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?

How Can You Walk Away from Your Ordination?

I just had the privilege of meeting the pastor I will be mentoring in his ordination over the next 2 years. I enjoyed meeting him and am excited to walk with him in his journey. In the process I looked through our denominational paperwork regarding the whole issue of ordination and the requirements pastors have to complete.

As I was going through this material, I began to think of the many pastors I know, who were ordained and now are doing anything but pastoring a church or working in a specific mission or ministry. And I wondered: “How do you walk away from your ordination?”

I understand Ordination to be a recognition by a local congregation and the denomination they are part of, that the person being ordained has been called and gifted by God to serve as a spiritual leader – a pastor. This is a process determined over some time and affirmed through the person’s ministry over that period. God has called you and gifted you for this role. You have acquired the necessary skills and developed spiritually. Your congregation and Elders agree that you are called by God to be a pastor. You have passed the rigorous testing and requirements of the ordination process.ordination

And so I know of pastors who served one church, two churches, or even more. And then they decide to drive a bus or become a carpenter. How do you walk away from God’s calling? How do you walk away from who God called you to be and what He called you to do? Isn’t that what is happening? Maybe I’m seeing this incorrectly?

While ordination is a “human process”, I really believe that God has put a special calling on those who are ordained as pastors. How do we walk away?

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?

Pastoral Longevity #1: Begin with No End in Mind

I just had a conversation with a friend who is looking at moving to a new church. He has two possibilities that really appeal to him. At our recent Rural Church Pastors Network gatherings ( http://www.ruralchurchpastorsnetwork.com ), I talked with a few pastors who were just in the process of saying goodbye to their church. On the other hand, there were a few that had been in their church for 5 and 12 and even 17 years!

In our Canadian church culture it is assumed that pastors will not stay around very long. We marvel at how someone can stay such a long time at one church – especially if it is a small rural church. I want to address this issue over the next while. Before I go on, I want to be clear, I have only been in my present church for 5 years and the longest I’ve served anywhere was just over 7 years. But my desire is to pursue long term ministry in the same church.

Long term ministry in one church, especially in a rural church, is of great value. If you have spent time in a rural town you know that unless you have been there 5 or even 10 years, people still see you as the new guy. It is as you spend time in that community that people begin to open up to you. They see how you live and act over time. They see how your children are raised. They see your commitment not just to the church but to the community. Some doors will not open until you have proven yourself over a number of years. My personal feeling is that at 4 years I am have just begun to get a feel for the people and the community and they are just beginning to open up to me.

So, pastoral longevity #1:

Begin with no end in mind.

Sometimes we treat our calling to a particular congregation like a project of some kind. If you are working on building a new garage in your backyard or are trying to run a marathon, you begin with the end in mind and figure out what you need to do to get there. When it comes to our pastoral tenure, I believe it should always be open ended.

Some pastors go into a local congregation with the thought: “I’ll plan to be her for about 5 years.” As soon as we go in with an expiration date in mind, we are already saying we are not here for the long haul and are only passing through. The people in your church and in your community will see that.

When we go in with the desire to be fully there until the time that God very clearly tells us it is time to move on, then we will begin to see our community as our own. We will care about the people inside and outside our congregation. We will be more likely thinking of how God’s kingdom can have long term impact.

If you can’t see your kids graduating from the local high school or are already thinking that you don’t want to grow old here, you may already be disengaging before you have even begun.

I believe that it is God who calls us to a local congregation. If it is God who calls us, then we should look for ways of honoring that call until we are clear that He is calling us somewhere else. Let’s not plan on leaving until we have accomplished all that God has wanted for us.

So here’s my first encouragement on pastoral longevity – it begins in our own minds: Begin with No End in Mind.

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!

The Pastor: Servant or King?

I had the privilege of spending two weeks in Zambia a few weeks back. I was there celebrating my sister’s wedding!

While there I was impressed with the reverence and respect with which the average person treats their pastors. I know that some churches still seem to show respect for their pastors but not to the extent I saw in Zambia. No one calls their pastor by their first name. It is always Pastor So and So.

After the wedding, while pictures were being taken, it was hot. Some people had already found a place to buy a Coke when the pastor noticed and asked where we got them. We just pointed to the nearby bar. Later we were told that we probably should have gotten one for him and not just sent him on his way as that would have shown more respect.

While the reverence was there, I didn’t really see the pastors taking advantage of people, until I went to one of the larger charismatic churches in Lusaka. During the singing I noticed that there were some special chairs in the middle of the front row. They looked like thrones! They were similiar to “wingback” living room chairs – I think that is the correct term. These were for the Rev. Dr. Bishop So and So and his wife Prophetess So and So. In front of them was a glass coffee table, complete with flowers in a vase, a pitcher of ice water, and glasses. There were some chairs next to theirs, not anywhere as nice yet much better than the blue folding chairs the rest of us sat in. I was amazed – even appalled at the sight. Did this pastor think he was a king?

During my sister’s wedding the pastor made a comment about having the right to marry them based on that fact that he was “ordained by God”. That phrase caught my attention. We may talk about being ordained by our church or by our denomination but I don’t very often hear pastors saying they were ordained by God! But I like that. That means we should be much less concerned about the respect or lack of respect we get from people and much more concerned about how well we are serving the one who has called us and ordained us for the pastoral role!

Pastor: Servant, not King!

A Rural Church is Calling – or is that you God?

“I don’t care what you call me as long as you don’t call me late for supper.” What a groaner!

I want to address the topic of calling, not someone calling your name but being called by God for His purposes. Often in religious circles we talk about someone being “called” to the ministry. We say they have received a special call to serve God as a pastor or missionary full time. But let’s leave that aspect for just a moment.

I believe we need to see that God calls each one of us. He calls us into a relationship with Him. He is the creator of the world, but He created it for the purpose of having a relationship with people. We read in Genesis chapter 3 that God came and walked in the Garden of Eden with Adam and Eve. God is calling out to you to respond to His invitation to a relationship with Him. God is not an absentee Creator or a Judging grandfather. “God is love” we are told in 1 John 4:8. Love is about relationship and caring. God is calling you to that relationship. How have you responded?

God also calls people to service, to serve Him in some way in this world. “So whether you eat or drink or whatever you do, do it all for the glory of God.” (1 Corinthians 10:31) Our whole life should be about serving and honoring God. If you are a welder, do it for the glory of God. If you are a nurse, do it for the glory of God. If you are a mother, do it for the glory of God. And realize that whatever you do, it finds value as we do it for God. Don’t ever think that only things done at church or under the mission of the church are God-honoring! You can honor God by doing your best.

And yes, there are some who feel the “special” call of becoming a minister or pastor serving God through their church work. That doesn’t mean they are more important or closer to God. It just means that God has entrusted that role to them in similar fashion as He has entrusted the role of lawyer or business woman or janitor to you.

Here’s a question: Could it be that God might be calling you to serve in a small rural church?

I believe that God has called me to serve in a rural church. I’m not saying that God won’t move me on to something else, but right now I can see myself serving in a small church for a long time. I believe God has not just called me to be a pastor, but specifically called me to be a pastor of a small rural church. The rural church deserves pastors who are not just putting in time till they get something better. The rural church needs pastors who are there because they want to be and who feel called there by the God who loves the people of the little places just as much as the people of the big cities.

Are you called to pastor a rural church? Just maybe that is God calling!