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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What a Great Community!

We hosted our annual Easter Eggstravaganza again this past weekend. This is always a great celebration as we invite the community to join our church at the community hall for an Easter celebration. We have breakfast together, then we have our Easter Service, followed by an Egg Hunt. This is more like a candy and chocolate hunt.

This year was another reminder that our community loves to support good things, especially if it is something that will benefit children. Our community association allows us the use of the hall at no cost! That is a huge help. Our congregation works hard to plan and put on the event. And many people who are not part of our church and don’t even attend the event donate candy and chocolate for the Egg Hunt! People donate money. They drop off bags of candy at the church. They deliver it to our house. Some even come with it on Sunday morning. It was a great event for the 120 people who attended, about half of who were children!

I have lived in the city. I can tell you it would be rare to have this kind of support for a community event put on by a church. This is one small example of community support among many I can think of in the years I have lived in Carseland. No, we don’t know everyone. No, we don’t even benefit from some of the things we contribute to. But we are a community that supports each other and supports good things.

What a great community!

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 to love the Lonely

I was flipping through the local newspaper when this small article popped out. A Cuddling business is expanding from Vancouver to Edmonton. The article goes on to explain that people pay a “professional cuddler” anywhere from the basic $35 up to $260 depending what all is involved. They clearly state that there is no nudity or sex involved. But you can have someone to cuddle with, to hug, to cuddle and watch a move, someone to stroke your hair and so on.

At fist I was appalled and even a little disgusted – first that people would actually advertise themselves as providing such a business and then secondly, that there would actually be people who would pay for such a service. But then I realized that this is telling something about society that we already knew. People are lonely.

As families move around the countryside for new work opportunities or new experiences, families are not as tight as they used to be. Fewer people have good friends to hang out with. People fill their days with work and “busy” things but have little time to connect in meaningful ways with other people in natural physical contact.

And then I began to wonder if the church is really missing an opportunity here. I’m not suggesting that we offer “cuddling” as a new service to our members, but I do think we need to be more creative in finding ways to show people that they can find good friends in church. Maybe we need to do a better job helping our members to be good friends.

The Bible says this a number of times: “Love one another”. I think these people are longing for true friends who will just love them for who they are. And so they hire someone whom they can pretend is their friend. It’s a sad commentary on the independence and separate-ness of our culture. Could we maybe do a better job loving people and introducing them to the God who is Love?

The Importance of a Local Watering Hole – or Eatery

Small communities often struggle to provide enough meaningful services for their community. Some don’t have enough places to shop for clothes. Others don’t have a local hardware store. Some lack enough sports facilities to meet the needs of their children and youth.

SONY DSCA while back we were without a local restaurant in our town. We have a small corner store/grocery store, a gas station, a liquor store, a bar, and a place to buy some snacks, but we didn’t have a place to sit down for a meal of meet someone for coffee. We do not even have the usual hockey arena. This limits where people can gather socially in town. We do have a great community hall that has activities every couple of months, but we needed a restaurant.

It opened up again just a few months ago. People were talking about it in the community and looking forward to it with great anticipation. The first week I was in there at least three different times. I met one man for coffee. I had breakfast with a community friend. I had lunch with a member of the church who leads my care group. There was a place to meet with people in a casual friendly way. Not everyone enjoys coming to the church office for a visit, but a community restaurant isn’t threatening at all.

Rural ministry needs places where one can meet with people to build relationships. Many of my meetings take place over a meal or a cup of coffee because there is something disarming and relaxing about enjoying a meal together. So I am very grateful for the local restaurant we have.

A Rural Remembrance Day Service

Rural communities like their community gatherings and ceremonies. I reminded of this again this week as we had our community Remembrance Day Service. We had a couple of hundred people show up at our community hall on one of the coldest Remembrance Days “in the last 29 years” according to the news. People come to show their respects. One of the highlights is the wreath laying. All the children present are invited to take part in carrying up and placing the wreaths which individuals and companies and clubs have sponsored. And then the children are invited to lead in the reciting of In Flanders Fields. It’s a real community event. And I got to play my trumpet along with another trumpet and trombone as we played for a few of the hymns.10277900_10152779181402279_4259368773732011211_n

I’m also attaching my “Meditation”. It’s hard to know what to say at these services so I thought I’d let you know what I said. Feel free to use any or all of it next year if you need ideas.

“We Want Our Life to Matter”.

We all want our life to matter. We want our life to count in some way.

Maybe we wish we could be a famous inventor or build a more fuel efficient car. Maybe we want to make a difference in our community by volunteering and helping with the normal activities of our town. We want a relationship with someone, maybe a spouse, or a friend, – where they care about us and love us. We want to make a difference in our world somehow.

Young men and women dream of starting their own business or getting a Degree in Science and discovering the cure to cancer. High School grads leave home looking to make their way in life and to make a difference to someone in our world.

When a loved one dies, we grieve. We are sad. If they are older we are sad because they are gone – we miss them. If they are younger we grieve the fact that they were “taken too young – they were taken too soon.”

We understand that our life has an expiration date, but we expect and want that it should be when we get into our 90’s and older. Not when we are young.

Job 14:1-3 describes the shortness of human life.

 “How frail is humanity!
How short is life, how full of trouble!
 We blossom like a flower and then wither.
Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.

Most flowers have very short lives. The plant itself may last a little longer than the blossom, or might bloom again each year, yet the flower itself doesn’t often last very long. The Bible reminds us that our life is short.

When we come to Remembrance Day and we remember those who served and who died fighting for their country, we are reminded again of the frailty of life and how quickly it can end. And we should remember how young many of those were who gave their lives for our freedom.

Many, if not most of those who served and died in the early years would have been young. They wouldn’t have had a chance to get a University degree or start their own business. Most of those who served were single. They may have left girlfriends behind but most wouldn’t even have had a chance to start a family to pass their name onto.

Today, more and more soldiers who serve and lose their lives are family men, a little older, with children at home. So not only is that soldier gone – that family’s husband and father or wife and mother are gone.

In some ways, we might say that those who fought in the World Wars weren’t even old enough to make a difference in the world. Yet they did.

We tend to measure the success of one’s life based on how much money they made or how famous they were or if there are songs written about them. We might think the average 19 or 20 year old is just starting out on life and hasn’t really made a difference yet – but when we remember those who have died in the battlefield, we remind ourselves that it didn’t matter how young or how old they were – these men and women made a difference.

In John 15:13 Jesus says…

 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Those who have served and fought for Canada over the years have made a huge difference by giving their lives – for their families, their friends, and their country.

Jesus is talking about sacrificial love – and he knew what he was talking about as shortly after making these comments, Jesus was crucified on a cross.

He wasn’t killed for anything he had done wrong but because he was willing to pay the penalty – the death penalty – for the sin of all mankind. Those who died for their country – even in the last few weeks – stood in between the enemy and their country. They loved their country enough to give their lives.

It was a sacrifice – no doubt!

Many gave up the chance to get married or to have a family. Instead, they did what they could to stand in the way between the enemy and their loved ones back home.

Jesus Christ gave himself on the cross, standing between mankind and sin and the penalty of death that came with sin.

Jesus was willing to die so that we might enjoy life – eternal life. He was willing to die so that we could live. Those who have given their lives on the battlefield out of sacrificial love have done so so that we who are left behind can enjoy our life. They were willing to die so that we could live.

And isn’t it fitting that many of these graves of soldiers are marked with crosses. This reminds us that just as Jesus died on the cross for our life, these soldiers gave their lives for our life.

So today is a day to remember

  • -to remember young lives lost
  • -to remember sacrificial love
  • -and to remember that our continued freedom comes at the cost of other’s lives.

Today, we remember.

A Memorial Service on the Bow

Well I had another one of those unusual experiences. I had a memorial service outside, along the edge of the Bow River. A nice display had been set up on the river’s edge. There was a picture of the man who had passed away, along with a few other items. Most people stood around a few chairs where some of the family sat. On the edge of the river was Bill’s canoe, looking as if it was ready to launch. He had built a special platform for his two dogs to ride on so they sat there through much of the service, as if just waiting for him to take them down the river.DSCN0244

We had the service. It consisted of a few tributes, a lot of tears, some scriptures and prayers, and then the spreading of the ashes. Bill’s brothers grabbed the urn and walked out into the water to spread his remains. As I left, the family was still taking their time, crying together and encouraging each other. What an interesting experience!