One of the pieces of my work that I share with others is that of helping churches in their pastoral searches. There have been quite a few churches in the Heartland that have been looking for pastors recently, and I am happy to report that several of those vacant pastorates have now been filled.
When a church goes into search mode, a committee is struck, and there are plenty of meetings and decisions that need to be made until a church finds a suitable pastor. Although this can be a long process at times, with an average of an 18 months these days, I remain convinced of the need for churches and pastors to work hard at being a suitable match for the other. This means that sometimes a committee will say no to a candidate, or a congregation will. This also means that sometimes a pastor will say no to a committee or a congregation, if things proceed that far. In the end, however, it’s important to find suitable matches in this important phase of a church’s life.
The main point that I am trying to make is that I am grateful to those who are involved in such processes. I am grateful for each search committee, as they volunteer plenty of time to discern and wrestle with issues of suitability, theology, and so forth I am grateful for the work of Dennis Stone and the Mountain Standard Region as they lead the way in collecting information on pastors willing to serve and also converse with various search committees. I am grateful to pastors and their families, who also discern, and often move quite a distance to serve a new group of people. Make no mistake- even though our vacancies are dwindling at the moment, our denomination, and others too, are facing significant leadership challenges, one of which is the need for current and future pastoral leadership.
So I thank all those who are part of a search committee, those pastors who are willing to move to pastor some folks, those congregations which call a pastor and then welcome that person and their family and help them in their work. I am grateful, too, for interim pastors and preachers who fill the gaps that are left when a church has no pastor. I’m grateful for denominational resources in these matters. And of course, I’m grateful for the ability we all have to pray for such situations, and for the guidance of the Holy Spirit in these critical times for congregations.
Grace and Peace,
Meet Pastor Calvin Nickel of Nipawin First Baptist
I will have been pastoring at Nipawin First Baptist Church for six years as of this spring, and was moved to full time employment last summer.
Growing up, I had no intention of being a pastor. (When I encounter 17 year olds who are planning to be pastors, I find myself freaked right out! Not that it’s a bad thing at all, I just don’t get it ☺).
I was going to go to Bible College for a year as a tangible way to put God first in my life before pursuing other studies. One year turned into four, and in my fourth year, Nipawin FBC didn’t have a pastor, so they quite frequently found “pulpit supply” in the professors and older students at the college. I was invited to speak there several times. When they asked me to consider coming on as their pastor, I wasn’t surprised. The foresight didn’t help me. You know in those cheesy old western movies, when someone’s tied to a railroad track? Seeing the train coming doesn’t help them either!
I had no idea what to do. I was 21 and thought I had no business taking on such a job. I talked to a bunch a people. I prayed a lot. My fiancé, Keshia, had no interest in ever living in Nipawin. But when she came to me a week later and said she would not feel peace in her heart if I said no, it was all the sign I needed. This, coupled with the realization that God could say “no”—like what happened when Paul got redirected to Macedonia—and God most certainly was not saying “no”, and His people (both the church and those in my personal life) were all affirming that the answer was “yes.” So I graduated from college on April 21st and started preaching as the pastor of Nipawin First Baptist on April 28th, 2013.
That summer was the first summer truly living in my own house, having a job with no plans to go to school in the fall, and learning to be a husband. Keshia and I got married August 17 of that summer— I have the date tattooed on my left wrist so I won’t forget it. (However, if I do forget it I’m really in trouble now). Speaking of tattoos, Keshia had a moment of panic once everything was in place for me to come on board as the pastor here, saying “Calvin, I can’t be a pastor’s wife. I have tattoos and don’t play the piano!” By and large, this has not proven to be a problem, and the people here have welcomed us without too much expectation of what a pastoral couple is supposed to be like. For example, I used to have crazy long hair like a stereotypical, white Jesus. When I donated it, the ponytail they cut off was 12 inches long. Our oldest congregant, who is still with us- and will be 100 years old on Valentine’s Day this year- was the saddest to see it go!
The denomination has been wonderful to work with. I didn’t start out with my particular church because of any affiliations, I didn’t have any denominational preferences or affiliations beforehand, having attending Baptist, Pentecostal, and Mennonite churches throughout my life, and finding all to be beneficial. I’m really thankful that I ended up where I did. You people are great and this feels like home. I’ve often said that it’s nice to know you have people watching your back without looking over your shoulder.
I’ve worked for almost 9 years, part time at the Dairy Queen in Nipawin as well; less so now that I’m full time at the church, but I do still work the odd shift there and quite enjoy it. It’s where I make connections with many people outside of our church. This is a small town so, of course, when I work there, I end up seeing and talking to a significant portion of my own congregation as well. I suppose whether it’s at NFBC or DQ, my objective and livelihood is seeing to it that people are fed. Sorry, I couldn’t resist the opportunity for a lame dad joke! Speaking of that, I’m a dad. Keshia and I have two sons: Parker, 18 months and Nathaniel, 3 months, who bring to us great joy and exhaustion and are very well-loved by our church, as we have been.
Last August our church celebrated its 90th anniversary.
As a kid in church (not this church), I remember that if a baby started crying you’d quickly see people glaring at the offending infant until their parent removed them from the sanctuary. That feeling of annoyance is a luxury that a congregation blessed with numerous children can afford. Ours has not been such a congregation for the majority of my time here. We’re in the same boat as many other small-town churches, attended primarily by older people with numbers nothing like what they were decades ago. We’re not alone; this is, from what I understand, typical and indicative of the plight of the Church in Canada in general. In our congregation, I see how this has caused people to appreciate the unchurched, newcomers and young children more than I remember experiencing as a child. My congregation is very welcoming. The report we consistently hear from people who have visited is that ours is a warm church, and while I do often find it to be very warm in there, they’re not talking about temperature. A few years ago, some friends of ours visited from out of town with their new baby. Predictably, the child was not silent for the whole one-hour service. It was both amusing and encouraging for me to see people’s faces from the pulpit; every time the baby shrieked, a significant percentage of my church smiled. It was the first time in a long time that such young baby had been in there, and the sound was welcomed. The change in how we value and welcome children is welcome too.
For nearly five years of ministry we haven’t had children consistently. But that’s changed recently. A lady in our church took it upon herself to ensure that if kids came on Sunday, there would be something prepared just for them. I confess, at first this seemed odd to me as the only kids coming were her own grandchildren. I had to open my mind and humble my heart, initially having thought, “Why wouldn’t you just talk to them about this stuff at home later?” There is an expression, ‘If you build it, they will come.’ Since then, what started out as the most informal and spontaneous Sunday School, we’ve seen two other families, each with three children, start attending. The families were invited by people from our church, but their children provided the enthusiasm to keep coming back for Sunday School (they get excited about potluck lunches, too). Our average attendance has hovered between 25 and 40 since I’ve been here. With our two sons, plus another new baby in our congregation (whose parents just recently become members), and this “Sunday School Squad” as I think of them, we consistently have between 3 and 12 young children here now. It has been most encouraging to me and perhaps even more to my people. In a small church that’s quite a group! I had very little to do with this new life here- besides sounding like a broken record for years about the importance of simply inviting people to church, and keeping myself from resisting a new development which at first seemed almost disruptive- to just let things happen and trust.
In fact, I’ve come to see and believe that the most important thing I’ve done here is simply to stay. More than any specific work I’ve accomplished, I chose to stay when I felt like leaving. Over the last 30 years, there have been quite a few pastors here who have not stayed more than 4 years. I don’t say that judgementally towards those who served here for a time. For all I know that was what God had planned for their lives and this church. But it does seem that a fast turnover rate is harmful to churches, and growth becomes harder and slower. I’ve felt my fair share of discouragement, exhaustion, adversity, frustration, and good old-fashioned, small-town boredom doing this work, exacerbated by the fact that I grew up around here. This is my hometown; I’ve never really left. The biggest discouragement comes in feeling that what you do is not worth doing, that your work makes no difference, that nothing has changed, is changing or is going to change, that you are so very replaceable. I’ve been tempted to leave many times because of such feelings. I’m glad I stayed. If I had left, I never would have got to see how things have indeed changed, are changing, and appear to be set to change. I want to encourage those who, like me, are in ministry and who, like me, are prone to discouragement. I’ve come to realize that if God is not calling me to something else; discouragement with where he has currently placed me is not a good reason to leave. While, of course, God doesn’t need us or anything from anyone, you’re not replaceable. You invest in people’s lives and get to know them and help them see things differently, and share in their sufferings and celebrations and be there for the big moments of life. There are many others who indeed could have done all that, but they didn’t, you did. You have something together with your people beyond providing a service of some kind. You’re with them. If God is not calling you elsewhere, stay with them. Stay the course, see it through. I’ll conclude with Paul’s words to the Galatians (6:9): “And let us not grow weary of doing good, for in due season we will reap, if we do not give up.”
Settled in the Heartland Region:
Scott Elger, Senior Pastor at First Baptist Church, Moose Jaw, SK
Tim Challen, Pastor at Virden Baptist Church, Virden, MB
Garth Plamping, Senior Pastor at Asquith Baptist Church, Asquith, SK
Settled in the Mountain Standard Region:
Sebastian Dykstra, Associate – Christian Education at Altadore Baptist Church, Calgary, AB
Susan Hunter, Chaplain at Royal Alexandra Hospital, Edmonton, AB
Michael Penner, Youth Pastor at Zion Baptist Church, Edmonton, AB
Kent Dixon, Lead Pastor at Braemar Baptist Church, Edmonton, AB
Settled in the BC & Yukon Region:
Stephen Philips, Associate Pastor at FBC Nanaimo, BC
Greg Pearson, Lead Pastor at First Baptist Church, Victoria, BC
John Tsang, Minister of Congregational Care at First Baptist Church, Vancouver, BC