Learning from Rural Pastors, from Duke, and from Billy Graham

I am having one of the greatest privileges of my life right now. I am writing while on a “field trip” to North Carolina.

I am on a team with 3 other pastors who lead the Rural Church Pastors Network. We have had the privilege of spending a couple of days with pastors and professors connected to the Duke Divinity School at Duke University. What a great opportunity to learn as we got to visit with three United Methodist pastors and learned how God was working in their churches. It was encouraging to see their passion for rural ministry, their joy of the Holy Spirit, and their love for what they are doing. We were able to sit in on a chapel at Duke as well as help lead a Rural Thriving Communities colloquium on the campus of Duke.

And now we had a day of touring both the Billy Graham Library and the Cove. These are a great tribute to the man and a celebration of what God has done as Billy has faithfully preached Jesus. Billy is nearing the end of his life, but there are many who are continuing the work and ministry of what was begun by his crusades years ago.

The four of us have been talking as we drive and as we eat meals together. It has been a great experience of sharing what we are hearing and learning and as we are listening to God for the future of the Rural Church Pastors Network. God has great things in store. We believe it. We are looking ahead with great anticipation!

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?

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?

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.

Pastoral Longevity #3: You Need a Soft Heart and a Tough Skin

Most of what we do is very public. Pastors lead meetings, pray at functions, preach sermons, plan church activities.

Many of the things we do are seen by many people who automatically, and often subconsciously, evaluate everything we do. I do the same thing. I am quick to judge what I see and experience. It’s natural. Without even thinking about it we decide if we like what is happening or we don’t like it. And most of the time it isn’t an issue to think about, but sometimes there are people who think they need to let us know what they think.

I believe that a pastor needs to have a soft heart and a tough skin in order to minister to the same people for a long period of time. The tough skin is necessary to let things bounce off us as people make their comments – or as you hear the whispers. There will always be things that people don’t like. It may be how you led a meeting or how you preached your sermon. It may even be what you didn’t do – if you didn’t do something they thought was your job.

As pastors, we need a soft heart. We need to find ways to forgive people. We even need to find ways to apologize when we realize we were at fault. We need to be able to love even those who don’t approve of everything we do. The reality is that over time, probably just about everybody in our congregation will have come across something they didn’t like about how we did or did not do something.

If we want a long fruitful ministry with the same congregation will need to have a soft heart and a tough skin.

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.

The Philanthropist & The Salesman

*Jim was on a safari in centralAfricawhen he came upon a remote desert village. In his interaction with the local people he quickly realized that they had no water. They had to travel many miles to a distant village which had a well.

He couldn’t help but realize that he could make a difference. He went back to the capital city and searched for the best well drilling company he could find. He then arranged for them to come out to this village and put in a well. He paid for the whole thing. In short order, the well was drilled, a pump put in place, and the water began flowing! Now the village had water, right there.

*Frank lived near a race track in the mid West. Many evenings he could sit out on his deck and hear the roar of the cars and the crowd. Having an entrepreneur mindset, he thought about all those people. He thought about the bottling company he owned. A light bulb want on in his head. What if he arranged for his company to provide water for the concession stands? Just think how much money he could make.

Frank worked quickly, contacted the appropriate people, and was soon the first bottled water supplier for the concessions at the racetrack. And as the thirsty race fans bought up his water, he began making more money than he had even thought was possible.



Which one do you and your church connect with when you think of how you handle the message of Jesus?

We have the “water of life”, but often we say, “we’ll give you this water as long as we benefit from it. You need to come to our church and attend our programs and give us your money.”

What if we were thinking more like Jim?

What if we were more concerned about getting the message of Jesus out to people than we were about how we would benefit?

When we connect with people in our communities, what is our first thought? Are we thinking of how we can get them to church so we have bigger numbers? Or are we thinking of how we can “love them to Jesus”?

I want to be more like Jim but I often operate more like Frank.

While we do want people to come to attend our church and benefit from our programs, that should never be our primary goal. Our first goal should be to show them Jesus!

People are thirsty. Are we giving them water?


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!


My Sunday Surprise!

I was totally clueless when I walked into church on Sunday. I assumed it was another Sunday like most. Boy was I wrong!

Lynnette, my wife, had worked with the Elders to plan a celebration of 20 years in ministry! 20 years ago Lynnette and I moved to Edmonton where I became the Associate Pastor for Youth at Millbourne Alliance Church. Since then I have served in Valleyview Alliance Church, Provost Community Church, and Bow River Alliance Church. Lynnette had contacted people from each church. We had friends show up from 2 of the 3 previous churches we served in. And I had no idea. Even my Mom and Dad showed up! There were even community people present.

One of the elders just came up before the service and took the Order of Service from me and said he had a different one. He didn’t even tell me why. I had to guess and it wasn’t confirmed until he began the service. He gave opportunity for people to give tributes. I think we should have one of these events more often than every 20 years or so. It was really nice. Many people said some very kind words. The elders gave me a letter indicating that they were adding one week of holidays commencing 2011!

I have a Coke collection. Lynnette had sent out an invitation to everyone and asked them to bring a can of coke. There was a table full of coke by the time everyone arrived. The elder even had to make some comment about me being a Coke addict and “no we are not worshiping at the alter of Coke”. After the service we even had a potluck lunch. It was a great event.

I can hardly believe no one let out the secret. It was a great day!

Numbers go Up and Down Like the Stock Market!

I was looking at attendance numbers this morning, it wasn’t pretty.

I was reading a book about how to measure growth and was encouraged to pick October as the month to look at for the last couple of years. Here’s what I found. The average attendance for October 2008 was 52. The average attendance for the same month in 2009 was 72. That’s a HUGE increase! Especially if you think in percentages! And then I looked at the average attendance for October 2010. It was 53! So technically in one year we increased by 20 people or almost half of the previous year, but over a two year period it was an increase of only 1 person!

I think when you are in a small town and small church, you notice these swings from time to time and you can’t even point to any one specific thing as to why. Sure, some people moved, some switched to a church in the next bigger town, and some just quit on church. But that seems like quite a swing doesn’t it?

Here’s where one has to figure out what we can learn from the numbers but not get too caught up in them. If we haven’t done things right as a church and lost people as a result, then we need to fix that. If we can’t find anything we did wrong or need to improve, then maybe we just need to trust that God will continue to bring the people who need Jesus. We need to keep on keeping on and not let numbers discourage us too  much or even excite us too much. If we got too involved in the numbers I sure would have been on an emotional rollercoaster.

Maybe we need to be a little more concerned about the number of people in our church who are getting to know their unchurched friends and neighbors and co-workers. Maybe we should celebrate the number of people who are inviting friends to church.

Numbers go up and numbers go down – and they are important because each one represents a person, a soul. But we need to learn which numbers to focus on, live and minister faithfully, and trust God for the results He will bring!