Up until very recently, I was in pastoral ministry. I pastored a micro-church in the Ottawa Valley. (For the unfamiliar micro churches are essentially the opposite of mega churches. Definitions vary, but generally, churches that have 50 or fewer in weekly attendance can be considered micro.) It was an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life. Some of it was great, some of it was…not. Now, however, at the end of my time there, I wanted to take some time and share some thoughts on the experience.
Before I continue, I want to say that I really value and even treasure the time I spent at Eganville Baptist. I left on good terms with the leadership, and I wish them nothing but that God would bless them and their ministry.
Part 1: People
I love the people of EBC. Especially the few that don’t particularly love me back. I went into ministry with my eyes open. I didn’t expect to be universally loved and admired, far from it. On my first day, I was a 27 year old guy in a church with many people who have children my age (or older!). So I expected a certain amount of resistance and push back at my leadership. Sadly though, that’s not what I got. Largely, I got silence. Anyone who did have a problem, issue, or concern rarely, if ever, came to me with it. This is different that what I was told. I was told to expect conflict. I was told to anticipate unrealistic demands on my time and much more criticism than encouragement.
This was not my experience.
This series isn’t meant to sound like a laundry list of complaints; it’s not. This is more about what I learned along the way. You see, everyone who taught me anything about ministry was ministering within an urban context. Churches in or nearby cities. With a total population about the size of my highschool, Eganville is decidedly NOT a city. Ministry in a rural context is a completely different animal than ministry in a city, or so I’ve learned. In the churches I came up in, if you wanted to talk to the pastor, you fired him an email, or gave him a call and the two of you would meet for coffee. That’s what I came up with and that’s essentially what I expected.
I was wrong.
In a rural ministry context, and in very small churches in particular, it seems that people expect more to be called on by the pastor rather than the other way around. This isn’t just my experience, other pastors in rural contexts confirmed to me that it’s a pretty common belief among smaller, rural congregations. It’s worth noting that this isn’t good or bad, it’s just the reality of difference between city and country cultures. By the time I learned this (very important lesson) much damage had been done. I felt ignored and unvalued, and many in the church felt the same way. Sadly, it was about two years into ministry before I even began to learn all of this, and by the time the senior leaders and I started to try and address it, that’s when the church stopped being able to support my salary and I had to be laid off. More on that in part four.
- Ask good questions before anyone makes a commitment. I asked a lot of questions during the interview process, a lot. I may have asked more questions that I answered, but the questions I asked were all textbook and no substance. I didn’t know that I should have focused less on the theology and doctrine of the church, and more on the personality, and history of the people that made up the church.
- Doctrine really doesn’t matter. Ok, that’s not true, doctrine is really very important, but sometimes people can agree to a doctrinal statement without having read it (Or a terms of service agreement) or understood it. I taught an eight week Sunday School series on the Baptist Distinctives (B.A.P.T.I.S.T.S) and I was genuinely shocked at how much the material was news to many of these life-long Baptists!
- Get out of your comfort zone. If people don’t call you, call them. If they don’t leave a message, call them. If they don’t return your message, call them. If they cancel meetings frequently, call them. Contact is the shepherd’s responsibility, not the sheep’s.
I learned a lot in three years, I hope you’ll join me over the next few weeks as I unpack a few more areas, next week: what I learned about preaching.