The Vicar of Dalby

Leadership in a small town – leading a small-town community and flock well

By David Browne

[4 minute read]

 

In May 2020 Christian Aid in the UK ran a survey to see which fictional Christian leader, people would back to lead them best through a crisis like COVID-19.[1] Surprisingly, Geraldine Granger, from the eclectic turn of the century comedy Vicar of Dibley, was voted as the leader Britons would trust to lead them through Coronavirus.

Since arriving in the Queensland town of Dalby (population 12,000) a year ago, I’ve had my fair share of crises. We moved into town during one of the worst droughts in its history. Then came bushfires, flooding in 2020, and COVID-19. As I set about leading from the first chair for the first time, I mustered up all the leadership acumen I’d gleaned from Bible College and binging on books and sermons from leaders of big, successful churches. Needless to say, it was a disaster and all the leadership acumen I’d picked up from studying the lives of mega-church pastors fell flat. My edgy sermons and church growth ideas simply didn’t cut it in small town in Queensland.

I looked to brilliant leaders and found plenty of great stuff on how ‘God loves cities’[2] but not too much on leading in small towns. At the same time, I thought back to my time completing the Arrow Emerging Leaders Program. In particular to the cohort of leaders I was a part of. Ordinary disciples who are just trying to do their best by God and the world around them. I learned as much from the big pieces of content the program threw at us as I did from the small voices of the emerging leaders around me.

In 1 Kings 19, God reveals himself to Elijah at a point of despair for the prophet. Elijah hides in a cave then a tornado, an earthquake, and a firestorm flash by. But scripture tells us that God was not in the wind, the earth shaking or the flames. And then… there’s a still small whisper, the voice of God who eventually leads Elijah out of his turmoil and onto leading his nation back to God.

In the midst of feeling out of control, out of my depth, when my world is in turmoil, this passage reminds me to listen for the voice of Jesus - heard through the still small voices in my Dalby church family. There was Sue who had the operation coming up, Peter who was afraid of losing his family’s farm, and Erica who was homeless and too hungry to care for my cheesy grin and jokes about iPhones. My church didn’t need me to be the mega-pastor I wanted to be, they needed Jesus… and the Vicar of Dalby.

Inspired by the Vicar of Dibley’s sense of quirky irreverent humour I began making YouTube videos under the banner: Vicar of Dalby. The videos are lame, formulaic, and badly edited by me but for some reason Sue, Peter, and Erica can identify with them. They start conversations in the street and make people smile at a time when everyone is reeling from the twin uncertainties of lockdown and below average rainfall in a town that relies on farming. Guys from the local footy club who would never darken the door of my church are watching Vicar of Dalby and hearing about Jesus.

I haven’t stopped listening to the big voices of leadership. We all need great leaders to inspire and share their secrets of what God’s done through them with the world. But in a small town posting, God has taught me to listen to his voice, expressed through the small voices around me (as well as the big ones). And I pray he’ll do the same for you.

Whose voice do you need to be attentive to in this season? And how has God uniquely placed you to minister and lead those around you?

 


[1] Vicar of Dibley ‘most trusted’ TV clergy to lead Great Britain through a crisis (3rd May 2020) https://mediacentre.christianaid.org.uk/vicar-of-dibley-most-trusted-tv-clergy-to-lead-great-britain-through-a-crisis/

[2] ‘God loves cities’ (14th December 2012) https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=-8IP5EcWzXE