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.

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.

Fishbowl Living

I remember a pastor who moved from the staff or a large city church to a smaller city where he was the second on staff. His biggest complaint was that when he went to the mall, he couldn’t hide. He always ran into people whom he knew.

Well most of us in rural places do not live in a place big enough to even have a mall. We know what it’s like to live in a place where we know many people – and even if we don’t think we know them, everybody knows who “the pastor” is. We can’t hide from people unless we leave town.

I remember trying to paint the fence of the parsonage at one church we were at. We had just moved from Edmonton where we didn’t even know the names of the people who lived in the complex right next to us. So we went to Home Hardware to look for some stain or paint to put on the fence. Well, the sales lady who came to help us knew which fence we were painting, she knew who painted it last, and I think she knew what paint they had used. That was my first re-introduction into the fishbowl of rural life. I had grown up in a community that only had one gas station and store, but had spent the last 5 years in Edmonton. It was a bit of a shock.

But if this is where you live and pastor, then you know exactly what I mean. People see us and know things about us that people would never know in the city.

We live our life in a very public way. But this can be a good thing. For me, an introvert, it makes it just a little easier to actually connect with people. I see them more often than I would in the city, and it happens without me even having to work too hard at it. And so pastoring in a rural place means that our whole live is part of our ministry, not  just what we do in an official capacity or in a public role. Pretty much everything is public anyway.

We do need to have time where we can get away from everything and everyone, but I hope you can see the positives of living publicly before your community.

Lonely People at Christmas

Until recently I never really thought much about the fact that there are lonely people at Christmas time. How can they be lonely? There are all the parties and presents and family gatherings. But not everyone has family or friends around. The very fact that everyone else seems to be having so much fun with friends and family makes it even worse. One small church has a special Christmas dinner on Christmas Day specifically advertised as being for those who are “Alone for Christmas? New in Town? Away from Family?“.

One reason some people feel lonely is that their friends or family have recently died. We do a “Christmas Memorial Service” in the Community Hall in town. It’s a service that some refer to as a “Blue Christmas” service. Sometimes people feel guilty that they are having fun and forgetting about the person that recently died. Others are remembering all the special Christmas traditions shared together, and it makes them feel lonely.

We plan a service we hope will give them opportunity to pause and remember. Hopefully they will leave encouraged. We take time to remember our loved ones who have passed away recently. We invite people to RSVP with us so we can personalize a nice candle with their loved one’s name. During the service we then invite them to come up and light a candle in memory of their loved one. They take that candle home after the service and can light it during the Christmas season as a reminder of their loved one. A number of people expressed much gratitude after our service last year. Our next one will take place in just over a week.

People are lonely. This is one way to help those who are lonely because they miss their loved ones.