About thinkingoutsidethetextbox

I've been pastoring in a small town since 1996. I thought I'd share some of my experiences and things I've learned or am learning along the way. Presently I'm pastoring Bow River Alliance Church in Carseland, Alberta, Canada. This is a church with an average attendance of about 65 in a town of 650.

Here’s my first book: The Rural Pastor

rural pastor picI just recently completed my first book. It’s called The Rural Pastor: Ten Things I Wish I Had Known Before I Began Rural Ministry. You can click on the title above to check it out and order it. I have experienced many years of rural ministry in small communities. I enjoy writing. So I have combined the two to come up with a book.

My hope is that as you read it you will be encouraged in your rural ministry. If you are not a rural pastor right now, this might be just the thing to help you get a sense of how to understand your rural pastor friend and their ministry. I have included some suggestions at the end of each chapter on how to put into practice the things of that chapter.

I hope you enjoy it and feel encouraged in your ministry.

*click here to order.

Who’s Standing With You?

Ministry can be very lonely. The isolation of rural ministry adds to that loneliness. This is why I really appreciate the friends I have in ministry. They get it. They understand that some things just cannot be shared with other members of your church or friends in the community. And sometimes even if you did, they wouldn’t really get it. But the friend who is also a pastor with a few years under his belt gets it because he has been there too.

friendsA friend of mine who is a pastor in our church plant in a neighboring town just stopped by. He came specifically to check up on me. He knows that I have been going through some difficult times and wanted to just come and talk and listen and to pray for me. I love it when a pastor-friend stands with me in life and in ministry.

I also have some friends in the church who lift me up with their friendship – and often their humor. There are some times where the friend who stands with me doesn’t have to be someone who understands ministry, just someone who knows me and cares about my mental and emotional health.

And I love the boards and leadership teams I have worked with where they aren’t just all about the business of getting the job done. I have had some of these who really cared about how I was doing as well. It’s good to work alongside people who care about you as much or more than the task at hand.

Who’s standing with you?

Do you have someone who will come and encourage you when you need it? Do you have people in your life who are connected enough with you that they will even know when you need some encouragement. Some of the isolation and loneliness in ministry is our own fault. We don’t trust others enough to allow them to get to know us. If they don’t know us they will not be able to stand with us in a meaningful way.

Who’s standing with you?

And…who are you standing with?

As much as I need encouragement and support from time to time, so do others. Are we so caught up in our concerns that we miss when someone needs a phone call or a visit.

We are looking at the “one another” statements from the Bible for our summer sermons series. God has created the church as a place where we should be walking through life together with other believers. If you are living and ministering in loneliness and isolation, make sure that its not your own fault. Take time to reach out to someone so you can encourage them and so they might be there for you when you need it.

Who’s standing with you?

Baptism – One of the Privileges of my Job

In our church tradition Believers Baptism is one of the highly celebrated steps of spiritual growth. Believers Baptism is a baptism that follows a person’s repentance of their sins and a surrendering of their life to the Lordship of Jesus Christ. In our tradition we practice immersion. This is where we put the person completely under the water to symbolize a few things. It symbolizes a washing away of sins. It also symbolizes that we have died to 20140914_122615_resized_1our own selfishness and have given Jesus Christ control of our life. I often joke that if I kept the person under the water long enough, they would be dead. And when they come out of the water I usually say, “Arise to a new life in Christ”. In a sense, it is a personal resurrection a little like the resurrection of Jesus.

In our church, we baptize in the Bow River. We are only minutes away from the river so the whole church drives down after the morning service and watches as the person is dunked under the cold river water. And when the person comes up there is often cheering and congratulations offered to the person. This is a highlight for the whole church.

Just recently someone asked if they could be baptized. They thought I might want to wait a little though as the river is still very cold in April. As I was thinking of baptism I was thinking of the different people I have had the privilege of baptizing. There have been grandmas. There was one guy who was about 6 feet tall, with huge arms and tattoos all over his body. Another young man had been baptized as an infant but now wanted to be baptized as a believer in Jesus Christ and as a personal response to the love and forgiveness of Jesus. I have baptized youth. It was exciting to baptize my daughters!

Baptism is that moment when people declare their faith in Jesus and their commitment to live for him in a public way. I feel so privileged to be the one who gets to lead this ceremony from time to time!

What a Great Community!

We hosted our annual Easter Eggstravaganza again this past weekend. This is always a great celebration as we invite the community to join our church at the community hall for an Easter celebration. We have breakfast together, then we have our Easter Service, followed by an Egg Hunt. This is more like a candy and chocolate hunt.

This year was another reminder that our community loves to support good things, especially if it is something that will benefit children. Our community association allows us the use of the hall at no cost! That is a huge help. Our congregation works hard to plan and put on the event. And many people who are not part of our church and don’t even attend the event donate candy and chocolate for the Egg Hunt! People donate money. They drop off bags of candy at the church. They deliver it to our house. Some even come with it on Sunday morning. It was a great event for the 120 people who attended, about half of who were children!

I have lived in the city. I can tell you it would be rare to have this kind of support for a community event put on by a church. This is one small example of community support among many I can think of in the years I have lived in Carseland. No, we don’t know everyone. No, we don’t even benefit from some of the things we contribute to. But we are a community that supports each other and supports good things.

What a great community!

It’s Not about the Numbers But Faithfulness to God’s Call

As I was getting ready for an Elders meeting I looked a the attendance records for the last month or so. This time the numbers were not encouraging. In fact, it seemed to hit me pretty hard. We seemed to be down a fair bit compared to previous years. And then I did the “what is the problem?” mental dance. Is the church not growing because of me? Is the church not growing because of the population reality of our small town? Is it because our members are not inviting others or making them feel welcome? Do we actually have less people – or – are they just attending less frequently?

These questions don’t really help. I know there is a place for careful evaluation, but it doesn’t help to jump to conclusions without trying to confirm those conclusions. Some of the questions remind me that we have a huge job in front of us – even though we are in a small town. It is not an easy job to bring people to Christ. It is not easy to get people to see the value of attending church regularly.Ordination2

And then it seemed like I got a word from the Holy Spirit. This was not booming voice, just a clear impression: “Your value is not seen in the size of your congregation or the size of your community you serve in but your value is seen in your faithfulness to God’s call on your life.”

I needed that. I believe God has called me to rural ministry, and has called me to this church in this town. I believe that God is using me to lead this church and to teach and preach faithfully. I believe God is using me to develop friendships with non-church people in the community. I just need to be faithful to God’s call.

This morning I looked back at our attendance records and realized again that history often looks rosier the farther away from it you get. The numbers were not as high a few years ago as I remembered. So our numbers were not as much a percentage lower than I thought. This is one more example of how a small church notices the attendance of one or two families of 4 or 5. The attendance or non-attendance of even one or two families can make a big percentage difference.

All of this to say: “My value is not seen in the size of my congregation or the size of my community I serve in but my value is seen in my faithfulness to God’s call on your life.”

Yes, we do need to look at the numbers, but they don’t always tell the whole story. And I am not accountable to numbers, but to faithfully serve my God in the church He has placed me in.

May we serve faithfully and not allow discouragement to creep in because we are focusing on the wrong things. If we look around instead of to Jesus, then like Peter on the water, we soon begin to sink.

Church Budgets: Why Are They Important?

I don’t remember any course in Bible College or in Seminary where I was taught about Church Budgets, yet every year, I have to work with my Board, and then with my Church Members to build a Budget we can agree on for the next year. So I thought I would put out a couple of my thoughts on church Budgets. The points below aren’t in any specific order.

1. Budgets help determine how much money you expect to need for the year

Every church, like every family or business, has certain things that have to be paid every year, like utilities or mortgages. You need to make sure that you know how much it will cost to run your facilities. You need to know how much it will cost to put on your programs or run your ministries. 

Along with the things that you have little say on and just have to pay, are the things that you can dream about and wish for. Maybe you want to upgrade facilities. You can budget that over a year or more, but it helps to know how much you need. Maybe you have some specific costs involved with your Children’s ministry as you buy curriculum or even put on a Children’s weekend. You will need to know how much that will cost. You need to know what you expect to do and how much it will cost in every part of your church life. That becomes your budget.

2. Budgets should reflect how much income you expect

Once you have determined how much you have to spend as well as how much you would like to spend, you need to see how this matches up with the reality of your projected income. While there must be an aspect of faith that God will provide what you need, you also need to recognize how much money you can realistically expect to have come in from your offerings. If you have been tracking things, you can check back on last year’s income and make a good projection from that.

Your income must be the same or higher than your budgeted expenses or you will be in trouble. You will have to either reduce your wish list, or increase your income in some way. But these have to match with each other.

3. Budgets help determine where or how money that comes in will be spent

Your budget helps you know how to designate your money. By building the budget  you have determined what is needed for every aspect of you church. Now direct the money to those specific things. Don’t just spend it on any whim that you, your board, or your church may have.

4. Budgets are guidelines, not ruleswebsite-budget-factors

Budgets are “best guesses”. This means you do your work on figuring out what you expect will come in and what you expect will need to go out, along with faith that God will provide for the things he wants to have happen in and through your church. But these cannot be “rules”. If you budget $2000 for utilities but your furnace dies and it costs more than the budgeted amount, you still need to get the furnace. If a certain ministry has $600 in its budget, but it realizes that it may cost $675 to do what they wanted, then there may have to be some leeway on what is needed. It would be wise for the leaders of that ministry to check with the board to see if this will be a problem. Obviously you cannot spend money you don’t have – at least you shouldn’t. But the Leadership Board should have the freedom to adjust the budget a little as you go. You should stick to it as closely as you can, but be open to discuss changes if necessary.

5. Budgets are best put together by the people or ministries or departments directly affected by them

I like to have the leaders of the different ministries work through what finances they expect they will need for the coming year. That way they will know what they have allotted to them and will not just think the Board came up with an arbitrary number out of nowhere. Help the leaders think through what their costs will be. Help them see that some ministries could also have ticket sales or donations that counter some of the costs. 

6. Budgets should reflect your vision and goals

Budgets should reflect what you believe is important for your church. If your vision is focused on youth, you probably should have a significant portion of your budget going to youth. If you have certain goals you have set as a church, and these goals include certain costs, that should be clear from the Budget. Your money should go where your dreams and visions and goals are.

Just a few of my thoughts. Enjoy dreaming and then planning with good communication and by faith in God. God will always fund the ministries that He wants to take place in His timing.

 

 

Encouragement – I Need It, I Love It, I Don’t Do Enough Of It!

Yesterday I had the privilege of hosting the local ministerial. Actually, all the ministers are from then next town north of our little town of Carseland. I’m the only one from my town, but we take turns meeting at everyone’s church,so they all drive out of their town of 13,000 and come down to our community of 650 to meet for our monthly meeting in my little church. That in itself is an encouragement to me.

But one lady Encouragement Cardcame in and gave me an envelope from her senior pastor he was not able to attend. I was curious, thinking it was maybe a late Christmas card, but it wasn’t! It was an encouragement card. This pastor, whom I haven’t been able to get to know all that well as he is a little newer, and who couldn’t make it to the meeting went out of his way to hand write a not of encouragement to me! And it wasn’t just something generic.

Glenn wrote, “…over the last couple of months from multiple people I’ve heard of the depth of your character, genuineness of your commitment and the quality of ministry in Carseland.” Wow! He added  a few more things, but that really lifted me up.

I love to be encouraged. I need it. But I know I don’t do enough of it. We all need someone to tell us that they appreciate us and love us and think we are doing a good job. Hopefully my little celebration of my encouragement might encourage you and I to do more of that for others!

We need to love the Lonely

I was flipping through the local newspaper when this small article popped out. A Cuddling business is expanding from Vancouver to Edmonton. The article goes on to explain that people pay a “professional cuddler” anywhere from the basic $35 up to $260 depending what all is involved. They clearly state that there is no nudity or sex involved. But you can have someone to cuddle with, to hug, to cuddle and watch a move, someone to stroke your hair and so on.

At fist I was appalled and even a little disgusted – first that people would actually advertise themselves as providing such a business and then secondly, that there would actually be people who would pay for such a service. But then I realized that this is telling something about society that we already knew. People are lonely.

As families move around the countryside for new work opportunities or new experiences, families are not as tight as they used to be. Fewer people have good friends to hang out with. People fill their days with work and “busy” things but have little time to connect in meaningful ways with other people in natural physical contact.

And then I began to wonder if the church is really missing an opportunity here. I’m not suggesting that we offer “cuddling” as a new service to our members, but I do think we need to be more creative in finding ways to show people that they can find good friends in church. Maybe we need to do a better job helping our members to be good friends.

The Bible says this a number of times: “Love one another”. I think these people are longing for true friends who will just love them for who they are. And so they hire someone whom they can pretend is their friend. It’s a sad commentary on the independence and separate-ness of our culture. Could we maybe do a better job loving people and introducing them to the God who is Love?

Christmas Eve Service – a free resource

It’s hard to find ways to keep Christmas fresh and exciting when you have the same story and the same carols every year. At the same time, people like some of the tradition and familiarity, so I don’t think we need to always try to do something different.

But I know I always like to find new resources to see if there is something different or creative I can add in. So with that in mind, I’m going to share with you my Christmas Eve service. Feel free to use any of it that might be helpful for you next year. Just think, you could already have next year’s Christmas Eve service all figured out.

Here it is, exactly as we presented it:ChristmasEve3_Logo

CHRISTMAS EVE 2014

Brass Trio – 2 songs?

Video: Worthless Christmas

Welcome – introduction?

Welcome to our Christmas Eve service. Thank you for recognizing that Christmas without Christ is actually meaningless. And so you have come tonight to remember and celebrate the Christ of Christmas with others.

We are celebrating the coming of God to earth. In Matthew 1: 23 we read: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us”.

This was something that was promised long before it happened. It was prophesied in a number of different places in the Old Testament. One prophet who spoke about the coming of this special child was Isaiah.

Listen as I read from Isaiah 9: 2-7. This was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. (read)

Let’s sing together…

Carol:         –Come thou Long Expected Jesus (v. 1,2)

John 3:16

Probably one of the most familiar verses of the Bible is John 3: 16.

Here it is. (on screen)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God – This verse begins with God. The Bible is very clear – there is a God. This God was the Creator of the world. And he created the whole world in order to have a place for people who he could be in relationship with.

The World –Then we are told that God loved “the World”.

This is not referring to the earth, but to the people who live on earth. God loves people. They are created by him because he wanted a relationship with them.

But very shortly after the description of creation we get the description of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, disobeying God.

Genesis 3 describes how God kicked them out of the Garden of Eden because their relationship with God was now broken. Before this, God would come and spend time with Adam and Even in the Garden. Now that was over.

But do you know why they were kicked out of the Garden?

We might assume it was because God was mad at them, but that’s not the reason given in the Bible. It wasn’t because God is a mean God. In fact it was because he loves us. He kicked mankind out of the garden because they had sinned – they had disobeyed. And now we follow in that same pattern, we sin. We disobey God and what he has taught in the Bible.

Loved – John 3: 16 tells us God “loved” the world. He loved the people. He loves us! God doesn’t delight in making life difficult for people. God doesn’t delight in the fact that many people are separated from a friendship with him.

But God removed them from the garden for their own Good. For our good!

Here’s Genesis 3: 22. (pp)

Genesis 3:22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Because God loved them, loves us, he removed mankind from the garden of Eden before they had an opportunity to eat from the tree of life that would enable them to live forever. Because then they would live forever in their sin. If God had not removed Adam and Eve from the garden, we would be separated from God forever.

Look at the rest of John 3: 16. (pp)

He gave his one and only Son – God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus – that is what we are celebrating. The birth of Jesus Christ.

But why did God do this? What did sending his Son accomplish?

That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God loved mankind enough to remove them from the Garden of Eden after they sinned so that they wouldn’t eat from the tree of life and live in their sin forever.

Now, centuries later, Jesus finally comes, and he takes our penalty of death by dying on the cross for our sin. As we then “BELIEVE” in him he offers us eternal life. Jesus forgives our sins and makes us right with God – so now when we are offered eternal life it is eternal life in relationship with God. We don’t need to live eternally in our sin separated from God and heaven.

God loved us enough to make sure we did not need to continue in sin forever separated from God.

Listen to the next two verses: John 3: 17-18. (read)(pp)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Christmas is the birth of the one who would set things right so that we could come into a relationship with God, through faith in this one – Jesus, and then have eternal life.

My prayer is that each one here tonight would put their faith in Jesus so that you would leave her tonight with a confidence that you have received his forgiveness and the eternal life he offers to all who believe.

This was the one who was prophesied about in the Old Testament. The people of God knew that a Messiah, a Christ, was to come.

And so tonight we celebrate. Let’s sing Joy to the World.

Carol:         –Joy to the World  (1,2,3,4)

Scripture:    Matthew 1: 18-25 (Angel to Joseph)

Luke 1: 26-38 (Angel to Mary)

Carol:         Hark the Herald Angels Sing  (1,2,3)

Scripture:    Luke 2: 1-7 (Jesus’ Birth)

MANGER:

The reading we just had told us that Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Bethlehem was full of travelers as they had to come to their home towns to register for the census that Caesar Augustus had called for. It was so full that there was no bed available for Mary and Joseph, even though she was pregnant.

Because of the manger, some have assumed that they were in a stable, but there is no mention of a stable. Quite likely they were in a place that was used by travelers as a place to leave their horses or donkeys, or whatever they were travelling on. And so these animals would have needed to be fed, so a manger would have been used.

Jesus, the Son of God, was then placed in one of these feeding troughs.

Can you imagine, the Son of God, left the glory of heaven to confine himself in the body of a human baby. And then he was placed in a manger, not even in a bed or a cradle.

God came to earth in the most humble of ways.

Let’s sing together… Away in a Manger.

Carol:         –Away in a Manger        (1,2,3)

O Little Town of Bethlehem    (1,2,3,5)

Scripture:    Luke 2: 8-20 (Shepherds and Angels)

SWADDLING CLOTHES:

The shepherds found Jesus in a Manger. Wrapped in swaddling clothes. What is the significance of this?

It doesn’t tell us why Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes so people have made all kinds of assumptions.

I think the reason the swaddling clothes or the cloths he was wrapped in is mentioned is because that is what a newborn was usually wrapped in. This was to make clear to the shepherds that they were looking for a newborn. They were not looking for a toddler but for a child who had just been born that night.

Video: What Child is this- Song video

Carol:         -It Came Upon  A Midnight Clear     (1,4)

O Come all Ye Faithful (1,2,3)

Video: A Christmas Response

RESPONSE:

Tonight we have heard a number of scriptures read. We have sung a number of songs about that first Christmas. As the video invited you, “what is your response?”

Will you just go home and check Christmas Eve Service off your list? Been there, done that.

Or this a moment where you stop and acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. And not just Lord – but Your Lord??

Jesus came to forgive us our sins. All we need to do is put our faith in him and live our life in obedience to Him.

Why not put your faith in him right now!?

In a moment we are going to sing our last carol. Silent Night.

We have a fun twist to add to it.

Instead of everyone holding a candle as we sing, we are going to hand out glow sticks. We’ll sing Silent Night with the glow sticks.

So as soon as you get yours, go ahead –bend, snap, and shake them to light them up.

>>>Hand out Glow Sticks ?

Carol:         –Silent Night                             (determine which pp to use) (1,2,3)

Closing Prayer                                           

Brass Trio: We Wish You a Merry Christmas

Kids Choir Brings out the Family

One of the Christmas traditions of our church for a number of years has been our annual Christmas choir. We have a lady in our church is loves music and loves children. She announces the choir early in October. The local school even allows her to promote it through the school. Practices usually start right after Thanksgiving and go until the first weekend of December. Practices take place right after school so the children just wander over to the church as soon as they are out of class. The choir director takes time to also do a short Bible Study with the kids as part of each practice. There was one child that said he wanted to say Yes to Jesus!! A few helpers also make sure their is always a snack as well.

The Choir presentation usually takes place on the first Sunday of December. We do away with the regular service plan and schedule the presentation to take place at 10:30 Sunday morning in place of the regular service. We sing a few Carols together but then give most of the time to the choir performance. After the presentation we invite people to stay for some apple cider and Christmas cookies and other baking. This is a great way for guests to meet a few of our church family.

This past Sunday was our 2014 Carseland Kids Choir Presentation. There were 16 kids in the choir between the ages of 8-12. Two teenagers also did some readings. This year’s presentation was called “Get to the Manger”. Their were a few common carols and then a number of new Christmas songs. They did a great job.

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One thing that amazes me is who attends. I would expect that parents would come and cheer on their children, and they do. Out of the 16 choir members, only one is a regular attender in our church. So we had a number of families come who rarely attend church. But not only do the parents and siblings come. So do the grandparents. And even Aunts and Uncles come with their families! It’s a big deal to come and cheer on their child or their grandchild or their niece or nephew!

We had 119 people come out! Our regular attendance is about 50-55 people right now. We had more than double our regular Sunday attendance. It was a great way to connect with a number of community people. Now we will pray that some of them may come back.