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.

Advertisements

Who’s Standing With You?

Ministry can be very lonely. The isolation of rural ministry adds to that loneliness. This is why I really appreciate the friends I have in ministry. They get it. They understand that some things just cannot be shared with other members of your church or friends in the community. And sometimes even if you did, they wouldn’t really get it. But the friend who is also a pastor with a few years under his belt gets it because he has been there too.

friendsA friend of mine who is a pastor in our church plant in a neighboring town just stopped by. He came specifically to check up on me. He knows that I have been going through some difficult times and wanted to just come and talk and listen and to pray for me. I love it when a pastor-friend stands with me in life and in ministry.

I also have some friends in the church who lift me up with their friendship – and often their humor. There are some times where the friend who stands with me doesn’t have to be someone who understands ministry, just someone who knows me and cares about my mental and emotional health.

And I love the boards and leadership teams I have worked with where they aren’t just all about the business of getting the job done. I have had some of these who really cared about how I was doing as well. It’s good to work alongside people who care about you as much or more than the task at hand.

Who’s standing with you?

Do you have someone who will come and encourage you when you need it? Do you have people in your life who are connected enough with you that they will even know when you need some encouragement. Some of the isolation and loneliness in ministry is our own fault. We don’t trust others enough to allow them to get to know us. If they don’t know us they will not be able to stand with us in a meaningful way.

Who’s standing with you?

And…who are you standing with?

As much as I need encouragement and support from time to time, so do others. Are we so caught up in our concerns that we miss when someone needs a phone call or a visit.

We are looking at the “one another” statements from the Bible for our summer sermons series. God has created the church as a place where we should be walking through life together with other believers. If you are living and ministering in loneliness and isolation, make sure that its not your own fault. Take time to reach out to someone so you can encourage them and so they might be there for you when you need it.

Who’s standing with you?

It’s Not about the Numbers But Faithfulness to God’s Call

As I was getting ready for an Elders meeting I looked a the attendance records for the last month or so. This time the numbers were not encouraging. In fact, it seemed to hit me pretty hard. We seemed to be down a fair bit compared to previous years. And then I did the “what is the problem?” mental dance. Is the church not growing because of me? Is the church not growing because of the population reality of our small town? Is it because our members are not inviting others or making them feel welcome? Do we actually have less people – or – are they just attending less frequently?

These questions don’t really help. I know there is a place for careful evaluation, but it doesn’t help to jump to conclusions without trying to confirm those conclusions. Some of the questions remind me that we have a huge job in front of us – even though we are in a small town. It is not an easy job to bring people to Christ. It is not easy to get people to see the value of attending church regularly.Ordination2

And then it seemed like I got a word from the Holy Spirit. This was not booming voice, just a clear impression: “Your value is not seen in the size of your congregation or the size of your community you serve in but your value is seen in your faithfulness to God’s call on your life.”

I needed that. I believe God has called me to rural ministry, and has called me to this church in this town. I believe that God is using me to lead this church and to teach and preach faithfully. I believe God is using me to develop friendships with non-church people in the community. I just need to be faithful to God’s call.

This morning I looked back at our attendance records and realized again that history often looks rosier the farther away from it you get. The numbers were not as high a few years ago as I remembered. So our numbers were not as much a percentage lower than I thought. This is one more example of how a small church notices the attendance of one or two families of 4 or 5. The attendance or non-attendance of even one or two families can make a big percentage difference.

All of this to say: “My value is not seen in the size of my congregation or the size of my community I serve in but my value is seen in my faithfulness to God’s call on your life.”

Yes, we do need to look at the numbers, but they don’t always tell the whole story. And I am not accountable to numbers, but to faithfully serve my God in the church He has placed me in.

May we serve faithfully and not allow discouragement to creep in because we are focusing on the wrong things. If we look around instead of to Jesus, then like Peter on the water, we soon begin to sink.

Christmas Eve Service – a free resource

It’s hard to find ways to keep Christmas fresh and exciting when you have the same story and the same carols every year. At the same time, people like some of the tradition and familiarity, so I don’t think we need to always try to do something different.

But I know I always like to find new resources to see if there is something different or creative I can add in. So with that in mind, I’m going to share with you my Christmas Eve service. Feel free to use any of it that might be helpful for you next year. Just think, you could already have next year’s Christmas Eve service all figured out.

Here it is, exactly as we presented it:ChristmasEve3_Logo

CHRISTMAS EVE 2014

Brass Trio – 2 songs?

Video: Worthless Christmas

Welcome – introduction?

Welcome to our Christmas Eve service. Thank you for recognizing that Christmas without Christ is actually meaningless. And so you have come tonight to remember and celebrate the Christ of Christmas with others.

We are celebrating the coming of God to earth. In Matthew 1: 23 we read: “The virgin will be with child and will give birth to a son, and they will call him Immanuel – which means, “God with us”.

This was something that was promised long before it happened. It was prophesied in a number of different places in the Old Testament. One prophet who spoke about the coming of this special child was Isaiah.

Listen as I read from Isaiah 9: 2-7. This was written hundreds of years before Jesus was born. (read)

Let’s sing together…

Carol:         –Come thou Long Expected Jesus (v. 1,2)

John 3:16

Probably one of the most familiar verses of the Bible is John 3: 16.

Here it is. (on screen)

For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God – This verse begins with God. The Bible is very clear – there is a God. This God was the Creator of the world. And he created the whole world in order to have a place for people who he could be in relationship with.

The World –Then we are told that God loved “the World”.

This is not referring to the earth, but to the people who live on earth. God loves people. They are created by him because he wanted a relationship with them.

But very shortly after the description of creation we get the description of the first man and woman, Adam and Eve, disobeying God.

Genesis 3 describes how God kicked them out of the Garden of Eden because their relationship with God was now broken. Before this, God would come and spend time with Adam and Even in the Garden. Now that was over.

But do you know why they were kicked out of the Garden?

We might assume it was because God was mad at them, but that’s not the reason given in the Bible. It wasn’t because God is a mean God. In fact it was because he loves us. He kicked mankind out of the garden because they had sinned – they had disobeyed. And now we follow in that same pattern, we sin. We disobey God and what he has taught in the Bible.

Loved – John 3: 16 tells us God “loved” the world. He loved the people. He loves us! God doesn’t delight in making life difficult for people. God doesn’t delight in the fact that many people are separated from a friendship with him.

But God removed them from the garden for their own Good. For our good!

Here’s Genesis 3: 22. (pp)

Genesis 3:22 And the Lord God said, “The man has now become like one of us, knowing good and evil. He must not be allowed to reach out his hand and take also from the tree of life and eat, and live forever.”

Because God loved them, loves us, he removed mankind from the garden of Eden before they had an opportunity to eat from the tree of life that would enable them to live forever. Because then they would live forever in their sin. If God had not removed Adam and Eve from the garden, we would be separated from God forever.

Look at the rest of John 3: 16. (pp)

He gave his one and only Son – God loved the world so much that he sent Jesus – that is what we are celebrating. The birth of Jesus Christ.

But why did God do this? What did sending his Son accomplish?

That whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life.

God loved mankind enough to remove them from the Garden of Eden after they sinned so that they wouldn’t eat from the tree of life and live in their sin forever.

Now, centuries later, Jesus finally comes, and he takes our penalty of death by dying on the cross for our sin. As we then “BELIEVE” in him he offers us eternal life. Jesus forgives our sins and makes us right with God – so now when we are offered eternal life it is eternal life in relationship with God. We don’t need to live eternally in our sin separated from God and heaven.

God loved us enough to make sure we did not need to continue in sin forever separated from God.

Listen to the next two verses: John 3: 17-18. (read)(pp)

For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but to save the world through him. Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because he has not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.

Christmas is the birth of the one who would set things right so that we could come into a relationship with God, through faith in this one – Jesus, and then have eternal life.

My prayer is that each one here tonight would put their faith in Jesus so that you would leave her tonight with a confidence that you have received his forgiveness and the eternal life he offers to all who believe.

This was the one who was prophesied about in the Old Testament. The people of God knew that a Messiah, a Christ, was to come.

And so tonight we celebrate. Let’s sing Joy to the World.

Carol:         –Joy to the World  (1,2,3,4)

Scripture:    Matthew 1: 18-25 (Angel to Joseph)

Luke 1: 26-38 (Angel to Mary)

Carol:         Hark the Herald Angels Sing  (1,2,3)

Scripture:    Luke 2: 1-7 (Jesus’ Birth)

MANGER:

The reading we just had told us that Jesus was placed in a manger because there was no room in the inn.

Bethlehem was full of travelers as they had to come to their home towns to register for the census that Caesar Augustus had called for. It was so full that there was no bed available for Mary and Joseph, even though she was pregnant.

Because of the manger, some have assumed that they were in a stable, but there is no mention of a stable. Quite likely they were in a place that was used by travelers as a place to leave their horses or donkeys, or whatever they were travelling on. And so these animals would have needed to be fed, so a manger would have been used.

Jesus, the Son of God, was then placed in one of these feeding troughs.

Can you imagine, the Son of God, left the glory of heaven to confine himself in the body of a human baby. And then he was placed in a manger, not even in a bed or a cradle.

God came to earth in the most humble of ways.

Let’s sing together… Away in a Manger.

Carol:         –Away in a Manger        (1,2,3)

O Little Town of Bethlehem    (1,2,3,5)

Scripture:    Luke 2: 8-20 (Shepherds and Angels)

SWADDLING CLOTHES:

The shepherds found Jesus in a Manger. Wrapped in swaddling clothes. What is the significance of this?

It doesn’t tell us why Jesus was wrapped in swaddling clothes so people have made all kinds of assumptions.

I think the reason the swaddling clothes or the cloths he was wrapped in is mentioned is because that is what a newborn was usually wrapped in. This was to make clear to the shepherds that they were looking for a newborn. They were not looking for a toddler but for a child who had just been born that night.

Video: What Child is this- Song video

Carol:         -It Came Upon  A Midnight Clear     (1,4)

O Come all Ye Faithful (1,2,3)

Video: A Christmas Response

RESPONSE:

Tonight we have heard a number of scriptures read. We have sung a number of songs about that first Christmas. As the video invited you, “what is your response?”

Will you just go home and check Christmas Eve Service off your list? Been there, done that.

Or this a moment where you stop and acknowledge that Jesus is Lord. And not just Lord – but Your Lord??

Jesus came to forgive us our sins. All we need to do is put our faith in him and live our life in obedience to Him.

Why not put your faith in him right now!?

In a moment we are going to sing our last carol. Silent Night.

We have a fun twist to add to it.

Instead of everyone holding a candle as we sing, we are going to hand out glow sticks. We’ll sing Silent Night with the glow sticks.

So as soon as you get yours, go ahead –bend, snap, and shake them to light them up.

>>>Hand out Glow Sticks ?

Carol:         –Silent Night                             (determine which pp to use) (1,2,3)

Closing Prayer                                           

Brass Trio: We Wish You a Merry Christmas

The Importance of a Local Watering Hole – or Eatery

Small communities often struggle to provide enough meaningful services for their community. Some don’t have enough places to shop for clothes. Others don’t have a local hardware store. Some lack enough sports facilities to meet the needs of their children and youth.

SONY DSCA while back we were without a local restaurant in our town. We have a small corner store/grocery store, a gas station, a liquor store, a bar, and a place to buy some snacks, but we didn’t have a place to sit down for a meal of meet someone for coffee. We do not even have the usual hockey arena. This limits where people can gather socially in town. We do have a great community hall that has activities every couple of months, but we needed a restaurant.

It opened up again just a few months ago. People were talking about it in the community and looking forward to it with great anticipation. The first week I was in there at least three different times. I met one man for coffee. I had breakfast with a community friend. I had lunch with a member of the church who leads my care group. There was a place to meet with people in a casual friendly way. Not everyone enjoys coming to the church office for a visit, but a community restaurant isn’t threatening at all.

Rural ministry needs places where one can meet with people to build relationships. Many of my meetings take place over a meal or a cup of coffee because there is something disarming and relaxing about enjoying a meal together. So I am very grateful for the local restaurant we have.

A Rural Remembrance Day Service

Rural communities like their community gatherings and ceremonies. I reminded of this again this week as we had our community Remembrance Day Service. We had a couple of hundred people show up at our community hall on one of the coldest Remembrance Days “in the last 29 years” according to the news. People come to show their respects. One of the highlights is the wreath laying. All the children present are invited to take part in carrying up and placing the wreaths which individuals and companies and clubs have sponsored. And then the children are invited to lead in the reciting of In Flanders Fields. It’s a real community event. And I got to play my trumpet along with another trumpet and trombone as we played for a few of the hymns.10277900_10152779181402279_4259368773732011211_n

I’m also attaching my “Meditation”. It’s hard to know what to say at these services so I thought I’d let you know what I said. Feel free to use any or all of it next year if you need ideas.

“We Want Our Life to Matter”.

We all want our life to matter. We want our life to count in some way.

Maybe we wish we could be a famous inventor or build a more fuel efficient car. Maybe we want to make a difference in our community by volunteering and helping with the normal activities of our town. We want a relationship with someone, maybe a spouse, or a friend, – where they care about us and love us. We want to make a difference in our world somehow.

Young men and women dream of starting their own business or getting a Degree in Science and discovering the cure to cancer. High School grads leave home looking to make their way in life and to make a difference to someone in our world.

When a loved one dies, we grieve. We are sad. If they are older we are sad because they are gone – we miss them. If they are younger we grieve the fact that they were “taken too young – they were taken too soon.”

We understand that our life has an expiration date, but we expect and want that it should be when we get into our 90’s and older. Not when we are young.

Job 14:1-3 describes the shortness of human life.

 “How frail is humanity!
How short is life, how full of trouble!
 We blossom like a flower and then wither.
Like a passing shadow, we quickly disappear.

Most flowers have very short lives. The plant itself may last a little longer than the blossom, or might bloom again each year, yet the flower itself doesn’t often last very long. The Bible reminds us that our life is short.

When we come to Remembrance Day and we remember those who served and who died fighting for their country, we are reminded again of the frailty of life and how quickly it can end. And we should remember how young many of those were who gave their lives for our freedom.

Many, if not most of those who served and died in the early years would have been young. They wouldn’t have had a chance to get a University degree or start their own business. Most of those who served were single. They may have left girlfriends behind but most wouldn’t even have had a chance to start a family to pass their name onto.

Today, more and more soldiers who serve and lose their lives are family men, a little older, with children at home. So not only is that soldier gone – that family’s husband and father or wife and mother are gone.

In some ways, we might say that those who fought in the World Wars weren’t even old enough to make a difference in the world. Yet they did.

We tend to measure the success of one’s life based on how much money they made or how famous they were or if there are songs written about them. We might think the average 19 or 20 year old is just starting out on life and hasn’t really made a difference yet – but when we remember those who have died in the battlefield, we remind ourselves that it didn’t matter how young or how old they were – these men and women made a difference.

In John 15:13 Jesus says…

 There is no greater love than to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.

Those who have served and fought for Canada over the years have made a huge difference by giving their lives – for their families, their friends, and their country.

Jesus is talking about sacrificial love – and he knew what he was talking about as shortly after making these comments, Jesus was crucified on a cross.

He wasn’t killed for anything he had done wrong but because he was willing to pay the penalty – the death penalty – for the sin of all mankind. Those who died for their country – even in the last few weeks – stood in between the enemy and their country. They loved their country enough to give their lives.

It was a sacrifice – no doubt!

Many gave up the chance to get married or to have a family. Instead, they did what they could to stand in the way between the enemy and their loved ones back home.

Jesus Christ gave himself on the cross, standing between mankind and sin and the penalty of death that came with sin.

Jesus was willing to die so that we might enjoy life – eternal life. He was willing to die so that we could live. Those who have given their lives on the battlefield out of sacrificial love have done so so that we who are left behind can enjoy our life. They were willing to die so that we could live.

And isn’t it fitting that many of these graves of soldiers are marked with crosses. This reminds us that just as Jesus died on the cross for our life, these soldiers gave their lives for our life.

So today is a day to remember

  • -to remember young lives lost
  • -to remember sacrificial love
  • -and to remember that our continued freedom comes at the cost of other’s lives.

Today, we remember.

A Memorial Service on the Bow

Well I had another one of those unusual experiences. I had a memorial service outside, along the edge of the Bow River. A nice display had been set up on the river’s edge. There was a picture of the man who had passed away, along with a few other items. Most people stood around a few chairs where some of the family sat. On the edge of the river was Bill’s canoe, looking as if it was ready to launch. He had built a special platform for his two dogs to ride on so they sat there through much of the service, as if just waiting for him to take them down the river.DSCN0244

We had the service. It consisted of a few tributes, a lot of tears, some scriptures and prayers, and then the spreading of the ashes. Bill’s brothers grabbed the urn and walked out into the water to spread his remains. As I left, the family was still taking their time, crying together and encouraging each other. What an interesting experience!