What builds your faith? Personally, I find that stories of abundance and generosity build my faith rather quickly, and encourage me to act accordingly. A few examples will help build my case, I’m hoping.
My wife Mary and I were custodians at an apartment complex in Winnipeg shortly after we were married. We were both students, and we put up with a lot, all so that our monthly rental arrangements could be
taken care of. We were driving a 1986 VW Golf; 2-door, 5-speed, blue. It was a great car—that is, until the transmission failed. Back then, in the early 90s, the repair bill was going to be significant. Mary and I were perplexed. Where would the money come from?
At the time, I was the part-time youth worker at Broadway-First Baptist Church. One evening, a couple from the church showed up at our apartment unannounced, and handed us an envelope. In the envelope was a significant amount of cash to help us with the bill. I’m telling a now-old story of generosity because it really helped Mary and I in a time when we didn’t know what was going to happen financially.
In my role as Regional Minister, I have come across two stories of abundance lately that have also encouraged me. I was in Hyas last summer, and heard a pastor speak of his training at Acadia. In the front row that summer’s day, was an older pastor, and the speaker relayed the story of how he and his wife had two weeks to go till pay day, and they were completely out of money. He went to the mailbox, and in the mail was a cheque from the pastor who sat in the front row in Hyas. It was just enough money to cover their costs for the two weeks that they were missing. This now-old story of generosity still caused the speaker to break up in its telling.
I was also in Flin Flon, celebrating the 80th anniversary of that church. There I heard one of the long-time congregants talk a bit about ministry over the last while in that town. The speaker was of a humble sort, and wouldn’t have said much about his own generosity, but the person sitting beside me knew how generous this fellow had been. My seatmate stood and informed those in attendance of how the speaker had gone to significant financial lengths and sacrifice to help a fellow who was in serious trouble with the law. That act of generosity helped forge the faith of the young man who desperately needed a gut check on the trajectory of his life. This now-old story of generosity, too, caused the speaker to break up as he tried to wrap up his report.
When’s the last time someone was kind and generous towards you in this way? Perhaps you, like me, don’t necessarily need the cash so much anymore. But perhaps, these now-old stories might help you find someone to bless in this way. Only the Lord knows how much you may encourage someone who could really use such a gift, an extension of our Lord’s generosity and abundance towards us.
The generous will prosper;
those who refresh others will themselves be refreshed.
Finally, a book for the rural church
Reading Resources by Mark Doerksen
I confess to being suspicious of church growth literature. I always have been. In fact, I’ve attended some Willowcreek Leadership Conferences via simulcast, and have found myself more agitated than inspired at some of these presentations, mainly because a presenter makes promises of how you can grow your church by X number of people over the next year, guaranteed. It’s poor of me, I know, but I have a hard time listening to the good stuff when this sort of message is blatantly in the mix. The assumptions behind these growth presentations are often of no help to my experiences and context.
My context includes churches in smaller towns, in rural places. It includes urban churches that are limited to one campus and are not experiencing exponential growth. Honestly, I sometimes find the church growth material to be discouraging for many church settings.
I am, however, more inclined to read books where the author understands places like the one I’m describing. A title like The Imperfect Pastor appeals to me. Zack Eswine, the author of that book, makes a great point in stating that obscurity and greatness are not opposites. I resonate with those sorts of observations.
You can imagine my sense of anticipation, then, when I came across a book by Brad Roth entitled, God’s Country: Faith, Hope, and the Future of the Rural Church. Brad works hard to reclaim a Kingdom Vision for the rural church, whereby we practice disciplines that help us approach rural ministry with curiosity rather than disdain for the established practices, structures, and traditions of the rural church. Each chapter is a description of one of the disciplines he finds helpful for rural ministry. He challenges readers to meet congregations where they are at while still dreaming of where God is calling them (p.18).
He also suggests that the main difference between urban and rural communities is that rural communities are marked by knowing and being known (p.27). You wave to your neighbour because, after all, you actually know them. And importantly, Roth makes the point that churches need each other. Any vision that disparages country or city or anywhere in between is an inadequate vision (p.35). In my experience, as I visit urban churches, I often encounter folks who have ties to smaller, rural churches, places where leadership skills have been forged.
Roth continues to make important points as the book progresses. In Chapter 2, for instance, he writes of the dangers of acedia, spiritual despair, which results in a lack of care for life, others, God, and sometimes even ourselves. It has the potential to make us believe that God is not present or at work in places or life situations where we find ourselves (p. 41). Instead, Roth suggests that we learn to abide in such places, and invokes Eugene Peterson’s observation that “pastoral work is geographical as much as theological.” When we understand this, we begin to understand that often rural places are haunted by a profound sense of loss. People, including children, turn away from rural spots and go find something in the big city, and often the city is seen as a sign of success for those who leave their small town origins.
About half way through the book Roth suggests that prayer is a fundamental piece of thriving churches, no matter their location. He nicely describes rural congregations as places of secret fire, places where the sustaining power of prayer is always at work and attended to. In rural congregations, people need to do less and be more. Roth also comes at the topic of growth subversively. Citing Peterson again, he suggests that the significance of the church has never been in “King Number” which is an emphasis on numerical stats. Instead, we ought to be concerned about the ways that congregations love God and neighbour and inhabit their communities.
Roth is not afraid to speak of churches closing. This is a reality that many rural communities face, and it is certainly necessary from time to time. At times of closing, however, God can still be glorified by how people are treated and what is done with the assets of a congregation. Sometimes these can be used for church planting in other contexts, as an example. The important thing is to name reality, and to love into the situation, no matter what the future holds.
Of course, it helps in rural congregations to have somewhat of an agrarian vision. It’s important to think about one’s relationship with the land, mainly because they’re not making any more of it. Roth suggests we learn to befriend the place to which we’re called in such a way that attends to the land and to the people.
I think this book is helpful for folks in rural places. As Roth relies on the Scriptures and friends like Eugene Peterson, Walter Brueggemann, Wendell Berry, Kathleen Norris, and Norman Wirzba, he describes disciplines that I think are valuable for pastors in rural places, but also for pastors in most every context. I appreciate how he interconnects rural churches with urban churches, and how he genuinely longs to see the good and the potential in each place, all while understanding that sometimes churches need to reach the end of their ministry. He is realistic, thoughtful, and theologically reflective as he encourages churches in their rural settings, without romanticizing their existence. It’s well worth the read.
A message from Tabernacle Baptist Church, Winnipeg
Allow me to update you on Tabernacle Baptist Church, which has served God in the north end of Winnipeg for well over 100 years. My name is Dave Heinrichs and I am Pastor of this amazing little congregation.
I arrived on the scene in the Fall of 2010 to a group dedicated to seeing God’s work being accomplished in an area of the city that desperately needed to hear of God’s grace and forgiveness. We soon adopted a theme for our church, A Church of Second Chances, a slogan that speaks to God’s amazing love and forgiveness (grace), freely given to those who believe in Christ.
In a bit of a “rougher” area of the city, we began to connect to a population that would normally never enter the doors of a church building. Without compromising the truths of Scripture, we adapted our efforts to activities the neighbourhood might attend, hoping they might hear and see and taste that the Lord is good.
During summer months we hold weekly BBQs on our parking lot, passing out free hot dogs, hamburgers and soft drinks to passing-by neighbours. We also run a children’s day camp in July. In spring we host a community yard sale and more recently during the Christmas season we present an evening of Christmas carols getting many people coming out. All these events aim to create relationships with our neighbours and, as a result, open opportunities to share the gospel.
The strength of Tabernacle Baptist is the people who make it up. We may be few in numbers but strong in love. We are diverse in backgrounds, but unified in the Lord.
-Pastor Dave Heinrichs