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?

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.

Making the Tough Calls

Every church needs a youth group. Isn’t that right? That is the impression one gets. But what if the majority of the people in your community and in your church are young families and seniors, do you still have a youth group?

We had to make a tough call recently. I’m still not quite sure if there will be fallout from it or not. We, meaning the Elders Board, had to make the tough decision of deciding we would not have a youth group this next year. We don’t know about the year after that or the next, but this year we will not be running a youth group.

When I arrived a this church 7 years ago they had  a great youth center and a part time youth pastor. A year or two after I arrived they celebrated a Grade 12 Grad in our church and had about 12 grads. But from then on the youth group slowly declined. A year ago our part time youth pastor resigned. Last year we tried running with volunteer help. But we had very irregular and very low attendance. The volunteers were discouraged and decided they would not help with youth this year.

Recently, the Elders Board has been working through our church Vision and Purpose and Plans. In our discussions we realized that we have a church with hardly any youth in it. Our church and our community are predominantly young families and seniors. We do not have a Jr. or Sr. High School in town, so families with teens do not choose to move here and those whose children become teens choose to move out of town. tough_decisions_aheadWhile there are some youth, we need to understand our limited resources and focus on who we have right now. We might have a youth program again, but not this year.

This is not an easy decision and may be misunderstood by some, but it was a decision we felt we needed to make. We are presently thinking through how best to talk with our congregation about this decision. There will be questions, but hopefully they understand. Some might see us not having a youth program as “going backwards”. Instead, I see it as a step forward in clarifying our vision. If we really felt we needed to make this happen, then we would find a way, but it is not part of our vision for this next year.

As leaders, we need to make the tough decisions even if they may be misunderstood. As a pastor of a small church, as leaders in a small church, we can’t do everything. We have to be more focused. Young families and Seniors is our new focus.

Don’t be scared to make the tough calls.

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.

Technology! What a Pain!

I have been in a frustrating place for the last month. My computer wouldn’t work. I took it in for repairs. $150 and 5 days later I get it back only to have the same problem – it wouldn’t start. Finally I decided to get a new laptop. After 3 trips into the city I finally have my laptop back in my office. And then it won’t go online, the wireless won’t work. I get some online help. I get some “techy” guys in my office to help. Then I can finally receive emails, but it blocks all outgoing emails. Dell_Studio_1555_IMG_6023_1500pxFinally, again after having at least two “techy” guys look at it I can finally send emails too. But there is still one more problem – I can’t print. It tells me it is seeing my printer, but nothing is communicating. Again, with some “techy” help and some time later, it still doesn’t work.

It’s amazing how much I – we – depend on our computers and phones. I had to work on my wife’s computer, I had to use my secretary’s computer, and tried to hobble along. All my calendar is on my computer so I missed an important conference call. I had a hard time getting a sermon printed. And then when the new computer comes with a newer program, I have to learn all that as I’m trying to catch up.

I was very frustrated for the first while. I was mad! I couldn’t understand and was wondering what God wanted me to learn? After a while I was able to relax a bit and just put it in God’s hands since I couldn’t do anything about it.

Technology allows us to do so many things. My computer gives me opportunity to write a blog like this, to connect with people on facebook, to email my elders, to catch up with people, to write my sermon. It’s awesome! I was just in the Copper Canyon in Mexico, and my friend was on facebook with his ipad in the middle of this canyon, miles from “civilization”!! But it’s amazing how it can frustrate us when it doesn’t work.

God, thank you for my computer. And thank you for this reminder that everything is in your hands and in your timing!

Is Tithing For Pastors?

In my reading through the Bible plan I stumbled across the following verses from Numbers 18: 25-26:

25 The Lord said to Moses, 26 “Speak to the Levites and say to them: ‘When you receive from the Israelites the tithe I give you as your inheritance, you must present a tenth of that tithe as the Lord’s offering.

So the people of God were to tithe. A tenth of everything was to go to God, given to the Levites. But then the Levites were to also give a tithe from those tithes! It was their income like everyone elses, and they were to give a tenth of that to God in the same way that any other average person was supposed to.il_fullxfull.328187965

I know that some of you will think that there is no connection, but it makes me think of pastors who think they do not need to tithe or give offerings to God. I believe the Bible makes it clear all the way through that God wants us to give at least a tenth of our income to Him and to His work. I as a Pastor have to also do the same with my income from the church. If there were ten tithing families and the pastor received an income that was the average of those tithing families, and if the pastor also tithed, then not only would you have the pastor’s income paid for but would already have some money for ministry. Any extra tithing families would then just increase the amount of ministry that your church could pay for.

But the real point here is, even the Levites were to tithe. Even the pastor should tithe. A pastor can’t say, “well I don’t get paid what I should get paid so I won’t tithe.” It doesn’t matter what we get paid, we need to show that we trust God to provide by tithing from our income. Some think, “I’m giving so much of my time to the church, I don’t need to tithe.” So what? It’s your job. Your time you are giving to the church has nothing to do with whether you tithe or not. Your tithe is over and above your normal service.

Tithing is a reminder to us pastors that we too want to honor God. We too trust that he can provide our needs even though we regularly give a large amount to the church. And as we tithe, it is an example to others. We can then preach on tithing with more boldness because we are doing what we are preaching about.

Do you tithe?

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.

How do you Deal With Suicide?

It was my day off. I don’t usually answer the phone on Mondays, but my wife did. It was Victim Services, requesting that I go across town to a certain address. They mentioned a name but got it wrong, so I didn’t know whose house I was going to. I just had an address. As I neared the right address, I realized that it was the home of a couple where the wife faithfully attends our church but not the husband.

I knocked on the door and entered, not quite sure of what to make of things. As this was a couple of years ago, I don’t recall if I knew it was a suicide before I got there or not. All I remember is feeling helpless. How do you help someone who has just lost her husband, and then specifically by suicide?

There were a number of family members and some friends in the house already. This had happened in the morning and it was already early afternoon. I slowly got the story of how her husband had helped her get the leash on the dog for her walk and then hung himself in the basement as she was out walking the dog.

People like to be helpful. Throughout that day and the next people were trying to make all kinds of comforting statements about how this happened and why and how God was involved. Most of those comments didn’t help. I think one of the biggest helps was just to try to get her to talk and for me to listen. And I just showed my love by being there. I didn’t know her family but tried to just be there to even allow my presence to show I cared.

I spent a number of days with her and her family as we prepared for the funeral. There were some things I tried to get across.

1. It was not any of their fault. They hadn’t made their dad and husband do this. They shouldn’t feel guilty for not noticing the signs. They shouldn’t feel responsible for not being there enough. This lady and her husband had a good relationship. He had a good relationship with his boys and their families. It was only after the fact that they could have seen any signs pointing to this final act.

2. Suicide is not the sin that will keep us out of heaven. While suicide is a terrible thing and a very selfish thing, what keeps us out of heaven is our unbelief. We do not end up in hell because we commit suicide but because we ignored Jesus. Supposedly he had prayed to surrender his life to Jesus with another pastor before I came to town. But again, the final judgement belongs to God, not to me. At the funeral I made sure not to declare that this man was in heaven. I also didn’t downplay the word “suicide”. Everyone knew it was a suicide so we might as well address it. And I wanted to address it so that others in the room would be reminded that there is always help. Sometimes it seems that when someone hears about another suicide it gives them boldness to do the same. I didn’t want anyone thinking that was the case.

3. I helped the family – especially the wife – recognize that dealing with suicide is harder than dealing with death. Not that she needed anyone to tell her that. But suicide is harder on those left behind because there are no answers. The lady is still – now two years later – fighting with reoccurring feelings of anger. We talked about the Stages of Grief, recognizing that it would take time and effort to move on.

This lady is still struggling with the results of this, as is her family. And in her loneliness has even made some moral decisions that she would never have made before.

As a pastor, we must deal with suicide honestly and scripturally. I know I don’t have any scriptures in here, but we need to answer questions as they come up with scripture and not just our opinioins. People have some very misguided opinions about suicide.

We must allow the family to grieve again and again. We can’t just tell them to move on. It is not the same as a natural death.

May you never have to face this, but if you do, may the grace of God lead and guide you.