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.

I hate the word “busy”.

busyIt’s been a while since I blogged again. It’s been one of those “busy” times. I don’t even like the word. Yes, I have had a full schedule. I have worked with my church to plan and put on a wonderful Easter Eggstraganza that reaches out to many community people. I have been part of planning our next round of Rural Church Pastors Network events that are starting this next week. I have just attended a great Biblical Exposition Workshop. I have had a number of medical appointments in the last while again. I have had ongoing issues with my computer and finally just got it to print last week after not being able to do so for about a month or so. I have had meetings with people in the church and in the community. I have had car issues to fight with. And on and on.

We all find things to fill our life. We call it being “busy”. I would rather call it “having a full schedule”. When I hear the word busy it sounds negative. I don’t want people in my church to ever think I’m too “busy” to spend time with them. I don’t mind telling people I have a full schedule, because I do – and I should. While we were meant to have sabbath rests, we were meant to be living our lives in connection with people and the world around us. We weren’t meant to be doing nothing with our life.

A full schedule is good. The main thing is to make sure that we are in control of our schedules and are not just running at a fast pace because of the expectations of others. We need to realize that WE decide what we do with our day. As a small church pastor I have a lot of flexibility with my schedule. There are certain expectations that the church has of me, and rightly so. I need to be ready for the service on Sunday. I need to make sure my sermon is ready and well prepared. I need to make sure that I am looking after the general affairs of the church and encouraging people. Yet I have a lot of freedom in what I do when and with whom I meet where. I need to be in charge of my schedule.

My problem is that I love to be involved in many things. I like serving my church. I enjoy serving in my community. I am privileged to be part of the leadership team for the Rural Church Pastors Network. And I have access to wonderful courses and workshops that I believe will be enjoyable for me and contribute to me being a better me and doing a better job with all that is expected of me.

But I would never want people to think that I’m too busy for them or too busy to lead the church well. A full schedule that we are purposefullly and prayerfully filling is good, but let’s make sure we are never too “busy” to meet with the people we care about the most.

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.

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!!

Invite Your Congregation into Your Sermon Planning

I love preaching. I enjoy the creative process of building a sermon, but I especially like preaching a sermon that connects with me first, and then with the congregation.

And then I recognized that one of the men in our church was really interested in learning how to teach better. He is leading our men’s ministry and has a desire to teach the men at our monthly men’s breakfasts. So I invited him to help me in the preparation of my next sermon series. We met together for a couple of long afternoons, working through a series I called Rethinking the Big Ten. We were looking at the Ten Commandments and asking how they did or did not apply to us today in light of what Jesus and the New Testament had to say about them.

I really enjoyed this time. It gave me an opportunity to pass on some of the tools of Bible Study and sermon prep that I generally use. The end result was that he even preached two of the sermons for me. What a win! I had the privilege of learning along with another person who was seeing things in the text that I hadn’t seen, and I now have someone who is willing to preach for me occasionally! That is a great asset, especially in a small church where I’m expected to do most of the preaching. And I think the people appreciated hearing one of their own, a voice different from their pastor.

Now I’m on to round two. Except this time I have 3 new people at the sermon preparation table.  Five of us are working through preparing a sermon series on the Holy Spirit. The first guy is there, along with two of my elders and one of their wives. The elders had been in a study on the Holy Spirit and were suggesting I preach some sermon on it, so I invited them in.

It gets a little more difficult when you have that many voices at the table, but the first meeting went quite well. They seemed to really appreciate the opportunity to speak into the sermon series. I’m not sure if we’ll get a new preacher out of this group, but it gives me an opportunity to hear where some of the people in the pew are at regarding the topic and texts I’ll be preaching on. That is a valuable experience.

I don’t think I’ll want to do this every time, and don’t think I’d want the group any bigger, but it’s been a neat experience to have a few others involved in the development of a new sermon series.

It may be something you would like to try. After all, those of us in small places could usually use another preacher in the church who can preach when we can’t or when we have had a busy week with other duties. Try it!

My Sermon Prep Takes Months

One pastor said it took him about 30 hours each week to prepare a sermon. Another pastor thought he could do it in about 6-8 hours. For me, it takes months. Let me explain.

Like any pastor in a small church, I wear many hats. And I don’t have a full time secretary to “protect” my study time. That means I can’t guarantee that every week will allow me large periods of uninterrupted study time. I also like to take time to think on a text before I preach it. So here is how I handle this.

I usually take a day or two in the summer to plan the preaching schedule for the year. I prefer preaching through a book of the Bible, though I usually do plan in a topical series or two. I try to get the general theme and purpose of the book I’ll be preaching out of. I take time to figure out how the book breaks down to preaching sections and even try to get the main theme or point of each preaching text. Then I slot these into my calendar. When I preach topical, I still want each sermon to be based on one key text, so I try to get those figured out and slotted on the calendar. I might work through the fall sermons even a bit more than the ones from January and on as I will try to take another day later on to flesh those out.

When I come to the beginning of the series, I again take some extended time to work on the whole book. I want to be clear on the main theme and how that fits each of the preaching sections. At this point I may even adjust some of the passages depending on how things fit with the theme and the calendar. I like to give people a good introduction so they know where we are going as we journey through the next sermon series.

I take Mondays off, so Tuesday is the start of my weekly sermon planning.

-Tuesday: research the text, check out commentaries, even begin thinking of possible illustrations, keep eyes open for illustrations that come up in the news or in my reading, etc.

-Wednesday: work through the material again in order to come up with the main “big idea”, develop a preaching outline

-Thursday: begin developing the sermon, I generally write out the whole sermon.

-Friday: finish up the sermon, build my power point presentation as I generally like to use it because I know how much of a visual person I am.

-Saturday: all through the process, including Saturday, the sermon is “percolating” in my mind.

-Sunday: I’m up and at the church early so I can preach the sermon out loud, it’s interesting how different things sounds sometimes when I preach it out loud compared to reading it on paper. This is when I make any final adjustments and pray over the sermon and the service.

And then, because it’s been on my mind all week, I’m able to leave my notes from time to time and not just read them. I know my content very well. In this way I work on the sermon a little at a time and can generally fit it around all the other meetings and interruptions that come up.

And so, my sermon planning actually occurs over months, not just the week before that Sunday.

Hope your sermon planning goes well!

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!