Our Attitude

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By Robert”Duane” Cragun

Have you ever taken a Spiritual Gifts exam? It seems like when I was going to college and Seminary I took about 100 of them. In fact, it was only three but it sure seemed like there were more. The funny thing to me was that the results came out basically the same each time. Don’t get me wrong, I understand the importance’s of knowing the areas we have gifts from God in and I understand that these areas may change over the years so retaking it I a good idea. But have you ever wondered about how much our attitude has to do with the ministry God has called us to serve in?

The thing here is that if we have a bad attitude we will attract few people if any at all. So, a positive attitude is vital for the minister, as well as for the church body. Who would want to be a part of a church that acts as if you are not welcome? Unfortunate, as it sounds however there are  churches that project a bad attitude and they don’t realize it. Yes, they may smile and shake a visitor’s hand and welcome them in, but then later they set and talk about others in front of the guest. I was speaking at one church and was setting on the platform watching as the ushers took the mornings offering. One older man must not have liked that a lady did not give anything as the plate passed down the pew, so when she handed it to him he stood there and refused to take the plat. Finally, a man setting behind her reached up and took it and passed it down the next pew. I bet she never darkened their door again!

But I have also seen this bad attitude displayed by some in vocational ministry as well. This  does very little for the cause of Christ. I understand that some people just drag us down. But our attitude may be the only glimpse of the love of Christ they will ever understand.

So, what are some ways to display a better attitude? First it must be real, people can tell of you mean it or not. Second, take time to listen. I understand that right before we preach is not the best time, but saying something like “I want to make sure I fully understand you, so can we talk about this right after service when I can give you my full attention?”  In short, treat them like we would want to be treated.

Blessings.

Duane Cragun

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A Living Part of Our Communities

I walk down the halls of the local school, and I think of the kids and families of my community.  We are not unique, but an average Mid-American rural community.  Yet, the people are important to me.

  My wife an I have lived just under ten years.  We have watched children grow up from elementary through college, and some we have known since they we a few hours old.  I substitute  in the local nd help our local Youth For Christ leader, and it is great to see how young people are comfortable with me many time.

I learned long ago in ministry that I have a much more interaction with my community, by simply laying aside so called planned evangelistic outreach, and living life with the people of my community.  It is my community, and that is a key to small town and rural ministry, it may take time but when you really become a part of the community ministry takes a Kore comfortable and open place.

I encourage any pastor moving into a small town to get with other ministers for support.  However, to minister to people you have to become a true part of the community.  You have to work and play with them in the everyday, and in time you will hopefully be able to show them Jesus in all you do.

          Blessings on your ministry journey

Living as a Small Church Pastor: The Dread of Monday

Sunday is not only the highlight of our week; it is when we must put our all out to the edge of burnout. We ride the Spiritual high of seeing God move in the lives of people, whom we are called to minister to. The build up of a week’s preparation has come to a fulfillment. We have put all our energy into this day of being a part of God’s movement among His people.
Yes, we have faced those who are not as excited with our message, or with what God is doing in the church where we are called to minister. We have weathered the critics, the cynics, and the complainers. We usually will have more stokes of accolade than scars of battle. Sunday is what every pastor hopes and prays will succeed on some level for the Lord. Our whole life is thrown into ministering to people, and worshiping along side them. The hopes and aspirations of our lives are thrown into Sunday.
Monday morning then comes along to sap the joy and energy of our lives into oblivion. It is the sudden stop at the end of a rollercoaster of the week. All of the perpetual energy, the ups, downs, and turns of a Sunday have come to an end. It is likely the hardest day for every minister to get out of bed and face the day ahead.
There are two ways to handle Monday hide from the fact, or face it with all the strength that the Lord can offer us. Many ministers find Monday to be the best day to take off, since they are extremely worn and tired. Others feel that they must work, and that using a down day for some good is a better way to handle Monday. There are many in small church life haven’t the luxury of deciding this issue, because they work bi-vocationally. I will take some time to examine the bi-vocational issue at a later time. The reality is though that if you are bi-vocational, Monday may mean getting back to work at another job.
What if you decide Monday is the best time for a day off? How should you use the time? This question faces everyone, no matter what day they choose to have off. Since we are so drained on Monday it can be a danger to just cease to do anything. We need break from the normal activity, and from the work of ministry. However, we must use care about ignoring our spiritual regeneration. Many people make their day off a mockery of resting in the Lord. The issue is an issue of a Sabbath rest.
A Sabbath rest is not only a need, but a command of God. Some of you will argue with me that Monday is far from the Sabbath, but I will argue that we as ministers need to follow the rule of the Sabbath for our own lives too. The Sabbath is a day for ceasing from our usual labor, it is a day to focus upon God, and it is a day to be refreshed in our spirits. We can not take the people in our care into real worship, if we are not regularly in worship ourselves.
There are many ways we can find to worship. I know of some ministers who take time for in depth Bible reading. Some read through hymnals to be inspired and meditate upon the words of the writers of the hymnals. There are some who prefer to go into nature and pray and be alone with God. You will need to find your own way in what works best to revive your heart and soul. The real fact is to do it. Seek God out and be refreshed in His loving care.

Recently I was rereading A Conversation with Jesus by Stephen Seamands. He
references a conversation by Lyle Rader with Samuel Logan Brengle, an outstanding leader
in the Salvation Army in the early twentieth century.
One day Lyle Rader asked Brengle, “Sir, what has been your greatest temptation in
ministry?”
Brengle thought for a moment, then responded, “Actually, I have only one temptation in
ministry. If I win the battle with this temptation, everything else in my life and ministry
falls into place. But if I loose the battle, I soon find myself confronted with all sorts of other
temptations.”
“What is the temptation?” Rader asked.
“It’s the temptation to want to do something for God each day, before I’ve first spent
time with Him,” Brengle replied. [1]

We sometimes need to be reminded to feed our souls. Brengle was big enough to admit his need, and his own weakness. In ministry we often let the work of ministering to others rob our own personal time. To do something for God gives us satisfaction, adrenaline, and even a spiritual high. This makes sitting still with God alone for a while hard to do. It makes learning from others hard to do at times.

Making Monday, or part of Monday your day for Spiritual Renewal means marking it off in stone and ink on our day planners. Yes real emergencies will arise, but the normal routine of life is not an emergency. If we are to take others deeper, then we must get serious about the care of our own spiritual life. There is no guilt in spending time away from work, so that we can get to know the one who calls us in a deeper way.
Spiritual and emotional renewal can come in times alone, or in meeting with others who are in ministry. One of the greatest times of my early ministry came, as I was striving to plant a church in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. I was blessed with getting to know a group of local pastors very well. Eight to ten of us met weekly for coffee, prayer, and building one another up in the Lord. I came to need these weekly times of renewal. It was the spiritual recharge I needed.
I have had the opportunity to meet with other groups on a monthly basis and always feel stronger for our time together. Sometimes it’s over coffee, breakfast, lunch, or a round of golf. Always we set aside time to share our greatest concerns, and encourage each other in the daily life of ministry. Just like the parishner’s who are revived by being with others in church, I am revived by being with others in ministry.
I have a friend and accountability partner who I still call just about every Monday, sometimes at other times too. We need others, because we are created to need others and not as ‘Lone Rangers’.
You may feel that working is the best thing to do on Monday. Maybe you need to see something accomplished just overcome the feeling of depression that wants to creep in on Monday. I tend to fall into this category. I do work Monday, but I do not work as hard as on some other days.
Generally I start most work days with a visit to our local gas station, or reading at home in personal study by seven in the morning. I use this time for personal growth, or to start my sermon for Sunday morning. Some have questioned my setting at a gas station, drinking coffee, and studying. However, I can see about seventy percent of my local village while sitting here. It makes for good contact as well as keeping me aware of the needs of my community, as I prepare to preach to people.
Monday I sometimes have the coffee, just to give me reason for getting going. However, I do not return to my office for work. I generally try to use my morning on Monday for reading, refocusing, or writing. Writing articles such as this are still ministry, but it is not the normal sermon preparation, visitation, and other duties I have in my church. It gives me time to do ministry with a different focus. I sometimes will take on special projects that need attention, such as an upcoming youth event. Again it is doing work, but not the usual office routine.
If I do any routine work, it generally doesn’t happen until after ten, and most likely not until afternoon. I try to do letters or follow up ministries on Monday afternoon. Sometimes I visit, especially those in need whom I couldn’t get to on Sunday. By doing follow up and visitation ministries on Monday I get the focus off of myself. By doing special ministries, or writing I get the focus off of myself. I have found that when I am lower in my spiritual take, and emotional tank I need to seek God. I have also found for myself that time alone when I am emotionally drained often leads to a more negative outcome. I don’t revive well if I am too tired, I actually run the risk of sinking further in toward a depressive attitude.
That is why I will not take a Monday off, at least in its entirety. I may at times only work a half a day, and go play golf with a member of the church or a ministerial colleague. I may work most of the day, but focus on other ministries outside the routine. But, I do not allow myself to take the whole day off, because I need to keep going, or be drawn in to the dread of Monday.
I do take a day off to do the things I mentioned earlier. In fact my district requires pastor’s to set this up yearly as part of our minister’s salary package. The problem is that like many other bi-vocational pastor’s my day is hard to lock down for a year at a time. I substitute teach, which is a blessing since it doesn’t require me to lock down a set time for work. It also doesn’t dominate my ministry schedule, although from October to May I average twenty to thirty hours of work at the school. My day off often moves around, since I may be scheduled at times on my day off.
I strive to take Friday as my day off, believing like many in ministry that refocusing my heart and soul before the big weekend is best. I also have found that there are fewer disturbances on Friday, since most people are getting ready for their weekend and families are focused on the children’s sporting events. I do go to community functions and sporting events, which is outreach in a small community. However, this is not work for me, because I enjoy being a part of the community in which I live.
When my schedule moves around from the normal plan I try to let the congregation know, as much as possible. I often list the best hours to contact me in the bulletin each week, right by the church phone number. This seems to help keep the communication lines open. Most people I have found respect the pastor’s need for time off, and even encourage them to get away.
That is my usual key to time off, getting away. I can not relax in my home next to the church, or at the church. I often visit friends for a round of golf and prayer. Sometimes I take a book and my fishing rod and head for a local river. I take a walk a nearby State Park and spend time just talking with the Lord. That is what I strive to do, spend time with Him.
I am not perfect. I like Paul say, ‘not that I have reached it yet.’ Yet I strive to focus my life on Christ, and take time for just the two of us. I know when I have missed this, because my spirit hungers to be with the Lord. I am a work in progress, but I encourage you to keep working in your own personal walk. Let your life be renewed in Him. If you miss your time away this week, then get back with Him next week. It is the only way we can ever hope to sustain for the long term in the Ministry journey God has called us to.

— Keep on your Journey for Jesus this week.

[1] A Conversation with Jesus (Renewing Your Passion for Ministry, by Stephen Seamands, © 1994 Victor Books / SP Publications, Inc.; 1825 College Avenue, Wheaton, IL 60187 (page 18)

Living As A Small Church Pastor: I Relate to Small Town Life

Living as a Small Church Pastor: I Relate to Small Town Life

I grew up in rural small town America, like many with in our nation. My father was a deacon in the Baptist church we attended, while my grandmother attended the Wesleyan church just down the road. Growing up I attended the Baptist church, but often found myself going to children’s ministries at the church where my grandmother attended.
A couple of years after marrying my wife I accepted the call to ministry, and found myself as youth director of a church in the nearby city of five thousand. I helped the pastor and began to use my talents of preaching, teaching, and visitation with in the church. Two years later my family and I headed off for college.
While in college I continued to help out in assisting pastors. I spent one year helping a church in a city of over 50,000, and another in a city of 18,000. These experiences helped to develop my talents in ministry. I was given more opportunity to preach, and teach. These are to this day my strongest gifts and talents.
In 1997 I accepted my first solo-pastorate, while finishing up my last year of college. I felt called to start a new work in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, and made plans to help this small church out for two-years. It was a great place to cut my teeth on solo ministry. The church was located in a village of less than 500 people, in the middle of the corn and soy bean fields of central Indiana. This independent church ran most of its own business affairs, which freed me up to study, and begin new Bible studies. I was able to grow in my pastoral care.
I was working and learning through the 1990’s, as the church growth movement was reaching its explosive growth. Every where I looked were the teachings and encouragements of growing bigger, and bigger being better. The problem was that I had grown up in small town America. I felt called to pastor and reach people on the front lines of America where the heart of the revivals of the past had begun. Working in my first solo pastorate I knew deep in my heart that I related to farmers and small business men better than big city executives or inner city works. The problem was that everywhere I turned were the calls of leadership was to bigger and better things. Everyone was talking about big churches and big ministries being the answer to the future of ministry.
I recall one instance in college, during a worship class with Professor Keith Drury. We were to share the trends of what we saw as the future of American worship and church life. Going around the room it was like listening to cookie cutter answers to me. Everyone had their own ideas and twists, but the reality was that everyone in the class was focused big and mega church ministry. Everyone that is, but me. I could see the attitudes and fear of smaller churches toward mega churches. I also knew a few people who had left bigger churches, because they felt they were impersonal and a place to get lost. I predicted that for many families they would feel lost and impersonal in a mega-church, and that many would desire the familiar, family feel of smaller church life.
Since, leaving college and seeing the trends I find more people leaving the mega-church for a more intimate congregation. I also see many mega-churches changing strategy to create an intimate feel for those who need the personal side of church life. Some churches call it small groups, some cells, others church with in church. The fact is that church needs intimacy and small church sometimes is the best way to fill that need.
After college, when I was called to plant a church in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula I found myself in a city of 20,000. The fact was that I was in the largest city for hundreds of miles around. Some who know me may feel that my small town attitude may have kept this church plant from succeeding. I wouldn’t agree. The fact is that even though the city was bigger than my background, the people had an attitude of small town life. It was true there were more people, but they had the same fears, cares, worries, and attitude of most the rural areas of Northern Michigan. Sometimes they were even more rural than small rural in their close knit families than other rural settings I had been in before.
I took on a ministry in a rural setting of Michigan’s Northern Lower Peninsula near Traverse City, before finding myself in Central Illinois where I now minister. I have learned a lot about the lives of the people I have ministered to, and I know they have learned about me. The intimacy factor can have its draw backs, since we all are close and everyone in the community is close. It is true news will travel through community fast. This can be a good thing too, since you can promote events and do well in a quicker manner than in many large city settings.
I guess the heart of all that I am trying to say is that I must confess to liking small town ministry. There you go, it’s in the open. While many small town pastors struggle with jealousy and inferiority I am coming to see that small town, and small church life isn’t all that bad. In fact for a country boy from Northern Michigan it is a pretty good place to be called to.
The fact is that we who pastor small town churches should look to Jesus Christ for His guidance in our ministries. We need His love to permeate every part of us, so we can face the challenges of small town ministry. It is okay to like your ministry, even with all the frustrations. We have to believe God is with us, and know that He will help us through what ever He allows to come our way. Don’t give into the voice of Satan that creeps into our minds and says give up. There are times when we should move on, but Satan wishes we would move right out of ministry. Too many of our brothers and sisters have listened to his lies. Let us find ways to encourage each other, and seek Christ continually to be in His perfect will.
It is my hope that I can help to be one of the avenues of encouragement along the way. I am hoping to utilize my own life stories, as well as those of other small town and small church pastors who are on the front lines of ministry. We are supposed to encourage one another. Paul reminds us in Philippians 4 that we are to think on the good things. This is why we should encourage one another through the battles of life. I encourage you to seek out an accountability partner or at least a ministerial colleague to spur one another on. Never tire in your service, but instead let God guide you daily in your service to God’s kingdom.

I recently attended a small town pastor’s seminar offered in our denomination. I took a few pages of notes, but far more important was the reviving spirit that flowed out of the men and women who shared their needs. It became a place of prayer and care, with others in the same place. I have always felt called to be a pastor who helps, encourages, and trains other pastors in the journey of ministry. That is why I feel compelled to add this column to my Blog on a regular basis in the future. I hope to add another article of my own experience, and others who are in small church life. We need to encourage each other. I am opening up my Blog for comments as well, and hope that people will begin to encourage one another through issues of small town life.

My prayers are with you, as I hope yours will be with me. Let us spur one another on in our

Journey with Jesus in the small churches of America.