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.

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.

An “I’ve Been Everywhere…” Day

Rural ministry often overlaps to surrounding communities. This was one of those days. It made me think of that old song, “I’v been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere”.

Saturday begin with me being at the Church Office in Carseland before 7 am so I could do some last minute bits of work for the weekend. By 8:30 I was in Strathmore for a breakfastCarseland area map meeting. A little before 10:00 I was on the road to Calgary to do a hospital visitation. Luckily the person was in a hospital on my side of the city. At about 11:10 I left the hospital to head back to Carseland so I could get dressed for a wedding. I got home about 12:15. I tried to sit down for a 15 minute rest, then got dressed and headed out the door to do a wedding just south of Champion on the bride’s farm. The backyard wedding ceremony went great, followed by the receiving line and then we left in between the ceremony and the reception to drive another 45 minutes south to see my Mom and Dad in Lethbridge. We had exactly an hour with them before we had to leave to head back to the wedding reception at the Champion Hall. We enjoyed a great dinner and some speeches and left around 9:30. We got home just after 10:30. What a day!

And it’s interesting the variety of ministry I did that day. The office work first thing was finalizing the wedding as well as the sermon for the next day. Breakfast was with a man who is a member of our church but hasn’t been attending for more than a year due to some family breakup and disappointment with God issues. The hospital visit was with a man whose family is newer to church and who haven’t really connected with the church yet. He’s suffering with diabetes and other complications. And the wedding was a couple from our church. This was actually the only wedding – out of the 5 I’m doing this summer – where the couple were both church attending Christians.

Rural ministry in a small church is never boring. While not every day is like this Saturday, every week has all kinds of variety in meetings I have, people I see, “pastoral” duties I get to perform, and services I prepare for.

I love the variety. Do you enjoy it too?

Help! I Need A Preacher.

Why is it so much work to go on holidays? But it seems like there are always a number of things that have to be looked after before the small church pastor can take off. We need vacation time. We need time to relax and refresh and spend with our families and just have a break. But when you are the only pastor on staff you have to make arrangements for things to keep on going while you are gone. Along with other smaller details, you have to make sure that everything for the Sunday services is set up before you leave. Some of us are fortunate enough to have people who will do much of that for us, but most of us need to find someone to preach for us while we are gone.

How do you find a preacher for the Sundays you will be gone? Where do you look? Most of us are the only preacher on staff, probably the only preacher in our church.charlotte payroll direct pay vacation calendar_full

Here’s some of my experience in how to find a fill-in preacher:

1. Look in your church first. Sometimes there are former pastors in your church who may be willing to preach occasionally. Sometimes there are people who have all the training and are looking for a place to use it. They went to Bible School but didn’t become a pastor. Yet they would love to preach occasionally. Take advantage of that.

Or you can train someone to preach. I have the privilege of having a man in our church who wanted to learn to preach. He had led many Bible Studies and Men’s Groups but never preached. So I spent some time with him and invited him along to a preaching seminar. I invited him into my sermon research. And now he has preached for me 3 times already – getting better each time.

2. Look to neighboring churches. Some of us have larger churches not too far from us who have two or more preachers on staff. Why not look for a way to connect with them and see if they can send a preacher to cover for you when you are away.

I live 30 minutes away from a city church that has about 18 pastors on staff. Someone connected me with one of the younger pastors, who was doing Grades 5 & 6 and just recently moved up to Jr. High Pastor, and likes to preach but will probably never have the opportunity to preach in their main services. His church has given him permission and so he has come out a few times to preach for me over the last couple of years. He loves the opportunity and the people in my church love him.

3. Look to Bible Schools in the area. Is your church within an hour or so from a Bible School? Why not develop a relationship with the school so that when you need someone to preach, they are willing to send a student or teacher to fill in for you? The students need practical experience. And some of the pastoral studies teachers probably miss preaching. It’s worth reaching out to them.

4. Look to retired pastors in your community. Sometimes there are retired pastors in our community who would love to preach occasionally. They may even be from a different denomination, but you can develop a relationship with them and see if you are comfortable having them preach in your congregation.

5. Look to missionaries. If you know that there are missionaries who are connected in any way to your church, whether through your denomination or through your church families, keep connected with them so you know when they are returning. Then invite them to come to your church to share their stories and preach for you. When I hear of our denominational missionaries coming home, I try to book them in as quickly as I can.

6. Look to preaching videos. Wow! I can’t believe I really suggested that. This is a very rare thing for me, but I’m actually going to do this when I go away next month. The president of our denomination sent out his “vision sermon” on DVD. It would be rare for our president to come to our small rural congregation, but I can bring his sermon to my church.

While I’m using this option this one time, I would be very hesitant to use it very often at all. But hey, when we can’t find anyone else, this may be an occasional option.

Well I would love to hear how you find people to preach for you when you are gone. Leave me a comment. I’d appreciate it.

Don’t Be in a Rush to Leave

So I got “the question” the other day, and it wasn’t even from my church. I’ve been pastor of Bow River Alliance Church for almost 6 years now. And I got the question – at my Lions club meeting.

“So you planning on sticking around for awhile?”

Have you gotten that question? If you are pastoring a small rural church you will probably get the question at some point from someone, most likely someone in your church. The guy who asked me is a farmer. I would bet – though I’m not a betting man – that he has never had someone ask that question of him. He has lived in this area all his life, other than possibly some time away for school. He has raised his daughter on his parents farm. He is part of this community. People would be shocked if he moved away.

But there is an expectation that the local pastor will not stay very long. And unfortunately, that has been the pattern. Short term stays in a rural church have been the norm. But that is changing. I just had breakfast with a pastor in a neighboring town of 300 people or less. He has been in his church in that community for 13 years now! I’m hearing of others with 12 and 15 and 17 years in the same small church out in the country somewhere. I applaud those pastors!

Too often in the past, pastors took a rural position until they could get a bigger church in a bigger center somewhere else. The rural church was just a stepping stone. My denomination didn’t help with their requirement that missionaries needed to serve at home for a minimum of 2 years. So they would put a pastor into a rural church for 2 years and then send them overseas. Some churches have been deeply scarred by that. And now they don’t believe it if the pastor says he is planning on staying.

I know of another pastor who is in a community of 200 or maybe less. The congregation has already expressed that they don’t believe he and his family will stay long. He has been looking for ways to prove they are in no hurry to go anywhere else. He is doing everything he can to show he wants to be in this community long term. He even bought an old house to slowly repair and use as a rental house.

I am convinced that the ministry of the pastor AND the church are enhanced when the pastor makes a long-term commitment to the church and the community. So I responded to this man, “I’m in no hurry to go anywhere. I like it here.”

Wouldn’t the ministry of Jesus become even better and more effective than it has ever been in your community if you have time to invest in relationships?

Read Scripture Together!

I have had a great experience the last few weeks meeting with a newcomer to our church to read the Bible together.

He is a self-proclaimed spiritual person who believes in God but not quite sure about Jesus. He came to me about some advice. We ended up going to the Bible – hopefully no surprise there. In our conversation we talked about how to make decisions. What do we base our decisions on? What is our measuring stick on choices we make?

If we claim to want to do the things that God wants, then God and His Word, the Bible, should be our measuring stick. We should make our decisions based on what God says. And how do you know what God is saying unless you read the Bible? Another young lady said she lived by the Ten Commandments. When I asked her if she knew what they were, I could tell she really wasn’t sure. How can we know whether we are making decisions that honor God unless we actually read what He says?open_bible-e1339591027530

So I’m meeting with this man every week. He reads a number of chapters and we take an hour to skim through and discuss his questions and comments. I’m really enjoying this. We are becoming friends. And I’m learning things too as I see them through his eyes! And I’m praying that he will come to a clear faith in Jesus Christ.

Maybe one way you can reach out to a friend is to read the Bible together. Let me know how it goes for you.

Is Asking for More Okay?

Luke 10: 7 says, “the worker deserves his wages”. I remember a church meeting where the membership was discussing the pastors salary (mine). One member piped up, “Pastors should be so glad they can serve God in this way they should be willing to do it for free.” Unfortunately, there are churches that pay that way too.

What do you do if the church is not paying you enough? Do you just say, “I’m trusting God and he will provide?” Some of us probably do. Or do we quit and look for a better paying job?

I’ve asked for more money a couple of times in my ministry at different churches. I’m pretty  hesitant to do this. It feels really awkward asking for more money. But what do I do when I can’t afford a hair cut for my wife, and I can’t meet the bills without going into debt? I think there are times that we need to ask for more.

Why is asking for more okay? I think that many elders, or whoever is determining your salary, probably don’t even know what you get paid. It just happens. So asking informs the decision-makers of your current reality. I also think that some believe we don’t have to make as much as others because we get the clergy housing allowance. But the benefit is not as great as some people believe. And if we are going to provide for our families, we need to make sure we get an income that is fair. Our families should not suffer because we are in church ministry. Asking also invites the decision-makers to think of you and your needs and not just the budget and what came in last year. Churches tend to pay their pastors according to past income. It’s okay to ask the church to pay you a fair wage and to invite them to do so by faith, even if it means the budget will need to increase.

Okay, so if you do ask for more, how should you do it?

Make sure you are living responsibly already. I don’t have cable. I have a pay as you go cell phone I share with my wife. I have one vehicle. If we are spending unwisely we have no right to ask for more money. And you should be modeling responsibility anyway.

Check if your denomination or church has a Guideline for paying Pastors. If your organization has a guideline to follow, you might want to see if your church is already matching that. If they are coming up short, then you have some information to back your request for more.

Make your request to the appropriate people. Don’t talk about it with everyone in the congregation. Don’t spring it on your church at the annual meeting. Talk with those who have the responsibility.

Teach on biblical giving and tithing. If you are too scared to preach on tithing and giving then you probably shouldn’t be asking for more money. At the same time, never preach on tithing if it is only so that you will get paid more. But you can help your congregation be obedient in giving so that the decision-makers will be able to give the needed raise when requested.

These are just a few things to consider. May you be able to live responsibly, teach correctly, and ask bravely when necessary. And most of all, may you trust that God is going to provide for you.

Snowy Owls and Flocks of Pigeons – Which Pastor Are You?

We are regularly seeing Snowy Owls this winter. This is unusual for us. The other day I saw 3 or 4 of them in my drive home from a meeting. But they weren’t together. It seemed like they had each spaced themselves out evenly about every mile or two, sitting on the power poles along the road.

We also have pigeons in our community. They may have been drawn to our community by the elevators that used to line the railroad on the edge of town, but those are long gone. Pigeons actually are pretty birds. They have all kinds of variety in coloring. But they are more like pests. And where there is one there are quite possibly 20. They usually travel in flocks.

I see that rural pastors are often like the Snowy Owls while the large city church pastors are like pigeons. Not that large church pastors are a pest … but that they travel in staffs of 3 or 8 or 17. Rural pastors are often flying solo, evenly spaced at a distance from the next pastor.

While the reality is that we need others around us to support us and work with us. The denomination I pastor with has been promoting Strategic Peer Networks for some time now. They want us connecting regularly and closely with a few other pastors. I’ve been in such a group, but my group dissolved some time ago. I miss it. We need that.

I work hard to attend the local monthly ministerial. I may not agree with the doctrine and practices with others in the group, but there is something valuable in connecting with people who are facing the same schedules and struggles and discouragements as I face. And there is something exhilarating about rejoicing together when we see God at work.

I also have a monthly Task Force I’m in which is overseeing a nearby church plant our church is sponsoring. I appreciate meeting with these pastors -for support and common service.

I’m also involved in the Rural Church Pastors Network. This gives an opportunity to meet other pastors in similar church settings. We learn together and encourage each other. And I’m dreaming of many small networks forming naturally between pastors who connect at one of our regional gatherings.

I also have a friend in the church. I know that some of us have been told in the past that we shouldn’t have a close friend in the church. I hope that is changing. I know I benefit greatly with have a friendship and accountability relationship with Rob. He and I can ask each other how we are doing and can honestly share our hearts. That is so valuable.

You may be feeling like that Snowy Owl who seems to be so alone. I would encourage you to find some creative means of connecting with other pastors and other leaders for support and encouragement.

Does January Depress You?

It was the first day after the Christmas Holidays, January 2, and I was back at work. As I looked around my office and thought about all the things that needed to get done, I got depressed. I had a good holiday with some time off and good times with family, but somehow, coming back to work overwhelmed me. I mentioned it to my wife. She said that I often feel like this in January. I hadn’t clued in to that.

The next day I was having a meeting with 4 other pastors regarding a church plant we are all involved in. In our prayer time I mentioned how discouraged and depressed I was. Another guy mentioned that he had been feeling the same way. One pastor said that he thought he had heard that there are more suicides in January than the rest of the year.

This all sounds depressing, but I’m wondering if you can relate?

And then I went to my chiropractor for a treatment on my back. In the conversation he mentioned that he knew of two people who had just committed suicide in the last week.

If this doesn’t ring true with you, then great. But if this is what you have been feeling, then make sure you find some way to deal with how you are feeling. I’m doing much better. The prayers of my fellow pastors helped. But so did taking time to organize my month of January commitments and responsibilities. I also made an effort to get back to reading my Bible devotionally as I had been letting that slide for a bit.

I hope your January is going well and that God is filling you with an excitement for the New Year!

Invite Your Congregation into Your Sermon Planning

I love preaching. I enjoy the creative process of building a sermon, but I especially like preaching a sermon that connects with me first, and then with the congregation.

And then I recognized that one of the men in our church was really interested in learning how to teach better. He is leading our men’s ministry and has a desire to teach the men at our monthly men’s breakfasts. So I invited him to help me in the preparation of my next sermon series. We met together for a couple of long afternoons, working through a series I called Rethinking the Big Ten. We were looking at the Ten Commandments and asking how they did or did not apply to us today in light of what Jesus and the New Testament had to say about them.

I really enjoyed this time. It gave me an opportunity to pass on some of the tools of Bible Study and sermon prep that I generally use. The end result was that he even preached two of the sermons for me. What a win! I had the privilege of learning along with another person who was seeing things in the text that I hadn’t seen, and I now have someone who is willing to preach for me occasionally! That is a great asset, especially in a small church where I’m expected to do most of the preaching. And I think the people appreciated hearing one of their own, a voice different from their pastor.

Now I’m on to round two. Except this time I have 3 new people at the sermon preparation table.  Five of us are working through preparing a sermon series on the Holy Spirit. The first guy is there, along with two of my elders and one of their wives. The elders had been in a study on the Holy Spirit and were suggesting I preach some sermon on it, so I invited them in.

It gets a little more difficult when you have that many voices at the table, but the first meeting went quite well. They seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to speak into the sermon series. I’m not sure if we’ll get a new preacher out of this group, but it gives me an opportunity to hear where some of the people in the pew are at regarding the topic and texts I’ll be preaching on. That is a valuable experience.

I don’t think I’ll want to do this every time, and don’t think I’d want the group any bigger, but it’s been a neat experience to have a few others involved in the development of a new sermon series.

It may be something you would like to try. After all, those of us in small places could usually use another preacher in the church who can preach when we can’t or when we have had a busy week with other duties. Try it!