I Didn’t Know They Still Did Church

So I’m walking to the church this morning. It happens to be at the same time as the neighborhood kids heading to school. I end up walking behind two girls – one on a bike, the other carrying two backpacks. I make some comment about why she is carrying two backpacks and she explains the other girl can’t carry it very well on her bike. And then the girl on the bike asks if I’m going to the school today too? I respond that I’m going to the church. She looks at me as she is coasting along on her bike and innocently says, “I didn’t know they still did church.”abandoned-church

What a question! Not something one who lives and breathes “the church” really likes to hear. Sure she was only around 8 years old. And if mom and dad don’t go to church, I’m sure it hasn’t come up in conversation at home.

But, yes! We still do church!

“Out of the mouths of babes” – isn’t that what they say? She voiced what the general population of Carseland, or Alberta, or Canada, seems to think.

The Church has lost its place in the community and we need to work hard to reintroduce “the church” – more than that – Jesus – into our world again and again. Are we “being the church” and being the light of Jesus so the church isn’t being pushed to the background in the community we live in?

Yes, we still do church!!!!

Read Scripture Together!

I have had a great experience the last few weeks meeting with a newcomer to our church to read the Bible together.

He is a self-proclaimed spiritual person who believes in God but not quite sure about Jesus. He came to me about some advice. We ended up going to the Bible – hopefully no surprise there. In our conversation we talked about how to make decisions. What do we base our decisions on? What is our measuring stick on choices we make?

If we claim to want to do the things that God wants, then God and His Word, the Bible, should be our measuring stick. We should make our decisions based on what God says. And how do you know what God is saying unless you read the Bible? Another young lady said she lived by the Ten Commandments. When I asked her if she knew what they were, I could tell she really wasn’t sure. How can we know whether we are making decisions that honor God unless we actually read what He says?open_bible-e1339591027530

So I’m meeting with this man every week. He reads a number of chapters and we take an hour to skim through and discuss his questions and comments. I’m really enjoying this. We are becoming friends. And I’m learning things too as I see them through his eyes! And I’m praying that he will come to a clear faith in Jesus Christ.

Maybe one way you can reach out to a friend is to read the Bible together. Let me know how it goes for you.

Everybody Plays

The Church just celebrated the highlight of the church year, Easter!Easter 2013

For many churches it is a traditional service that evokes memories of similar services as a child. For others it becomes a special Sunday for creative expression of the gospel.

Our church falls in the second category. We move our Easter service off-site and take it to the Community Hall in our town. We call it an Easter Eggstravaganza. We do a pancake and ham breakfast at 9:30, an Easter Service at 10:30, and an Egg Hunt – with tons of chocolate – at 11:30.

But what really caught my attention this year was how many of our church people were involved in making this special annual event happen. I counted up all those who helped set up the night before, all those who helped prepare and serve breakfast, all those who donated candy or money for that, all those who helped clean up, all those who helped in the service, all those who invited people and helped make the whole weekend happen. And I came up with at least 40 youth and Adults who were involved in some way to make the event a success. 

And it was a success! Over 160 people attended and heard the gospel of the Easter Story.  We even had one person let us know on our Connection Cards that she wanted to have questions about Jesus answered, so my wife, Lynnette, and I were able to meet with her and tell her more about Jesus.

What I really wanted to celebrate is that we had 40 people,out of an average Sunday attendance of 60, serve in some way! In discussions about who we are and want to be as a church, our Elders Board recently stated that one of our core values should be: Everybody Plays. This was an example of that. Our congregation has bought into this event. They are all willing to make it happen.

That is one more of my joys in being in a small rural church. More often than not, we have a large percentage of our people serving in one way or another. In the past we did some Volunteer Appreciation Sundays where we began listing all those who had served in specific ways in the church. By the end of that ceremony we usually had only about 3 people left sitting in the pews. People didn’t like that so we quit showing our appreciation in that way, but the point is that we have most of the church involved in some means of serving – and that is exciting.

Everybody Plays!!

Creative Prayer Reminders and Ideas

Prayer actually changes things. We believe that but many of us have a hard time remembering to faithfully pray for certain things. And sometimes it helps to have a few creative ideas on how to pray.

I like to challenge our congregation to pray for their unsaved family and friends and neighbors. I’ve borrowed some ideas from others. You may already have seen these and may be using these.

Invest and Invite

One of these prayer ideas is to use an “Invest and Invite” card. This card invites the church to write down the names of 3 people they will invest time with regularly, pray for often, and whom they will invite to church. I usually present these about 3-4 weeks before one of our creative events geared to connect with our unsaved friends.

Top Ten

A second idea invites a bigger and long term commitment. This is to make a Top Ten list. This is a challenge to come up with 10 people whom you regularly already have a natural connection with who do not yet know Jesus. And then to make a commitment to pray for them daily. This list includes family, neighbors, friends, co-workers, people you sit on committees with or are team mates with, class mates, and anyone else you already – or with little extra work – already connect with regularly. All of this with the hope of introducing them to Jesus some day.

String Reminder

I like to use creative ideas to remind people to pray. Some of you have probably used the “string reminder” where you hand out a piece of string people can put in their Bible or tie around their finger or the steering wheel of your car so you can pray as you regularly see it.

Take a “Moment-o” to Pray

This past week we were planning for the Family Day Weekend. We were planning a Family Day Celebration with a waffle breakfast and some family games before our service.  The Sunday before, I handed out small pack of six Mentos. I asked people to take a “moment-o” to pray. Every time they ate a candy they could pray for the event and for those who were being invited to attend.

We say we believe in prayer. Then let’s find ways to pray often. And let’s find creative ways to remind people to pray for their unsaved family and friends.

Never be Satisfied with Average

I just had a conversation with my Elders Board about my dissatisfaction with the fact that we have less than 10% of our community in our church. And there was a comment made about how we should be happy that we have as many people in church from our small town. We’re doing pretty good. And even in other communities, there probably aren’t much more than 10% of their population in church either.

We are the only church in our small town, though some may drive out of town to attend elsewhere. But even if we have 10% and another 10% drive out of town, that leaves 80% of the people in my community who are still going to hell! Why would I be happy about that?

This conversation came up because, after me being here for five years, I’ve asked our Elders Board to work on refining and clarifying our purpose and vision. I want to us to prayerfully consider if we need to change things to do a better job than we are doing in reaching people for Christ.

We have a good church. We have many who work hard. But we also have some who have wandered away. Do we need to find ways to help people hold onto their faith? We have some of our congregation who are very much involved with their community and their neighbors, but others aren’t. We have some who seem to rarely connect with those who don’t know Jesus yet. But are we a church that is excellent in the eyes of Jesus?

Jesus wept over the lost. He wants none to perish. And yes, the Holy Spirit is the one who draws people to God, but I would hate for us to be lazy or not even try to win more people to Jesus. We too need to ask God for that love and passion for the lost. We need to recognize that without Jesus they are headed to hell. They are not headed to “oblivion” as a book I just skimmed was saying. Those who have not surrendered their lives to Jesus are headed to hell – eternal torment. Am I really concerned about my neighbors?

We need to remind ourselves regularly that we are on a mission with Jesus. We are not just running a nice club for friendly people.

Let’s not be satisfied with being average. Let’s pursue excellence in our hunger to win souls to Jesus.

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.

People Actually Want to Help!

At my regular Lions meeting a fellow Lion brought a request for funds from a family with a child suffering from a rare medical disease. I mentioned it to my wife Lynnette. She wondered if we could do more, on top of the help the Lions were offering. She mentioned it to our Care Group and ideas started flowing about how to do a community fundraiser for this little girl.

Danielle has Kleefstra Syndrome. This is a rare disease. Supposedly there are only about 110 known cases in the world. That means her help is very specialized. On top of that, she has now also been diagnosed with a life-threatening bowel condition. The dad is self employed and has not had a whole lot of work recently. They are trying to get to Houston for a consult with a specific doctor. They also need help with ongoing medical issues.

This family does not attend our church, but Lynnette knows them from having helped as an aid at school. Lynnette met with the mom and explained our group’s desire to help. They were overwhelmed with the desire for people to help and wanted to use the opportunity to help people get to know what Kleefstra Syndrome is all about.

Here’s what Lynnette’s enthusiasm and our Care Group’s ideas have mushroomed to. We are now planning a Burger Fundraiser at the Community Hall. The Ag Society was approached and has agreed to give the hall and pop for free. The Lions were asked if they would like to purchase the burgers and buns and barbecue them. They agreed. The firemen have agreed to bring their firetruck and mascot. A local photographer has agreed to come and take pictures for a loonie each that will go to Danielle’s family. A community member built a little train from a lawn tractor and rain barrels. He is willing to bring it and we’ll charge a loonie a ride. A local coffee shop agreed to donate ice cream that will be sold at a loonie a scoop. Someone was approached about bring their horses for a hayride. Their hayride is already booked that weekend but they offered to donate a $500 Bed and Breakfast coupon for a raffle or auction. The PB Club and Jetsetters Club ladies have agreed to bring baking for a bake sale.  A local massage therapist is willing to donate a massage to the mom. A businessman is donating an Ipad which would greatly benefit Danielle’s education. Other local companies are asking if they can help. Individuals are asking how they can help.

That’s one HUGE benefit of rural life. When people see a need they get behind it.

And through Lynnette and our Care Group, we are connecting with our community in a very real way!

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?

 

Seriously! You need a website!

I was surprised recently when I went searching for a few churches online and realized that some rural churches have no website.

You need a website! People are doing everything online from meeting friends, looking for cures to their zits, and finding out about your church. I realize that many of our own church people do not look at our website very often because they get all the information in Sunday morning bulletins or elsewhere. But I have had new people tell us that they checked out our website.

Your website is a safe first place for people to check out your church. It doesn’t have to be fancy, but it needs to let people know who you are, where you are, and how to get there. Make the directions clear because not all rural places use street numbers well. Your website should let newcomers know what kind of programs you offer and how they can get involved. A calendar of events is great, but don’t include it unless you will regularly update it to keep it current.

Websites don’t have to be expensive or extravagant. If you have someone with basic internet skills (your teens!) they can find free places to set up web sites. Or ask someone for help. Don’t lose this opportunity to connect with people.

Take Initiative!

Rural Ministry is often lonely. Not just lonely because you don’t have someone to work alongside of but lonely in figuring out what should happen next for your church. There are times that I have longingly dreamed of having a team to plan with and set vision with. Don’t misunderstand – I have a great Elders Board and they are willing to do planning and dreaming with me. The problem is that this is not their first priority. They have their own job and their own family.

So as the pastor, I have to find ways of taking initiative on what I do with my time and how I give leadership and direction to the church.

The easy thing is to do only what is required. I preach each Sunday and make sure there is a good service planned. I visit some people. And then what?

As the pastor, it is my duty to look ahead, to recognize areas in my church or in my community that things are not as good as they could be.

In the church – is there something lacking in meeting the needs of people in the church? Is there an aspect of discipleship that needs improving? Do I need to begin a men’s ministry? Right now I’m working on having the whole church focus on Prayer for three weeks in January. I’m asking all our Care Groups to study the same book on prayers from the Bible and will be preaching on a prayer from the Bible at the same time. I’m trying to give leadership on helping us to be more of a praying church.

In the community – is there a need that we as a church could realistically meet? Should we set up a Food Bank ministry? Should we provide a service in the community? One of the things we have done for the last couple of years is an Easter Eggstravaganza at our Community Hall. We put on a great breakfast, an Easter Service, and an Easter Egg Hunt. We do things to make it an exciting morning. It gives us opportunity to connect with many more people than if we had something at our church. Our church can only handle about 110 people. We had 250 at the last Easter event.

I hope that you are not just “coasting” along doing the bare minimum, but are asking God to give you a sense of what He is wanting you and your church to step into.

Take the initiative! God has called you to lead – so lead well.