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.

City Slicker or Country Boy

Can someone who grows up in the city successfully pastor in a rural community?

Some can’t. I know of examples where the person from the city just couldn’t fit it. Sometimes the new pastor just can’t relate to what is happening – or not happening – in the rural community he now lives in.

Here are some thing that can make it difficult for a city slicker to become a country boy:

  • Less conveniences: No mall, few options for shopping, only one movie at the local theater, etc.
  • Less privacy: Even though I don’t know everyone, everyone knows who “the pastor” is. And people like to talk – even about the new pastor.
  • Less driven: Sometimes rural people, rural churches, are more used to thinking long term and so changes may happen slower in a rural church.

Sometimes the differences between the city church and a smaller rural church are too big for the city slicker to figure it out. I followed one pastor who only lasted about two years in the rural town before heading back to the city. When I joined the denomination I’m part of, the District Superintendent came to my smaller Bible School looking for young men from rural backgrounds who would be willing to pastor in rural communities. He saw the difficulty that pastors from the city were having in some rural places.

But it doesn’t have to be impossible. If you come into a new community and a new church, you need to come with a desire to learn and to fit in.

Here are some things you can do to figure it out and to fit in:

  • Be willing to learn. Ask questions. Let people know that you know you don’t know. If you don’t know anything about farming or about logging, ask questions and show interest. Listen.
  • Get involved in the community. Attend the local sports events. Go to the community dinners. Have a lot of coffees in the local coffee shop.
  • Ask about the history of the community. Are there some “big moments” that people talk about? Sometimes its the last flood or a big storm or a local guy who made it to the “big leagues”.
  • Buy locally as much as possible. If the local people see you in their stores and in their restaurants, they will notice and be more accepting of you.

Rural ministry may be difficult for those who come from urban places, but it doesn’t have to be. If you are called to a rural church, come with a willingness to learn and listen and you may just have the best ministry ever.

P.S. Just to be clear, after 15 years of rural ministry, I know I would have a hard time to do ministry in the city. I came to this realization as I dropped off my daughter in downtown Vancouver this summer. She is attending Vancouver Film School and lives very close to the center of the city. I would have to do a lot of learning and listening myself.

Pastoral Longevity #2: Know Your Fit

I only lasted 3 years at the first rural church I pastored.

It wasn’t my choice, I was asked to leave – fired. Interestingly, I was let go for three reasons; all of which I had clearly stated in my initial interview when I was hired, weren’t things they should expect from me. They asked me about three items when they hired me and I said that wasn’t me. They still hired me and then three years later fired me. I forget two of the items, but one was regarding working with the youth. I had been a youth pastor and told them I would not be working with the youth as that was not the right fit for me. They had a good team working with the youth so it wasn’t an issue. When they needed youth workers they thought I was just supposed to step in.

My consolation during this time was that I had been clear about what I could provide and when they fired me because I couldn’t provide what they wanted I wasn’t overly discouraged because I had been clear about who I was and what I could provide.

Knowing who you are and what you can do may not make it possible for you to stay at the same church for a long time, but it can definitely help.

>If you are from the city and don’t like small town living, then don’t go to a rural place. You will not last very long.

>If the church is mostly seniors and you have a hard time relating to seniors, think twice about taking the position.

>If you are not gifted in music but are expected to provide music, you might want to hesitate to take the position. On the other hand, if you are very musical and that is a big part of your life, you might not want to take the position if they tell you they don’t want you doing music because they have enough musicians.

>If your heart is toward outreach and community involvement, make sure the church understands that and welcomes that. If you don’t, you may be in a place where they expect you to be in the office or visiting church people all the time. Make sure you are clear about that to begin with.

>If you are committed to home-schooling but your church has a negative attitude toward that, you might want to be clear on how your actions as a family will play into your long term ministry.

>If you have no administrative gifts and they have no plan on providing you a secretary, then be clear about that upfront. Don’t say yes to the position if it will be an ongoing frustration in this way.

You need to be clear about what your passions, gifts, and skills are. You need to do your best to assess what the community and church are like to see if the fit looks right. And don’t just trust the conversations you have with the search committee or elders board. Look broader. Ask if you can see their old minutes or records. Ask about what they spend their money on and what kind of activities they regularly plan. Find out what the previous pastor was like. And see how the previous pastor’s personality and abilities affects the discussion of what they are looking for now. Are they looking for someone exactly like that? Are they looking for someone who is opposite the previous pastor?

I have been at Bow River Alliance Church for about 5 years now. That’s not longevity yet. But one thing that has made it easier for me here is that right from the beginning there was a clear understanding that the church wanted someone who would be involved in the community and I was looking for a church that would give me opportunity to do that.

I like planning special church events that we can invite friends too. The church seems to like those as well. I like trying new and different things. The church is willing to do unorthodox things. For example – we do a Father’s Day Race Day on Fathers Day Sunday. We set up tables in the sanctuary and have the kids with their Dads – or Moms, or Grandpas – work on building a little craft car. After the service we have lunch and race the cars for a trophy!

But make sure you fit before you agree to take on a position at a new church. Things tend to go smoother that way.

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.

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!

 

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!