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Things We Are Learning About Pastoring

 

Things We Are Learning About Pastoring
 
In A Small Rural Community

By Pastor Selwyn Long (Waimate New Zealand0

 

What is stated below is not intended to be conclusive - we are still very much on the learning curve.  The points mentioned may well be common to many pastoral situations. This is simply some stuff we have observed, learnt, or are learning in relation to pastoring in Waimate,South Canterbury , New Zealand .  The views expressed are ours - they do not necessarily reflect the views of other Assembly of God pastors or churches, or Assemblies of God in NZ. Some of the following may however be helpful to others pastoring, or contemplating pasturing, or planting a church in a small town.

Waimate (the town) has a population of around 3,000 - with a further 4,000 people in the wider district.   We therefore serve a total population of some 7,000 people in quite a large geographical area.  It is largely rural, so anything we do has to take account of this.  For example, when planning anything for late winter and spring we have to take account of the impact of lambing and calving which can make some key farming folk “unavailable” for weeks on end.

Like many smaller communities, Waimate tends to attract people for the life style. This “life style” approach is clearly reflected in many folk’s view of - and involvement in - the church. Coming from the city we have had to learn that the key is to appreciate the unique local culture and values, and work with them rather than against them.  This takes time, patience and a long-term commitment.

Some rural folk can tend to be fairly independent. Some of our people live, farm or do business in fairly isolated areas so they need a high level of independence to survive.  They think on their feet, do what they think best, and live with the consequences. This is who they are, so we are slowly learning how to channel this “strength” for the good of the Kingdom.

Also, like many smaller communities, higher education and employment opportunities are very limited.  This results in us losing almost all our young people when they finish High School. These young people quite properly leave the district for their advancement.  Our role is to ensure that they are as well equipped for service when they leave as they can be. This means however that there is an absence of effective relational pier group mentoring/rolemodelling for youth after the age of about 14 or 15.  We simply have to put in extra effort and find other ways to navigate around this challenge.

We have been called to pastor the district - not just the Assembly Of God congregation. This involves us being heavily involved in the community.  In our case, this means serving on community committees and assisting to organise community wide events.  One minister in town is a volunteer fireman, another the local Health Board member, whilst others are involved in schools and sports clubs. 

As a fellowship we take our turn doing things like leading the weekly services at the local rest home and delivering meals on wheels. In a city it is “nice” to work together with other ministers and congregations - in a small community it is “essential,” because you simply do not have sufficient resources within your self or your congregation. The level of this co-operation of course varies. 

We come together with all ten churches for several events during the year because we all agree on one thing: the power of blessing.  So we focus simply on blessing - through various events, fully sponsoring Bible-in-Schools and resourcing the town's library with family-based materials.  This serves to lift the profile and reputation of the wider church in the community.  We are seen to be working with rather than against each other.

With a fewer number of churches, we work at a more significant level.  We pray together weekly as ministers, we share pulpits, we share programmes (e.g. youth and children's ministries), and we lend or borrow the skills of teachers, preachers, musicians, etc. But with one other church (Elim) we work very closely.  We plan and pray together; as ministers we are accountable to each other, we share leadership in some ministries and there is a considerable amount of friendship between the congregations.

From all this we make the following observations and comments - some of which may challenge current thinking within our denominations:

  • As ministers we have to be secure in our identity and calling.  Otherwise we would not be able to handle the often “very fuzzy lines” between where the ministry of one minister or congregation ends and that of another begins.  Often we find that key members of our congregation are fellowshipping or helping out elsewhere in another congregation (with good reason) but they have overlooked telling us in advance - we simply have to cope with this, as it is one of the "strengths" of the district!

  • It is sometimes difficult to keep our vision "big" when we live and minister in a "smaller” place.  Often our denominational mentors and friends are simply too far away.  It has therefore been essential to form such relationships and networks across denominations and with the folk who are working the same piece of ground that we are.

  • From time to time we find it easier to cope with the challenges of ministering here if we view ourselves as missionaries.  We take encouragement from accounts of missionaries who work diligently for many years without very much in the way of measurable results. Yet, in time, the fruit of their labours becomes evident with some sort of breakthrough or visitation by the Holy Spirit.

  • People here are not too concerned about denominations.  We have no Baptist; Brethren or similar evangelical churches here - so many of the folks who might otherwise join these denominations come to Assembly Of God.  They are not offendedby our Pentecostal doctrine, but neither do they necessarily subscribe to it all - but that is okay!  God knows this and has given us this uniquely special group of people as a loving and effective church fellowship. We have given up trying to "categorise" the church… it simply is what it is and that is it!

  • We no longer see the need to plant more Pentecostal churches in small communities where there is a good and effective Pentecostal church already in place. We believe that such action is likely to bring confusion to the Christian witness of the town and put unnecessary strain on available resources within the wider church. It is surely much more effective to offer our support to others of like mind, who are endeavouringto build the Kingdom of God.  We already have far too many Pentecostal churches (4) inWaimate.

  • We are blessed that we have debt free and very adequate facilities.  The church is therefore free to direct a major part of it's income toward a basic salary for the pastor.  This together with my wife (Sue) having employment outside the church, enables me to be one of the few full time pastors in the town.  (This is a privilege, as we appreciate that in the vast majority of smaller churches the pastor is forced by the circumstances of his or her calling to be a tentmaker.)  But like many pastors in small churches, some of the ministry expenses still have to be met out of our own pockets. We are not complaining about this because we are all called to exercise a level of faith and the Lord does provide. But pastors coming to smaller churches need to be prepared for this.

  • Having observed the growth and development that our fellowship enjoys because it has a full time pastor… And having observed the limitations of growth experienced by churches where the ministers are also tentmakers… We are convinced that small churches could grow considerably if their pastors were supported (even partly) from larger churches – without diverting funds from their overseas missions commitments. This is of course already being done in some cases.

  • Be prepared to break the rules of convention relating to church growth and ministry.  In our case, the Lord has recently challenged us to view our call to theWaimate district as being stronger and more important than our call to the pastoral ministry as we have known it to date.  This has been both challenging and releasing. But it means that our ministry here is no longer dependant upon the church being able to pay us.  It also means that we can show a level of commitment to the district that we could not have otherwise been able.  Of course the fact that we love the life style here sure helps!

Other Things We Are Learning

Here is a list of other things we have learnt or are learning - some of these are quite different to the way we did things in the past:

  • Being is much more important than doing.  Relationships are valued much, much higher than programmes.

  • Much more is taught and learned from interaction and discussion than in the classroom or in seminars. Therefore we often “adapt” rather than “adopt”.

  • Often more is done over lunch or during the week than on altar calls.

  • Folks are not impressed with appointments in the office - a cuppa or a meal at our home will often be much more appreciated.

  • A person's commitment to the life and ministry of the fellowship cannot be accurately measured by their attendance at meetings. 

  • It is sometimes nigh on impossible to get everyone we want in one place at one time, and our appointment diary must have very flexible time slots. This is due simply to the culture.  We have to live with this and continually make adjustments so that we can make the culture work to the advantage of the ministry.  This puts all manner of pressure on a boy who was once hot on time management - but the ministry would be frustrated if we could not make the adjustment!

  • It is quite okay - even normal for one pastoral visit to take all afternoon (and sometimes the evening too!).  We must be prepared to travel quite some distance sometimes for just one visit, and it's always handy to have a pair of boots and some rougher clothes in the back of the vehicle. 

  • We are learning to use what is in our hands - what is available to us. A lot of the people and resources available simply do not meet the text book criteria.  That is tough, but the choice is simple: risk it or give up trying!  After all God did not wait until we were qualified to do the task He set us! 

  • We have learnt to be ourselves: When we knew that we were going to leave New Plymouth, a wise (Apostolic) pastor encouraged us to make a "brutally honest" list of our strengths and weaknesses.  To be brutally honest about what we thought God had equipped us for - so we could marry the appointment we were considering and our understanding of what God had made us to be.

  • This was a challenging task, and we discovered that what we once considered to be strengths were now not nearly as important to us as they once were.  What we once considered to be weaknesses or even daydreams, were what God had been uniquely using to mould us into people who would fit rather well into a smaller rural community. The point we are making here is simply that if God has not prepared you to be relaxed and flexible enough to pastor in a small town, then don't go there. It is likely that you will only frustrate the cause of the kingdom, become disillusioned in ministry and burn out.  In a small town, and at this stage of our lives, we have found being real, to be extremely important…Because small town and rural folk are very discerning.

Added benefits of living and ministering in Waimate include indulging in two of our favouritepast times: Offering hospitality, and exploring the countryside.  These, combined with the prophetic word over Waimate (being a place of refreshing), has encouraged us to offer our home and 4WD vehicle to be used by ministry and missionary folk who need a little relaxation in the country.  People benefit from the quietness of the town and the opportunity to view and experience the hills and high country scenery.  We, of course, consider it vitally important to take time out of our "busy" schedule to bless these guests!  We are happy for ministry folk to be made aware of this invitation. 

"The Gospel Faith Messenger" Ministry.  PO Box 57, Paraparaumu 5254, New Zealand.  Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.