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?

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.

We Need More Scoring Chances

I was listening to a local sports talk show the other day. They were analyzing what happened for the Calgary Flames in the last game. One commentator said, ” They didn’t have enough scoring chances.” I had been thinking about how few new believers we have had in our little church in the last couple of years, and so I immediately thought about how this fits with our desire to have our friends come to know Jesus.

We need more scoring chances! We need to find ways of setting things up for a conversation about Jesus. I don’t mean we treat people like projects or statistics. Nothing like that. But we do want people to surrender their lives to Jesus. After all, the Bible is clear that if they do not, they are headed to hell. So we want to have conversations with our friends where we introduce them to Jesus. We wan to be able to talk about the prayer Jesus recently answered. We want to talk about the peace we experience as we are in relationship with Jesus. We want to talk about how our life with Jesus gives us a purpose beyond just the endless rat race of life.

hall12So we need more scoring chances. These will come as we intentionally connect with our friends. And as we are playing Dominion with them, or as we enjoy ice cream at Dairy Queen. These opportunities to talk with them about Jesus will come as we hang out together over the years talking about our kids and our holidays, maybe even sharing holidays together! We will find times to talk about Jesus as we go through tragedy’s and joys together. Opportunities will come as we continue to pray for them and love them and care for them. Some of those opportunities might come as we invite them to events at church.

Jesus loves our friends even more than we do. Jesus wept over Jerusalem. He understands when we weep over our friends. And as we pray, Jesus has promised to send his Holy Spirit. Pray that the Father would draw our friends to Himself. Pray that the Spirit would open their eyes to the truth of Jesus. As we look for more opportunities to love our friends, the time will come where we can help them come to faith in Jesus!

Hey Church Guy!

What are you called? I don’t mean just your name, but what do people call you? I have a lot of labels. I’m Dad.  I’m Lion Andy (I’m part of the local Lions club). My pharmacist greets me, “Hi Henry”. The other day I was being introduced to a new neighbor just 3 houses down, when the lady from across the street – who doesn’t attend our church – yells across the street, “That’s our pastor!” I’m Pastor Andy. A boss I had when I worked at Zellers always called me Andrew. Henry is my first name but I go by my middle name, A100_0735ndrew, but that isn’t even quite right as I have always been called Andy.

The other day, one of the 4 yr. olds in church was trying to get my attention while I was talking with his mom so he said, “Hey Church Guy!” I like that. He wasn’t quite sure what to call me and only knew me as the guy at church, but he really wanted my attention.

People give us a label based on how they know us. So how do people know us? What is the name that people give you when you aren’t around and they are talking about you to someone else? Joe and Terry might call me neighbor. Rob might call me a friend. Gary might call me a fellow Lion.

My relationship with people determines what label they might give me. I guess Church Guy isn’t that bad. But I hope there are people in my circle of influence who see me as more than a church guy and more than a pastor and more than a fellow Lion but who see me as someone who loves them with the love of Jesus! Do I care for people? Do I take time to listen to what is going on in their life? They may not call be “Care-er”, but I would love it if they saw me as someone who cares. They may not call be “Confidant”, but I would hope they felt free to confide in me when they need someone. I don’t ever want them to call me “Jesus”, but wouldn’t it be great if they felt the love of Jesus through a friendship with me – or with you?

I Need A Retreat

To retreat is to back up. Sometimes it is to regroup, re-energize, to plan a new attack. I need a retreat regularly, and when I don’t get it often enough my work suffers.

I am not talking aboutCalendar_0 a holiday, though everyone needs a vacation. You need some time to get away from everything with your spouse, with your family – sometimes without your children.

I am not talking about a holiday, but a day or more to get away from phones and from people and from your messy office. We all need to find a place where we can look at how things are going and take some time to look ahead.

This past week I had one day like that. I’m not too far away from the city of Calgary and Ambrose University College. I went to the Ambrose Library and hid there all day in a quiet cubicle surrounded by books. I took a calendar with me. I took my laptop. I took a binder
that is a “collect-all” for articles and plans and dreams I have had over the years. _1 Old Binder

My retreat is usually about what is going on in the church. While I take some time to set some personal goals, my main goal is to come away with a plan for my preaching for the next half a year or more. I want to know when I’m scheduling in a communion celebration. It’s usually the 4th Sunday of the month, but not always. I want to know where I’m planning special prayer times. I check what Sunday Advent starts so I’m ready. I even sometimes figure out what kind of testimony I would like on a certain Sunday. I plan in our Special Days like our Annual Open House & Chili Cook off in September.

I need a retreat because it is too hard for me to get that kind of planning in when I’m sitting in my office surrounded by the mess and a thousand other things to do.

I hope you get some time to retreat this summer – for a vacation, yes – but also for some planning and dreaming about what God might have happen in your area of ministry and influence.

I need a retreat. So do you.

Transforming Church in Rural America: Breaking all the Rurals – Shannon O’Dell

I look for books that speak to the rural ministry context from the rural ministry context. These are few and far between, but I found a great book that I want to encourage you to read! This should be a “must – read” for every rural pastor.transforming-church-in-rural-america

Shannon O’Dell is writing from the experience of small church and small town. He knows of church with 40 people and about how rumors fly through a small community. He is writing from the American experience, but it is really not that much different than our Canadian rural context.

Here are a few quotes from the book:

“I realized I needed to be focusing on growing individual congregants, not a big congregation.” p. 39

“”MAKE US BELIEVE! Because when the Church does not believe, when the ‘us’ (the Church) is removed, guess what? I’ts just MAKE BELIEVE. See, many of us believe in Christ. We recite the Apostles Creed or Nicene Creed and confess that we believe in Him. But many of us have not jumped the hurdle of believing Christ. We believe in Him theologically (mentally), but we don’t believe in Him practically.” p. 63

“That day I learned that people say they want to reach the lost, until we start changing things they are familiar and comfortable with in order to do what it takes to really reach the lost.” p. 73

“Are you really called to rural America? If you are, you better pony up because it is going to be the greatest opportunity and also the biggest challenge you have ever experienced, particularly when people leave, because even though they leave your church, they are never, ever gone from your life.” p. 74

Okay, that’s enough. You need to get the book. In reading it, there were times I really identified with what was being said, there were times I was challenged, and most of all I was encouraged that there are still people with innovative and creative ideas called to rural church ministry.

 

 

Help, I Need Somebody!

It was great to gather as a group and to pray for a fellow pastor at this past week’s Rural Church Pastors Network in Ft. MacLeod.

Who's up for a good fight pic RCPNOur topic was “Who’s Up For A Good Fight”, dealing with conflict in the rural church. We encourage a lot of conversation through the day. We talk around our table groups and share with the whole group. In going through the day, one of our brothers opened up about some serious conflict he was facing. It was great to hear fellow pastors share some of their suggestions and encouragements. I don’t know if he will go home and put into practice everything that others said. But I do know that he left feeling encouraged. At the end of the day we all gathered around him, laid our hands on him and prayed for him. One of the other pastors offered to see if they could meet as couples to have his wife encourage our brother’s wife as well.

I love going through the content of our gatherings, but what is most exciting is seeing pastors jibba_clothing_help_beatles_tshirt_white_made-here_1024x1024networking, connecting with other pastors. These pastors may not have known each other before joining us for the day, but can leave having made new friendships with others who are facing similar challenges.

We need each other. I know that I have benefited from connecting with other pastors. To be a pastor in a rural community can be very lonely. It is a gift from God to find someone else who understands us and can relate to things we are facing.

I hope you have someone who understands you and can be a support to you.