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.
What are you called? I don’t mean just your name, but what do people call you? I have a lot of labels. I’m Dad. I’m Lion Andy (I’m part of the local Lions club). My pharmacist greets me, “Hi Henry”. The other day I was being introduced to a new neighbor just 3 houses down, when the lady from across the street – who doesn’t attend our church – yells across the street, “That’s our pastor!” I’m Pastor Andy. A boss I had when I worked at Zellers always called me Andrew. Henry is my first name but I go by my middle name, Andrew, but that isn’t even quite right as I have always been called Andy.
The other day, one of the 4 yr. olds in church was trying to get my attention while I was talking with his mom so he said, “Hey Church Guy!” I like that. He wasn’t quite sure what to call me and only knew me as the guy at church, but he really wanted my attention.
People give us a label based on how they know us. So how do people know us? What is the name that people give you when you aren’t around and they are talking about you to someone else? Joe and Terry might call me neighbor. Rob might call me a friend. Gary might call me a fellow Lion.
My relationship with people determines what label they might give me. I guess Church Guy isn’t that bad. But I hope there are people in my circle of influence who see me as more than a church guy and more than a pastor and more than a fellow Lion but who see me as someone who loves them with the love of Jesus! Do I care for people? Do I take time to listen to what is going on in their life? They may not call be “Care-er”, but I would love it if they saw me as someone who cares. They may not call be “Confidant”, but I would hope they felt free to confide in me when they need someone. I don’t ever want them to call me “Jesus”, but wouldn’t it be great if they felt the love of Jesus through a friendship with me – or with you?
We all wear all kinds of hats. The cowboy has his hat. The farmer wears a ball cap promoting a certain tractor or herbicide. A hockey player wears a helmet. The snowboarder has his toque.
And we function in many different roles. I’m a husband. I’m a father. I’m a neighbor. I’m a pastor. I’m a community board member. I’m a Lion in the Lion’s Club. I’m a friend. I’m a colleague. The average man or woman is all kinds of things at different times of the day or week.
But do we ever put on a “Christian” hat? Now I’m a Christian. Or is that the right way of thinking? I think too many of us see our “being a Christian” as a hat we wear at certain times. We don’t wear that hat to work or to play ball with the boys. We don’t wear that hat when we are “the husband”.
We act a certain way and speak a certain language depending on what hat we wear. “Daddy” may speak baby language at home with the little one, technical language at work, and crude words when “one of the boys”.
And we have built a life that separates all the different roles into distinct worlds that do not cross over. It makes me think of a Seinfeld program from years ago where George doesn’t want to introduce his girlfriend to his friends because it’s “like two worlds colliding”. He doesn’t want one world to wreck the other world, so its easier to keep them separate.
So should we wear a Christian hat? And when we wear that hat we speak “christianese” and talk about prayer and Jesus and church – but we don’t let that world collide with the others?
I don’t think so. I think we should be like the sweat stain that a well worn hat gets. Whatever hat we may be wearing, our life as a Christian should be so “soaked in” that our life with Jesus is part of every role that we find ourselves in. At work we may wear our tough guy hard hat, but Jesus should be guiding our words and actions. In the neighborhood community association meeting we may be trying to wear a different hat, but again, Jesus should be in our interactions with everyone around us.
Christianity isn’t another hat to add to the collection but should be a part of our life, no matter what hat we wear. I wonder if we really understand that?
It was the first day after the Christmas Holidays, January 2, and I was back at work. As I looked around my office and thought about all the things that needed to get done, I got depressed. I had a good holiday with some time off and good times with family, but somehow, coming back to work overwhelmed me. I mentioned it to my wife. She said that I often feel like this in January. I hadn’t clued in to that.
The next day I was having a meeting with 4 other pastors regarding a church plant we are all involved in. In our prayer time I mentioned how discouraged and depressed I was. Another guy mentioned that he had been feeling the same way. One pastor said that he thought he had heard that there are more suicides in January than the rest of the year.
This all sounds depressing, but I’m wondering if you can relate?
And then I went to my chiropractor for a treatment on my back. In the conversation he mentioned that he knew of two people who had just committed suicide in the last week.
If this doesn’t ring true with you, then great. But if this is what you have been feeling, then make sure you find some way to deal with how you are feeling. I’m doing much better. The prayers of my fellow pastors helped. But so did taking time to organize my month of January commitments and responsibilities. I also made an effort to get back to reading my Bible devotionally as I had been letting that slide for a bit.
I hope your January is going well and that God is filling you with an excitement for the New Year!
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.
Most of what we do is very public. Pastors lead meetings, pray at functions, preach sermons, plan church activities.
Many of the things we do are seen by many people who automatically, and often subconsciously, evaluate everything we do. I do the same thing. I am quick to judge what I see and experience. It’s natural. Without even thinking about it we decide if we like what is happening or we don’t like it. And most of the time it isn’t an issue to think about, but sometimes there are people who think they need to let us know what they think.
I believe that a pastor needs to have a soft heart and a tough skin in order to minister to the same people for a long period of time. The tough skin is necessary to let things bounce off us as people make their comments – or as you hear the whispers. There will always be things that people don’t like. It may be how you led a meeting or how you preached your sermon. It may even be what you didn’t do – if you didn’t do something they thought was your job.
As pastors, we need a soft heart. We need to find ways to forgive people. We even need to find ways to apologize when we realize we were at fault. We need to be able to love even those who don’t approve of everything we do. The reality is that over time, probably just about everybody in our congregation will have come across something they didn’t like about how we did or did not do something.
If we want a long fruitful ministry with the same congregation will need to have a soft heart and a tough skin.
An effective pastor will get out of the office from time to time.
I’ve been in churches where they were telling me to be in the office more “just in case someone comes to the church looking for the pastor”. I’ve been also been told to get out of the office more and go visit people. “Just show up at their door” was one elders advice.
I’m not talking about either of those things. Yes we need to spend adequate time in the office to prepare sermons and meet with people and plan meetings and pray through the future of the church. Yes we need to connect with our people through home visits or a coffee at the local cafe, but what I’m talking about is getting into the community.
In the first church I was a pastor in I was made so busy in the church that I had no opportunity to ever connect with people in the community. Ever since I have had this conviction that I need to find natural ways to connect with people in the community. If we are going to be people who are introducing people to Jesus, then we need to connect with people who don’t yet know Jesus. If I want my church to do that, then I as pastor need to be doing that.
I have tried to find ways to get to know people and contribute to the good of the community at the same time. In other places I joined a bowling league and ran with a bunch of guys. Here in Carseland I joined the local Carseland and District Community Association and Agricultural Society. I’m actually President right now. I have also joined the local Lions Club. These are giving me opportunity to connect with people I would never meet any other way. And the neat thing is that a few of the men from the Lions have joined us at church from time to time!
As pastors and church leaders we are always looking for people to serve in the church. We want people to volunteer their time in the church after having put in a full days work. They have spent most of their day rubbing shoulders with non-church people. Then we encourage them to serve in the church for a few others a week.
Pastors spend much of their day in the church. I think it only makes sense that we reverse what we ask of our people. We should spend a couple hours a week getting involved in serving in the community and connecting with non-church people.
The benefit will be that the people in your community will begin to see you as a “real” person. You will get to know non-church people whom you can hopefully introduce to Jesus. And in the meantime you will be helping make a positive impact on the community.
We need to remember to get out of the office – not just to visit church members, but to find ways of connecting with people who still need Jesus!