Advice for the Small Town Pastor, By a Small Town Pastor (part 3) “Putting it All Together”

By R. Duane Cragun,

 

Over the past two weeks we have discussed listing and learning from our congregation members and the community, and evaluating your situation for ministry. Now today is when we starting putting things together.

The think that I discovered when I started putting all the information and materials together was that I need help! For some reason we, as both ministers and people, tend to think it’s me against the world sometimes, but this simply isn’t the case. If we look at the earthly ministry of our Lord Jesus the Christ, He certainly was in a, me against the world situation, yet look what he chose to do. Jesus picked 12 men to come along side of Him in His ministry of Salvation. Jesus the “Son of God”, the “King of kings”, the” Great I am,” the one who had all authority chose to have a “leadership team” on board and serving with Him. Yes Jesus had divine understanding but what about us, how do I a simple humans do this within our own church settings? Here what I learned.

Once we see a need that we are lead to address, and we have discerned what will be needed and how to obtain what we may not have access to as of yet, how do we build up a team of helpers?

I was in a church that was a good bunch of people, but they had no vision, yet I understood that I needed them to help me, so when I saw an area to work in I gathered all the info I could in that area and all that we had or could gain access to use in this effort, then I went before the leadership of the church and presented them what I saw as a need to be addressed, the reasons why I saw this area at this time, and what I saw as the best way to work in this said need, then I did something that may surprise some of you, I asked them what they thought about all that I had presented to them. I did this in this fashion so that we would all be looking at the need in the same light. This brought about two vital things in the kingdom grown we were seeking to address.

First, by asking them, I was inviting them to take ownership of this particular avenue in the ministry of the church. It went from being what the pastor wants to do to something I also would like to do.

Second, this empowered the leadership of the church, before the pastor would come in and do his thing until they would live in two to four years, now they were being encouraged to be involved in what we, not I saw as an area of need in the churches ministry efforts. This is developing leaders with in the body.

Here’s the great thing about all of this, during my ten years at this church, I was only told we don’t think we need to work in that area 1 time, everything else I was given vison to be involved in was something the church leadership partnered with me on.

In short, treat your leaders as part of the team, a leader with no followers is doing very little, but a leader with a team around him can change the world they live in, just look what Jesus and His apostles did.

Blessing to you and your ministry.

Robert Duane Cragun

The Children Shall Lead Them

This past weekend we had our annual children’s program.  In small-town church life, this is one of the biggest services a year.  I remember years ago, while church planting, when a good pastor friend of ours told us about how they focused on the kids.  Their yearly children’s program grew so much that they actually had to tell regular attendees to the church to stay away on the week of the program, unless they were working or greeting.  Can you imagine telling people to stay home or go to a neighboring church just so people who normally are not in church could have room.

Our service this year didn’t push people out of the building, but it was wonderful to see families who normally are not in church in the service.  It was great to see both parents of children, who don’t even live in the same town, putting aside differences and coming to worship and see their children.  One grandparent even told us how much they appreciated that we kept the focus on the story of Christ, and on the kids.  She said her own church had been making the services more about the adults and they were happy to see the children running the service.

Over the years of ministry I have had people help my wife with the kids and say how much they learn from the kids.  We are reminded in Isaiah 11 of when God will restore all things to the place it was before sin entered the world.  In reference of course to Jesus, verse 6 says “a child will lead them.”  However, many people play down children, or push them off to the side.  I am often reminded that we can learn a lot from children.  Especially, about peace, love, and faith.  After all, Jesus even said we should have the “faith of a child” (Matthew 18:3).

Never underestimate the power of your children’s program.  More important, never underestimate the power of God’s work through the children of your church.  You may be surprised by how much they can lead others to Jesus, and just how much you will learn from them.

Keep building your ministry to families on the whole family approach, which Jesus has for all of us.  May God bless your ministry Journey.

 

Advice for the Small-Town Pastor, from a Small-Town Pastor (Part 2) : Evaluation & Prayer

By R. Duane Cragun

In last week’s article I spoke about the need for a small town pastor, (or any pastor for that matter,) to listen and learn from the people, to understand what it is that they see as a need and areas to be addressed in the church and in the community as a whole. This week we are going to go a step beyond learning and move to the next phase, Evaluation.

 

Once we have discovered areas to address in the church and its ministry then we need move on to the task of Evaluation.  In this stage of Evaluation, we start doing two things, both equally important.  We pray for guidance in evaluating our ability to meet said needs, and then we pray for His provision to make it a reality.

My pastor friend I mentioned last week was going through some difficult times trying to do everything he had been taught.  Yet, when I talked to him he seemed unaware of ether some basic needs of his church or community, or what resources he had or did not have to try to meet those needs. Listening was something he had not developed, so I asked him to do this for a month and then get back with me.  When he called back he was better informed about his situation, but was still unsure about how to work towards meeting these needs.  In his situation, a major need was developing a stronger and larger youth group. He said “What can I do, I don’t have a gym?” Guess what, neither did I.   When I tried to address getting kids off the streets, I also thought about structured activities, so I evaluated what I did and did not have. What I did not have was a Gym or large space, our little town did not even have a park in it. What we did have were several people that also saw this as a major need in our community, many of whom offered to help me in this cause. We also had a school with a playground which was to be used only for school activities.

So what did this evaluation lead us to? I took this the discovered need and facts about the high levels of young people getting into trouble in the community, and I shared these findings with the local School board, the American Legions and the local Sheriff’s Department.  What came out of this were the following things.

The School decided to partner with us in two ways: (1) They allowed us to rent the school’s gym and playground areas during the warmer weather, for a very small fee, and listed it as community involvement. They even waved the normal insurance user fees for us.   (2) They helped me advertise this once every two-week activity night within the school’s system.

The American Legion decided to help fund some of the cost for our community youth activities.

The local Sheriff’s Department would sometimes send an officer by, simply to work on building relationships with these kids that only saw them as the bad guys.

We had such a large positive impact that the local community store started donating soda pop to be given to the young people.

Members of the church came down and assisted at our activity nights.

Finally, the people went from being groups of people that happened to live in the same area, to a group building a community.

How did all happen? By evaluating both the need and how to best address that need.

No church can do everything, but with a great deal of prayer and evaluating the situation we can decide what we need to focus our efforts on and how to attempt meet that need. Like a very good friend, Dr. Jim Dunn used to tell me, “Keep the gold and get rid of the dirt.”  Discover what is needed and how to achieve the goals that the Lord gives you.  Through His grace, you can make a difference!

Shovels, Vacuum’s, and Service

I was at a conference several years ago, where the speaker was sharing about growing his church from a few families to nearly four-hundred.  I remember him saying that he still had a vacuum with his name on it in the church.  I thought it was a great reminder that we as pastors must never feel that we are above doing simple tasks needed to keep the church running.

I was reminded of this in the past week, as the first snows of winter came to our church.  I was out in front of the church shoveling the walks, as we prepared for a party.  I shoveled, so everyone could get into the church safely.  It has just been a part of being the minister, who lives on site.  However, I know of churches that have decided to let their pastor move to a home off the church property, and some of them have had to adjust to the need for someone to shovel.

I am not saying that we as pastor’s should be the only people doing the cleaning or shoveling the walks.  However, we should be willing to do our part in serving the church in this capacity.  We may have limitations in what we can do, but working alongside of our church members can be a blessing.  It also says a lot to the average church attendee to see that we are willing to work and not merely tell others to work.

 

So the next time your faced with cleaning the church, or shoveling the walks.  Remember that you are doing your part to be in the community you are ministering to.

Advice for the Small-Town Pastor, From a Small-Town Pastor (Part 1)

By R. Duane Cragun

 

Today I had lunch with a fellow pastor of a larger church. During our conversation he asked me if I had ever been asked advice from another pastor in my type of setting, I responded “yes, I have.” Then he surprised me by telling me he was going on a mission trip and one place he would be stopping was a church of only nine people, then he said, “What do I do?”  This took me back to a friend that called me and asked the same question about six years ago, he was trained like most of us by different pastor’s and profs, that had served in a larger church setting. Nothing he had been told seemed to work, he had no staff, little funds, no space, and the people seemed to resist any changes that he wanted to bring to the church.  I pondered my response to him, and I have decided to write a three-part blog about what I have learned over the years I have served in a small church setting.

Part 1. Learn:

This may sound odd to you, but the greatest thing we can do when serving ether in a larger congregation or a smaller one is to learn from our people.  We learn by listening to what they say, and looking for areas that seem to be of concern to them. Remember, many smaller churches have a history of changing pastors every two to four years, they have not really had a chance to every develop a vision for their church ministry. In my own experience, I went to a church that was 115 years old and I was the 84th Pastor, you do the math.  The fact is that they would often say to me, “We are a good place for starting pastors.” When I asked about their missional vision, they had no idea of what the vision was. So, I spent the first two years learning about them, which also allowed them to learn about me.

I didn’t just look at old glory day records, I talked with people that remembered them.  I also conversed with them about why those days had ended. This does not mean that I am not a progressive pastor, I am, but I also know that people will resist change that seems to exclude their wishes and likes. Many of the prior pastors where young, just out of college.  They were pastors that wanted to make the next mega church. This isn’t a bad thing, but it cannot be done by excluding the current church body. So, I took some time to learn my congregation.

I also learned about the social needs within our community. Here are some of my findings see if they reflect any in your situation. I found a high divorce rate, high unemployment, high drug and alcohol consumption, and a high school level or less for the average education of the people. Learning this helped me to understand how to speak to needs within the community and how to better communicate to the people.

I became involved in the community watch program as this town was so small it did not even have a police officer. I started volunteering in the local school system to learn what the younger members of our community saw as important within the church. In all of these things, I learned about the people of the community in which I served.

I learned very quickly that the members the congregation did not want two things to happen, (1) they did not want any “big church pastor to tell them what to do in their small church.”  It was not that they didn’t like the larger church.  They just did not like be treated, or what they saw a being treated, like dumb people by those in a larger church. (2)  They didn’t want the pastor making big plans and then leave them with the continuation or problems.

When you are called to a smaller church setting, be prepared to commit to seeing it through. I stayed ten years at my last church assignment, and many changes were made.  This included me teaching them to stop saying “we are a good place for starting pastors.” Instead they began saying “we are a good place to pastor.” But it all has to start by being still and listing.

Managing and Lowering the Stress of Helping Ministries

One of the greatest blessings and curses that comes in ministry is in the area of helping others in need.  Much of our ministries is filled with helping people in various kinds of need.  This means that we are often approached at times that are inopportune for other parts of our daily work.  In many larger churches their are individual ministers,  office assistants, or other gate keepers who handle many of those who come seeking needs.  They are able to direct them to the best kind of help they can get, and they free much of the pastoral staff and senior pastors to do what they are called to do.  However, in the small-town church we are  often the only person available on any given day to handle these needs and crisis’ that arise.

I was once running a spiritual gifts class at a church.  When it came time to share with one another I revealed my strengths in preaching, teaching, and administration.  I remember that several people were surprised that my weakest area was mercy.

One woman in the group commented, “I would think that a pastor would be quite strong in mercy.”

I replied, “Before, I entered ministry I was far higher in my gift of mercy.  I think that it has been the years of having to judge whether people coming to me really had needs, or were just trying to swindle the system.  It can leave you a lot less merciful when you are have to help or tell people you can’t help at times.”

I have added over twelve years in ministry since then.  I would like to say the gift of mercy has returned.  However, the responsibility of caring for accounts to help people in need and trying to determine who we can and cannot help still makes me a bit cold at times.  I personally would love to help every person who comes to my door or to my church requesting help.  Yet, we can’t help everyone.

I am really being challenged in just how involved a minister should be in managing or passing out funds or help for a church or ministry.  In Acts 6:1-7, the apostles told the church at the time to pick leaders from among them to care for the needs of the widows and orphans.  Their reason was that they could be devoted to prayer and teaching.  While we as ministers are not the apostles, we are responsible for the spiritual life and training of our churches.  Perhaps it would be best if we looked harder at what we should be passing off to others.

The following are some things I have learned from my own experience, from working with a well run food pantry, and working with other churches who have helping ministries.  You may have other things to share, but I give you some things to advise you in doing helping ministries, especially people seeking financial help.

  1. Try to involve laity, or put laity in charge:  The best run food pantry I have had the privilege of working with is completely run by laity.  Reports are given to local church involved, but it is church members who run the entire pantry.  It is also Biblical to let people gifted in their areas of mercy to do the needed work.  This will also help to lower stress to you as a leader.
  2. Have written policies:  Written policies help you to be able to explain to those seeking help what your ministry actually helps with, and clearly states what limits or requirements there may be to such help.  You may want to include:
    1. Clarify the geographical area, in which your Helping Ministry is working.  The churches and pantries that I have seen manage the best were clear as to who they were trying to help.  It might be your particular village, town, or school district.  Such limits guarantee who will be helped.
    2. Clarify the requirements needed for someone seeking assistance from your Helping Ministries.
      1. Often this may include proof of where they live.
      2. Proof of income, to qualify for need.
      3. Proof of where money is going.  As example, you are helping with utilities it is usually most responsible to have a copy of a bill and write checks to the specific utility.
    3. Clarify the limits of your Helping Ministries.
      1. Is there a cut off to how much your helping ministry can or is able help?  While we may want to help people without condition, we simply would run a ministry dry if all we did was give out money without any limit.  This is irresponsible to those who work or give to help our ministry as well.
      2. Is there a limit on how often a person can come to seek help.  A local food pantry may have on going help, but to help more people they may say that people can only receive a food box once a month.  A ministry helping with utilities may limit such help to once a year.  Such limits provide more people opportunity to get help, while helping to keep people from becoming tied to needing our help.
  3. Have a reporting system for your Helping Ministry.  There should be some regular report that is given to the greater community of how funds have been distributed.  This should not include names, but should include the amount of people or families helped.  It should include what has been received into the ministry and what has been given out.  People like to know that others are helped by what they give.
  4. Thank people who give and volunteer who help your Helping Ministry.  People are more willing to help when they know they are appreciated.

Again, you may find some more specific needs that your particular ministry has.  However, having such plans in place will help you in running stronger helping ministries.  Hopefully, it will help to lower the stress to you if you are in charge of such ministries too.  May you continue to be blessed as you pass on the blessings you have been put in charge of in your ministries.

Purposeful Living: Lessons From a Leaf

By Duane Cragun
Today it was unseasonably warm outside so I decided to clean the gutters. As I was working I saw some of the few leaves left in the yard that had fallen from the maple tree out front. They were being blown around in a whirl wind. As I watched them, one of the leaves escaped its little vortex and landed by my feet, I picked it up and looked it. It struck me somewhat odd that something that was once green and alive, is now brown and dead. This caused me to look at the tree with its bare branches and think about how short time is. This very leaf was a sign of warmer weather coming last spring when it started to bud, and now here it is, in just a few short months, dead and gone.

What about our lives, are they that short? Most of our lives are usually much longer than that of this leaf, but how do our lives look to God? Are they short or long? Are they productive or wasted? Are we like this leaf, here today and gone tomorrow? If so how can one measure their own life and worth?

The thought came to me that it’s not the amount of time we are given in this world, but what we do with it. Think about all that this little leaf did during its short life time. It helped bring shade on a hot summer’s day, it gave protection from the rain and sunlight for the birds that nested within the tree, and it even helped make oxygen for this world. For something so small it has made a lasting impact, can this be said for us? Can anyone see that we have made things better for others?

You see, God made this leaf for a purpose, it had a job to fulfill, and so do we. We are called to be witness for the Lord (Matthew 28:19-20). This means to bring them the Good News of the Gospel, to share what we, as believers, have found with others.  This hope brings life and protection from the Lord and stops the plans of the Evil One in his tracks. Just as we saw the good that a leaf can do, so others need to see the good that we, in the power and grace of our Lord Jesus the Christ, can do. This is how we as believers should have our lifetime measured, not by how long we may live, but by how much we followed the will of the Father, and became good servants for Him.

Just like the leaf, one day we to will come the end of this life. The leaf does this by giving us a beautiful show of color before it ends, let us do it by giving the beautiful light of Christ for all to see, so we can brighten their lives.  Then, just as in the spring the tree is rewarded with new life in its branches, so we to will be given a brand new life that will never end. I guess you can learn a lot from a leaf

By Duane Cragun

Songs of Tradition Bring Hope to the Soul

I was at church the other night and someone said, ‘I can’t wait until Thanksgiving, so I can wear my Christmas clothes.  We all know that the marketing guru’s have been moving the day of rolling out Christmas items well before Halloween, and even into September.  I am not here to knock those who just can’t wait to celebrate the season.  Even in ministry I can see the draw of the Christmas season.  Easter may be the most important holiday to the Christian Calendar; however, without Christmas and celebrating Christ’s coming we couldn’t know the reality of the Easter hope.

I drove my car the today, and the local Christian radio station was playing the non-stop Christmas music that it has been playing for nearly nine years, after Thanksgiving Day.  Many of the songs were not hymns, or even contemporary  songs of praise to God.  Instead I was bombarded by “Chestnuts roasting on an open fire,”  and “Baby it’s cold outside.”  Later, in the day as I drove our preteen goddaughter home, we heard a couple of current Pop artists singing some of the same old Christmas tunes.

I began to wonder why are people seem hunger  to hear the same old songs at Christmas?   I began thinking, as I sang to some of the Christmas tunes, of how these songs make me feel good.  They remind me of my childhood.  They remind me of good times, family, and friends.  Then it dawned on me.  We  may replace the holy songs, with more secular tunes, but most people seem to have an inner need to return to the familiarity of hope.  Music is one of the best ways to connect in our hearts and minds, to that place of hope inside.

This Christmas season, as we prepare our worship services and messages, don’t forget the familiar, the traditional, the standards.  It is a great thing to introduce the newest songs to the congregation.  Yet,  in a season when we are drawing people who are in need of hope, to know the greatest hope which is found in Jesus Christ, we are responsible to help people to find their way. People may only come into our sanctuary to be reminded of better times, or hungering for hopeful times.  We have the opportunity to help them find their way to the hope of the Savior.  In leading them into to worship that hope may just be in the traditional things that spark something they recognize in their heart, something that has been lost in the world of sin and chaos.

So, this year celebrate the joy of the Christmas season.  Return to some familial tunes, and may God help you to help others find the joy too.

 

Breaking the Doldrums of the Holiday Stories

Holiday’s are difficult for many people, and my personal experience as a minister is that they are difficult for me too.  Many people think that we as ministers should love the holidays.  After all, isn’t the meaning of a holiday really, holy day?  Shouldn’t we ministers love holidays?

The holidays have lost their luster over the years.  When I was a child, and even a young adult I was excited about the holiday’s.  I looked forward to the joy of sharing with others.  However, now I often look forward to them being over.  The rush of people, and the busyness of getting special services and extra meetings and plans seem to drain away the joy.  Then there is the demand of extra services and knowing that people often visit more in church during the holidays, so we have to get it all just perfect.  I often tire of trying to make sermons fresh from something that has been preached by every pastor and priest for over 2000 years.

This week I was reminded that some of the reason we do the things we do as ritual are there, because some still may not know.  An older retired pastor shared in a conversation about trying to  do new things in our schools.  He said his question was whether we needed fresh or new ways of teaching math for the students or the teachers.  After all, to the student it is new, because they haven’t done it before.  That left me thinking, for many people sitting in the pews of the church who haven’t grown up with the stories and traditions the stories we share are new.

If your struggling with having to face a crowd of people with what you think is the same old message, remember while methods change daily, the great message and hope we have in Jesus is just as relevant today as it was when Jesus walked among the people of Palestine.  May God help us to be refreshed in His blessings, so we can share the truth in the energy of newness every time we share.

Be blessed as you serve him on life’s journey.

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