While I may not really know what I'm doing with this church planting/launching thing, one of the areas that I feel I'm making good progress on is being involved in the community here. Community involvement can sometimes be an achilles heel of church leaders; we can spend all of our time doing church things with church people that our calendars have no room for community events or people. Suddenly, a year can go by and we realize that we don't really have ANY unchurched friends.
I don't want that to happen to me, so when I moved to Neepawa, I was very intentional with finding out where I could be involved in the community here. Now, I did have to battle the voices in my head about what a pastor "should" be doing. Who they "should" be visiting and the unspoken expectations that people have on a pastor.
A now retired pastor who attends our church told me that the best thing he did when we pastored a rural church was to go to the local greasy spoon coffee shop at 6am to hang out and chat with the farmers.
I love this idea but I can't do it. I know nothing about farming. Nor do I have much interest in it and I can only feign it for so long before I get caught. I also don't feel like my time should be spent with farmers at 6am in McDonalds.
I have to find my own "farmers."
Before our move to Neepawa, I spent time trying to figure out what kind of things were happening at in the town. I watched the local cable access TV channel, read the local news papers on the web and tried to find something that could be my "farmers."
It came in the form of a Filipino Basketball League. Neepawa has a boom of immigration from the Philippines and I learned that basketball is to Filipinos what hockey is to Canadians. So in this town of 3600 people, they had a 20 team basketball league!
I'm not great at basketball, but I did play it in high school (although that was more than half my life ago!) and I have officiated it for the past 4 years. So I began to scrape the rust off of my basketball skills in preparation of maybe having the chance to play in the Filipino league.
We put a team together from Portage la Prairie, made up of 5 people from our church, and entered it into the league. This weekend we conclude the season with the final championship game between our Portage team and a really good Filipino team.
It also happened that the local Junior "A" MJHL team, the Neepawa Natives were in need of a chaplain to start their chapel program. Through the hard work and connections with Hockey Ministries International, I was accepted to be the team Chaplain for the end of 2014-15 season. I look forward to the opportunity to be the chaplain for 2015-16 season and having a full year with these 16-20 year old guys!
My "farmers" look different than what can sometimes come to mind when we think of the people in small towns. I feel led to focus heavily on the basketball and hockey communities. Through these two groups, I can be sure to have a good idea of what is happening in my town and make genuine friends in the community.
This year, I unfortunately can't make it to the Orange Conference. I really do love the whole experience and the learning and... everything! However, I know that many of you are making your way to #OC15 this year, and I figured I'd repost this to help you make the most out of your trip!
Like I mentioned in a previous post, I really love conferences - and my favourite one is coming up in only a few short days: The Orange Conference! Here are 6 ways you can make the most out of your time in Atlanta! I wish I could join you down there!
I really like strategic thinking. I like systems. I like planning. But when it comes to starting our Neepawa church, I still don't know what I'm doing.
I mean, I have a general plan of attack. I have strategically thought out a lot of our plan for launching this church, but ultimately, all of my plans were made in a vacuum with no real world experience of doing something like this.
Most - if not all of our plans - were made before we even moved to Neepawa. We didn't know the people, the culture, the other churches, the history or stories of the town or its residents. Now that we've moved here, I'm realizing that the plans that we had drawn up needed to be more like guidelines instead of a firm plan.
I also underestimated the emotional energy output required in this move. I look back on some of my notes of the plans I "should" be doing by now, and I just don't even have any of the brain space to pull them off. The plans needed to rest for a while... just like me. I have a finite amount of time and energy and I need to focus them on relationships.
One of the downsides of any strategic planning is that it totally leaves out the relational dynamic of a new pastor coming into a small town. My default is to plan and execute, with little time for the relational components involved in the plans. I can be laser-focused at times (which can be good), but I am learning that my laser-focus on tasks needs to transition to be more of a flood-light focus to include an emphasis on relationships.
Some people reading this won't understand this realization I've come across. For them, a full day of coffee dates with new people, lunches out and spending time with others is just common sense. I do like doing those things, too, but on a much smaller scale. I'm learning to increase my capacity in this way.
Instead of a list of firm things that we will do by a certain date, I am shifting my focus to be more about a list of flexible goals and guiding principles as we move towards our launch date this fall.
For instance, a couple of these guiding principles are:
The last thing we want to do is act and believe that we are the saviours of the town. It sounds silly to say it, but I need to say it constantly to myself: "there have been faithful Christians in this town seeking to follow Jesus and see others transformed by the Gospel longer than I've been alive. I must honour them and not dismiss them with my attitude/actions."
We still have some plans for the summer and a rough timeline of what we're going to do, but it is much more flexible than it was before. If you're planning on launching a new church, in a new community, strategize and plan but hold those plans loosely.
While it has been a while since posting about our multisite journey, that is not to say that there hasn't been much happening during that time! This past year had led me into new territory with my faith, my prayer life and my character development as I waited - often very impatiently - for God to answer my prayers.
Basically, I was frustrated that God wasn't operating on my timeline to move us to Neepawa, MB to begin the church there. There will be future posts that cover this period of time but the short of it is that we are now living in Neepawa!
Since October of last year, I had been commuting 2-3 times a week to Neepawa (2 hr return trip from our home in Portage la Prairie), doing my best to be part of the community there. We had managed to start a housechurch that met weekly on Monday nights. I also was able to become the chaplain for the Junior "A" hockey team in town, the Neepawa Natives, and had a lot of interaction with other professionals in the town: realtors, business owners, and the like and join the thriving Filipino community by being a part of the Neepawa Filipino Basketball League (they've been gracious to us to have a Canadian team join them!)
But all that time commuting could never replace the benefit of actually LIVING in the town.
We've become 'one of them.' We're more than talk (for a long time it was always a conversation about how we will one day move to town). And now I get to be around the people that God is calling me to.
While the past 3 weeks have been a blur as we've arrived: unpacking, done some renovations and juggled the new reality of living in a new community.
This new phase still leaves us with a LOT of questions, but I couldn't be more excited about what God has brought us to!
I am a pastor in rural Manitoba that is passionate about the church, leadership, coffee and bicycles.