I Need A Retreat

To retreat is to back up. Sometimes it is to regroup, re-energize, to plan a new attack. I need a retreat regularly, and when I don’t get it often enough my work suffers.

I am not talking aboutCalendar_0 a holiday, though everyone needs a vacation. You need some time to get away from everything with your spouse, with your family – sometimes without your children.

I am not talking about a holiday, but a day or more to get away from phones and from people and from your messy office. We all need to find a place where we can look at how things are going and take some time to look ahead.

This past week I had one day like that. I’m not too far away from the city of Calgary and Ambrose University College. I went to the Ambrose Library and hid there all day in a quiet cubicle surrounded by books. I took a calendar with me. I took my laptop. I took a binder
that is a “collect-all” for articles and plans and dreams I have had over the years. _1 Old Binder

My retreat is usually about what is going on in the church. While I take some time to set some personal goals, my main goal is to come away with a plan for my preaching for the next half a year or more. I want to know when I’m scheduling in a communion celebration. It’s usually the 4th Sunday of the month, but not always. I want to know where I’m planning special prayer times. I check what Sunday Advent starts so I’m ready. I even sometimes figure out what kind of testimony I would like on a certain Sunday. I plan in our Special Days like our Annual Open House & Chili Cook off in September.

I need a retreat because it is too hard for me to get that kind of planning in when I’m sitting in my office surrounded by the mess and a thousand other things to do.

I hope you get some time to retreat this summer – for a vacation, yes – but also for some planning and dreaming about what God might have happen in your area of ministry and influence.

I need a retreat. So do you.

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Making the Tough Calls

Every church needs a youth group. Isn’t that right? That is the impression one gets. But what if the majority of the people in your community and in your church are young families and seniors, do you still have a youth group?

We had to make a tough call recently. I’m still not quite sure if there will be fallout from it or not. We, meaning the Elders Board, had to make the tough decision of deciding we would not have a youth group this next year. We don’t know about the year after that or the next, but this year we will not be running a youth group.

When I arrived a this church 7 years ago they had  a great youth center and a part time youth pastor. A year or two after I arrived they celebrated a Grade 12 Grad in our church and had about 12 grads. But from then on the youth group slowly declined. A year ago our part time youth pastor resigned. Last year we tried running with volunteer help. But we had very irregular and very low attendance. The volunteers were discouraged and decided they would not help with youth this year.

Recently, the Elders Board has been working through our church Vision and Purpose and Plans. In our discussions we realized that we have a church with hardly any youth in it. Our church and our community are predominantly young families and seniors. We do not have a Jr. or Sr. High School in town, so families with teens do not choose to move here and those whose children become teens choose to move out of town. tough_decisions_aheadWhile there are some youth, we need to understand our limited resources and focus on who we have right now. We might have a youth program again, but not this year.

This is not an easy decision and may be misunderstood by some, but it was a decision we felt we needed to make. We are presently thinking through how best to talk with our congregation about this decision. There will be questions, but hopefully they understand. Some might see us not having a youth program as “going backwards”. Instead, I see it as a step forward in clarifying our vision. If we really felt we needed to make this happen, then we would find a way, but it is not part of our vision for this next year.

As leaders, we need to make the tough decisions even if they may be misunderstood. As a pastor of a small church, as leaders in a small church, we can’t do everything. We have to be more focused. Young families and Seniors is our new focus.

Don’t be scared to make the tough calls.

What’s the Next Step?

In the busyness of planning events and running programs and ministry, I tend to forget the “what’s the next step?” principle too often. I was reminded of this after an event I attended recently.

We all showed up for an outdoor church service in the park. It was a great morning. The sun was shining, birds were chirping, neighbors were passing through the park, ball players were cheering in the distance. We enjoyed some great music and worshiping together. The sermon was very encouraging and uplifting. But there was no next step. I’m not pointing fingers at anyone else, I’m just being reminded of how often I forget about that.Next-Step-720 It might have been nice to explain a little about the church and what the next thing was that people could take part in.

The “what’s the next step?” principle is something I came across some time ago and strive to make a part of all my planning and running of events. Though I forget about it more than I’d like.

The Next Step principle is that everything we do in the church or through the church should lead people to a next step.

  • Sunday Morning Worship Service: What’s the next step if people show up for a Sunday morning service? I would love to see people connect – specifically through joining a small group. Even though we are a small church, we use Connection Cards which invite people to leave their contact information with us. If it is during the off-season, then I at least send them an email as well as a letter welcoming them back. And when we start up our small groups again, I have the information so I can contact them and invite them to join one.
  • Sermons: I usually include some Next Steps on the back of the Connection Card. This is usually an invitation to respond to the sermon in some way. It may include the next step of memorizing a verse from the sermon, or a response to God, or even an action to take that week in a practical way.
  • Special Events: The Next Step for our Big Days (Fall Chili Cook-off, Easter Eggstravaganza, etc) is to invite people to come to our services again, with the prayer that they would be drawn to our church family and to God through them.
  • Small Groups: One Next Step we would love people to take is to step into leadership. As they grow as part of the small group, we want them to see that they don’t need to just continue as participants, but they can step into a ministry and serve there – maybe even into leadership.
  • New Believers/ New Attendees: One Next Step is to encourage those who have come to faith in Jesus to attend a Baptism Class and to consider Baptism as an expression of their faith in the Lord Jesus Christ.

All of this means we need to continually think ahead. Where are we hoping to lead people to? What is the next step of growth that we can invite people into?

Enjoy planning your Next Steps.

Bored? From Blah to Ah-ha!

“There’s nothing to do.” If you are a parent you most likely have heard those words at some time, quite possibly partway through summer holidays.

Some days I feel like that – especially in the summer. Most of the year, as a pastor, I have no problem finding enough things to keep me busy. There are usually plenty of things on the schedule that I purposely put there or that others did by asking of my time for some purpose. But there are seasons of the church where there is less expected and demanded of the pastor. Summer, for me, is one of those times. So what does one do with the slow times?

Here are some of my suggestions of how to enjoy the slow times instead of feeling bored.

1. PLAN AHEAD

Because there are less weekly commitments, I actually have time to look ahead to the next church season. I love to take a day or two to get out of the office with my laptop and my binder of all my dreams and wishes and go somewhere quiet and dream of the next year. Sometimes I end up at Ambrose College where I use the Library, other times I end up in a coffee shop somewhere where no one will recognize me. I want to get away from everything else and focus on dreams and plans for the next year.

I plan out my preaching schedule. I like to have the whole year planned out. I try to get a theme and scripture for each Sunday. I like to preach a book of the Bible at a time, so that means figuring out how many sermons it will take to get through the book I’m working on, and then scheduling that in appropriately. If I can fill in a few basic ideas as I go along, that helps. I even try to think of some special things to include on the special days of Christmas and Easter and so on.

I plan out special events. I do some initial dreaming on some of the special days and what could be included in the service to make that Sunday special. I plan when to speak about things like baptism, membership, finances, etc. And if I plan those things in I know when to start advertising for those who need to be baptized or want to become members. If I can, I figure out when I need to recruit a few people to team up with me to make some of my dreams for a special day come into reality.

I dream of new things. Maybe there is a new idea I came up with or can steal from someone else. I don’t do this completely on my own. I try to have at least one or more “vision retreats” with my Elders so that we have worked through some of the big picture items before I even get to my dreaming time.

2. PRAY

I know I don’t do this enough. But if your bored, why not take time for a personal prayer retreat? Go for a walk and pray. Talk with God. Bring your bible along and read scripture and pray.

3. READ

I always have another book or two waiting on my desk. I love to read, why not take the summer to work through a few books?

4. VISIT

This may not be as easy as it may sound. Some of us have congregations that disappear all summer whenever they can, so it’s not always the easiest to connect with people personally. But I guess sending a few extra emails or texts would be meaningful too.

5. TAKE A BREAK

Go take in the Stampede or whatever is in your area. If you are like most pastors, you have no problem putting in plenty of hours during the busy season. Maybe one of the best things you could do for yourself, your family, even for your church, is to just get away for the afternoon. Take the slow times to refresh. And make sure you take your holiday time.

BORED? Find a way to turn you Blah into a meaningful Ah-Ha!

Change Something as Soon as You Arrive

“I’m not changing anything for a year” said the new pastor.

He was going with the advice that I have heard too. The old wisdom says don’t change anything until you have been around for at least one year. Some of the reasons are that you need to get to know people and need to build up a repoir or gain the respect of your new congregation.

Here’s my thoughts on that. Change something as soon as you can. People will allow you to do a few things they don’t like when you first show up. If you wait too long they will wonder why you didn’t make the change when you saw the need. Don’t just randomly change something. Don’t change something just to make changes, but make changes as you see the need.

If you are new, you are bringing new eyes to the church. You are bringing your experience and new ideas that the church may not have seen before. As you enter into your new role you will quickly make assessments about things you think could be better to accomplish what you believe needs to happen in the church and the community.

If you wait, there is a danger that you will miss some of the opportunities to make a few changes and quickly gain momentum while people are still excited about having a new pastor and leader in place. I don’t mean you make huge changes, those take total buy in of your leaders. What you do is change little things that will give momentum to the bigger changes down the road.

Change something as soon as you see the need and can do the change justice.

When You Say Goodbye, Say Goodbye.

Most pastors move from time to time. When you say goodbye, say goodbye.

Small town pastors – small church pastors can become really close to their smaller congregation. That is a very good thing – when you are there. But when you decide, or they decide for you, that it is time to move on, you need to know how to let go.

You are still friends with people in the church, that is understandable. But you are no longer their pastor! You need to step away from conversations about the new pastor or new direction the church may be going. You need to encourage people to go to the new pastor for their spiritual counseling and spiritual needs.

While it may be difficult to do, you need to find a way of removing yourself as their pastor even if you are still trying to maintain a friendship.

My personal suggestions:

1. If they are getting married, encourage them to ask their new pastor to perform the ceremony. Or at the least involve him in the ceremony even if they want the old pastor to come back to do the wedding.

2. If there is a funeral, encourage them to ask their new pastor to officiate. You may want to attend, great. You may want to be involved in the ceremony, fine. If they insist you do the ceremony, make sure you communicate this with the new pastor and find a way for him to be part of the funeral in a meaningful way as he is this families pastor!

3. Steer away from making comments or suggestions on the new vision or ministries of the church. Say only positive things or nothing at all.

It is for the church’s best interest if they bond with their new shepherd as quickly as possible. They need to learn to love and trust him like they did you!

If you say goodbye, say goodbye!