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.

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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.

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.

 

 

Are We Ready for Harvest?

As part of my role in the Rural Church Pastors Network I was in Rosetown, Saskatchewan last week. What caught my eye was this perfectly lined up row – long row – of John Deere DSCN5527combines along one side of the highway. And there were more on the other side! These guys are ready for harvest.

The funny thing is – the farmers hadn’t even finished seeding yet. As I passed many open fields, I could tell that some were still too wet to seed. In others I passed farmers in their machinery just putting the seed in.

Seeding isn’t even done and they are ready for harvest!

Are we ready? I think that often in a small church and small community we get so used to not having people come to Christ regularly that we don’t really expect it at all. We do a good job of “feeding the saints” and keeping them busy. We may even do a number of good community events to connect with family and friends who don’t yet know Jesus, but do we really expect them to come to Christ?

Are we ready for the harvest? Do we even know what we would do if we had 2 or 3 individuals come to Christ? Would we know how to connect them to the Bible? Would we have a Bible we could give them? Would we have a small group or Sunday School class they could join in? Would we have people ready to come alongside of them? Do we have a class prepared we could teach them on Baptism and the basics of the faith? Do we have an online Bible Study we could walk them through? Would we have someone ready who could answer their questions? Would our church be seen as a safe place for their children? Would we know how to introduce them to members of the church? Or would we expect them to just somehow fit in?

The John Deere dealers are ready for the Harvest. I hope that your church is too.

Create a Plan for your Time

Do you have a plan as to how you use your time?

Most of us in rural ministry function without a staff. Some, like me, have part time help with a specific area. I have a part time youth pastor and a part time secretary. We have a number of very willing and able volunteers. And I have a great Elders Board to work with, but the reality is that much of what happens in our church depends on my leadership and input.

You know how that works, right?

So how do you plan your day and your week, your month and your year?

THE BIG PICTURE:

About twice a year I take a day or so to plan the year. I like doing this in June so I am prepared when September hits.

I plan most of the sermons for the year. I try to do series from a book of the Bible most of the time, but there are times that I specifically follow a theme for a few weeks. For example -I’m doing a four week series on prayer beginning on Family Day. We’ll have a special day to invite friends to church and then let them know they can join us for the next four weeks for a marriage series. I plan the whole year, even getting a brief them in place for each Sunday, if possible. It’s good to have a general idea when you will be on holidays or needing a guest speaker.

I plan when to do our Big Days. We have four Big Days throughout the year which are a special “bring-a-friend” Sundays. We do a Fall Kickoff time day at the end of September. Last year we made it into a Chili Cook – off and had 12 or 13 entries. We do a Family Day Celebration in February. We do an Easter Eggstravaganza on Easter Sunday, and we do a Church service as part of the annual Aggie Days weekend.

I plan when to do special ceremonies. I plan when to promote and do Baptism, Child Dedications, and Membership Sundays.

BREAKING IT DOWN:

As we work our way through the year I will look at each month and week at a time.

I usually work with our Secretary to do a monthly calendar. This gets information out to people, but also means I have to have more details figured out at least a month in advance. This also helps me to recognize when to begin promoting our events.

WEEKLY:

I begin my week on Tuesday, after a day off on Monday. I usually take some of the morning to evaluate the weekend and think through if there is any followup needed with people or with things that happened.

Tuesday is also when I figure out my events of the week: what appointments do I have, what meetings do I need to prepare for, and what is the theme and Scripture of next week’s sermon. Everybody probably has their own preferred method of planning your day, but I always keep a running list, even prioritized as order of importance for the week. Each day I begin the day with reworking and updating my schedule with anything new that has come up.

Rural ministry usually means that much of what happens falls into the lap of the pastor, but if we are organized and intentional with our days and week, we can make sure we still follow through on what needs to be done.

I have found that being intentional helps me to accomplish more and gives me ways to fill my days with meaningful work. I also feel less overwhelmed if I plan ahead and then break things down week by week.

I hope you are enjoying your ministry and not feeling overwhelmed.

May God do great things through you.

Burnout Doesn’t Have to be Your Reality

Just recently I received a question from a young person in ministry asking me how I prevent myself burning out and how I keep on going.

What a great question!

Burnout is a real possibility for anyone who doesn’t watch out. Small church pastors are at great risk in this for a number of reasons. Small and rural church pastors have many demands from them. They rarely have a second staff person to share the load with and yet are asked to do a wide variety of things. Some of the days just don’t have enough hours to accomplish all that is expected.

So why might someone face burnout? Sometimes it’s as simple as not having enough sleep or taking time for a sabbath rest. Sometimes it may be because you are not sure you are serving where God wants you. Or maybe you are doing things out of your gifting abilities or just doing way too much.

Are their solutions? Can we prevent burnout? Here are some things I have learned that have helped me.

One, get enough sleep. For me, I need 8 hours of sleep. That means I sometimes have to go to be earlier than I would like when I know I have early appointments.

Two, take a sabbath. Take a regular day off. Don’t plan anything else on that day. Take time to relax. Enjoy some recreation. Go on a date. Read a book just for fun.

Three, take time to reaffirm for yourself that you are serving as pastor where you should be serving. It’s good to occasionally take time with God on this question so you are serving with confidence that you are where you should be.

Four, know your gifts and abilities and evaluate if you are doing too many things that are not in your “sweet spot” of serving out of your best. Sometimes we have to do things that are not easy of comfortable for us. We just have to. And sometimes we can learn new skills. Other times we have to be honest and say “no” to certain expectations because these only drain us and tire us out. Say no where you can, delegate where you can.

We are not good at everything. And there are things we just don’t enjoy. In another church I was expected to do services at the Seniors Lodge. I always had to force myself to do it and it always turned out alright, but I am so glad that is not an expectation of me in my present church.

Just a caution: If you are getting close to burnout, ask for help. Ask for a break. Talk to an authority or to a pastor friend to find your way through.

May you find your way through, not burning out, but enjoying the journey!