small town environment and the ever present rural recession, all make their demands. If I were Pope I would go back to the old way of helping solve this problem, appointing exit students to such small country parishes.

I am an urban man, born in Surry Hills in Sydney, raised in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, when exiting in 1976, if the choice had been mine, I would have chosen a city parish. Instead I was posted to Wee Waa, 700 kms north west of Sydney on the North West plains of NSW. I will always be grateful that the choice was not mine.

This system of exits to the country gave young ministers invaluable pastoral experience, getting to know people in a unique country way, and, supplied parishes who might normally find it difficult to successfully call a minister, with a minister fresh out of College. My formative Exit experience helped me greatly, and ministers I talk to echo my gratitude. The demands of city parishes and the attraction of working in team ministries has reduced the supply of Exit students to the country, so as Pope I would make country exit appointments again the norm.

My old parish has now been without an ordained Presbyterian minister for close on a decade! This problem may also be solved if we had more Exit students available. Faithful and engaging preachers in parishes provide models for men to see pastoral ministry, so that they might sense a call to ministry themselves. For me, observing the ministry of J Graham Miller at Hurstville and hearing him preach and others like him, led me to the conclusion that this was something worthy to attract one’s life’s attention.

Preaching is caught rather than taught, and such preaching of his word,  is the means God uses to call more people into training and into ministry. Pray that God will bless us with such preachers and an abundance of candidates for ministry. Pray also for our brothers and sisters in country parishes, who may feel neglected by the denomination in their search for pastoral oversight.

Pray that innovative ways will be found whereby we can more effectively stand with rural churches in good times and bad. Has your church considered entering into a special relationship with a country church for mutual encouragement? Let’s give priority to the ‘Macedonian’ call of our smaller country parishes for whom lack of local pastoral oversight is just another burden to lives already lived under significant pressure.

–  David Cook.