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.

Help, I Need Somebody!

It was great to gather as a group and to pray for a fellow pastor at this past week’s Rural Church Pastors Network in Ft. MacLeod.

Who's up for a good fight pic RCPNOur topic was “Who’s Up For A Good Fight”, dealing with conflict in the rural church. We encourage a lot of conversation through the day. We talk around our table groups and share with the whole group. In going through the day, one of our brothers opened up about some serious conflict he was facing. It was great to hear fellow pastors share some of their suggestions and encouragements. I don’t know if he will go home and put into practice everything that others said. But I do know that he left feeling encouraged. At the end of the day we all gathered around him, laid our hands on him and prayed for him. One of the other pastors offered to see if they could meet as couples to have his wife encourage our brother’s wife as well.

I love going through the content of our gatherings, but what is most exciting is seeing pastors jibba_clothing_help_beatles_tshirt_white_made-here_1024x1024networking, connecting with other pastors. These pastors may not have known each other before joining us for the day, but can leave having made new friendships with others who are facing similar challenges.

We need each other. I know that I have benefited from connecting with other pastors. To be a pastor in a rural community can be very lonely. It is a gift from God to find someone else who understands us and can relate to things we are facing.

I hope you have someone who understands you and can be a support to 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.

An “I’ve Been Everywhere…” Day

Rural ministry often overlaps to surrounding communities. This was one of those days. It made me think of that old song, “I’v been everywhere man, I’ve been everywhere”.

Saturday begin with me being at the Church Office in Carseland before 7 am so I could do some last minute bits of work for the weekend. By 8:30 I was in Strathmore for a breakfastCarseland area map meeting. A little before 10:00 I was on the road to Calgary to do a hospital visitation. Luckily the person was in a hospital on my side of the city. At about 11:10 I left the hospital to head back to Carseland so I could get dressed for a wedding. I got home about 12:15. I tried to sit down for a 15 minute rest, then got dressed and headed out the door to do a wedding just south of Champion on the bride’s farm. The backyard wedding ceremony went great, followed by the receiving line and then we left in between the ceremony and the reception to drive another 45 minutes south to see my Mom and Dad in Lethbridge. We had exactly an hour with them before we had to leave to head back to the wedding reception at the Champion Hall. We enjoyed a great dinner and some speeches and left around 9:30. We got home just after 10:30. What a day!

And it’s interesting the variety of ministry I did that day. The office work first thing was finalizing the wedding as well as the sermon for the next day. Breakfast was with a man who is a member of our church but hasn’t been attending for more than a year due to some family breakup and disappointment with God issues. The hospital visit was with a man whose family is newer to church and who haven’t really connected with the church yet. He’s suffering with diabetes and other complications. And the wedding was a couple from our church. This was actually the only wedding – out of the 5 I’m doing this summer – where the couple were both church attending Christians.

Rural ministry in a small church is never boring. While not every day is like this Saturday, every week has all kinds of variety in meetings I have, people I see, “pastoral” duties I get to perform, and services I prepare for.

I love the variety. Do you enjoy it too?

Help! I Need A Preacher.

Why is it so much work to go on holidays? But it seems like there are always a number of things that have to be looked after before the small church pastor can take off. We need vacation time. We need time to relax and refresh and spend with our families and just have a break. But when you are the only pastor on staff you have to make arrangements for things to keep on going while you are gone. Along with other smaller details, you have to make sure that everything for the Sunday services is set up before you leave. Some of us are fortunate enough to have people who will do much of that for us, but most of us need to find someone to preach for us while we are gone.

How do you find a preacher for the Sundays you will be gone? Where do you look? Most of us are the only preacher on staff, probably the only preacher in our church.charlotte payroll direct pay vacation calendar_full

Here’s some of my experience in how to find a fill-in preacher:

1. Look in your church first. Sometimes there are former pastors in your church who may be willing to preach occasionally. Sometimes there are people who have all the training and are looking for a place to use it. They went to Bible School but didn’t become a pastor. Yet they would love to preach occasionally. Take advantage of that.

Or you can train someone to preach. I have the privilege of having a man in our church who wanted to learn to preach. He had led many Bible Studies and Men’s Groups but never preached. So I spent some time with him and invited him along to a preaching seminar. I invited him into my sermon research. And now he has preached for me 3 times already – getting better each time.

2. Look to neighboring churches. Some of us have larger churches not too far from us who have two or more preachers on staff. Why not look for a way to connect with them and see if they can send a preacher to cover for you when you are away.

I live 30 minutes away from a city church that has about 18 pastors on staff. Someone connected me with one of the younger pastors, who was doing Grades 5 & 6 and just recently moved up to Jr. High Pastor, and likes to preach but will probably never have the opportunity to preach in their main services. His church has given him permission and so he has come out a few times to preach for me over the last couple of years. He loves the opportunity and the people in my church love him.

3. Look to Bible Schools in the area. Is your church within an hour or so from a Bible School? Why not develop a relationship with the school so that when you need someone to preach, they are willing to send a student or teacher to fill in for you? The students need practical experience. And some of the pastoral studies teachers probably miss preaching. It’s worth reaching out to them.

4. Look to retired pastors in your community. Sometimes there are retired pastors in our community who would love to preach occasionally. They may even be from a different denomination, but you can develop a relationship with them and see if you are comfortable having them preach in your congregation.

5. Look to missionaries. If you know that there are missionaries who are connected in any way to your church, whether through your denomination or through your church families, keep connected with them so you know when they are returning. Then invite them to come to your church to share their stories and preach for you. When I hear of our denominational missionaries coming home, I try to book them in as quickly as I can.

6. Look to preaching videos. Wow! I can’t believe I really suggested that. This is a very rare thing for me, but I’m actually going to do this when I go away next month. The president of our denomination sent out his “vision sermon” on DVD. It would be rare for our president to come to our small rural congregation, but I can bring his sermon to my church.

While I’m using this option this one time, I would be very hesitant to use it very often at all. But hey, when we can’t find anyone else, this may be an occasional option.

Well I would love to hear how you find people to preach for you when you are gone. Leave me a comment. I’d appreciate it.

Snowy Owls and Flocks of Pigeons – Which Pastor Are You?

We are regularly seeing Snowy Owls this winter. This is unusual for us. The other day I saw 3 or 4 of them in my drive home from a meeting. But they weren’t together. It seemed like they had each spaced themselves out evenly about every mile or two, sitting on the power poles along the road.

We also have pigeons in our community. They may have been drawn to our community by the elevators that used to line the railroad on the edge of town, but those are long gone. Pigeons actually are pretty birds. They have all kinds of variety in coloring. But they are more like pests. And where there is one there are quite possibly 20. They usually travel in flocks.

I see that rural pastors are often like the Snowy Owls while the large city church pastors are like pigeons. Not that large church pastors are a pest … but that they travel in staffs of 3 or 8 or 17. Rural pastors are often flying solo, evenly spaced at a distance from the next pastor.

While the reality is that we need others around us to support us and work with us. The denomination I pastor with has been promoting Strategic Peer Networks for some time now. They want us connecting regularly and closely with a few other pastors. I’ve been in such a group, but my group dissolved some time ago. I miss it. We need that.

I work hard to attend the local monthly ministerial. I may not agree with the doctrine and practices with others in the group, but there is something valuable in connecting with people who are facing the same schedules and struggles and discouragements as I face. And there is something exhilarating about rejoicing together when we see God at work.

I also have a monthly Task Force I’m in which is overseeing a nearby church plant our church is sponsoring. I appreciate meeting with these pastors -for support and common service.

I’m also involved in the Rural Church Pastors Network. This gives an opportunity to meet other pastors in similar church settings. We learn together and encourage each other. And I’m dreaming of many small networks forming naturally between pastors who connect at one of our regional gatherings.

I also have a friend in the church. I know that some of us have been told in the past that we shouldn’t have a close friend in the church. I hope that is changing. I know I benefit greatly with have a friendship and accountability relationship with Rob. He and I can ask each other how we are doing and can honestly share our hearts. That is so valuable.

You may be feeling like that Snowy Owl who seems to be so alone. I would encourage you to find some creative means of connecting with other pastors and other leaders for support and encouragement.

Does January Depress You?

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!

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!

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.