October 8-10th, 2018, I attended the RHMA Small-Town Pastors’ Conference. RHMA stands for Rural Home Missionary Association. This conference was held in Lancaster Pennsylvania.
It was a great conference. Why? Well, I want to share some of the reasons I enjoyed it – who was there, what I learned – and then encourage you to consider attending the next one. There is on scheduled for April 8-10, 2019 in Morton Illinois. Morton is about 10 miles southeast of Peoria.
The primary speakers for the event were Ed Stetzer, Dr. Eugene Habecker, Jared Wilson, and Jason McConnell. All the speakers spoke to the heart and to the situation of the small-church small-town pastor.
Often when a small church pastor attends a typical pastors’ conference, they feel out of place because so much of the information is geared towards large churches and their staff. This is not the case at the RHMA conference.
But for me, the real highlight of the conference was meeting other small-church pastors. These are hard working men. They love Jesus and they want their congregations to love Jesus as well. Many I met are bi-vocational, and some are second career pastors, much like myself. I really liked getting to know these men and I have since kept up with a couple of them.
The stats say that the over half the churches in the US have less than 75 people. Around 90 percent are less than 250. That means the number of small-church pastors is huge. Sadly, many of us function alone.
When I work out of my church and look out the window, all I see are a few cows of a small dairy farm. I have to drive a distance to meet other pastors.
But when I attend the RHMA conference, I am surrounded by many men in the same situation. We talk, we share ministry and it is encouraging and it is my favorite part of the conference.
Let me share a few things I learned from a select few of the speakers. I attended Dr. Habecker’s seminar on Courageous Conversations and forgiveness in Pastoral Leadership. The bulk of his seminar covered the Forgiveness Cycle. You can learn more about this in his book The Softer Side of Leadership: Essential Soft Skills That Transform Leaders and the People They Lead.
I have a friend who is an executive coach. He works with CEOs and CFOs of major corporations. What is the primary thing he helps these C level leaders with? Soft skills.
I coach small-church pastors and some missionaries. What is a topic that eventually comes to the surface? Soft Skills.
What are soft skills? A simple definition is “personal attributes that enable someone to interact effectively and harmoniously with other people.”
All of us, no matter how gracious we may be, need to improve in our soft skills. Consider picking up Dr. Habecker’s book, The Softer Side of Leadership to learn how these impact your world of ministry. Or you want some personal coaching on soft skills, email me and we can address these skills through Christian Leadership Coaching. Mark@coachingchristianleaders.com
Ron Klassen had a seminar titled Maximizing The Strengths of the Town and Country Church.
Ron recommended some great resources – David Ray’s book, The Big Small Church and the work of Christian Schwarz. I have links to these in the show notes.
Part of Ron’s seminar included four points on maximizing the relational strength of your church. Here they are:
- Focus on personal relationships more than the quantity of relationships. I love this and if you think about it, a pastor’s ability to focus on personal relationships is a strength of a small church.
- Be intentional about making intergenerational relationships a centerpiece of your church’s ministry. My only question here is the demographics I face and maybe you face. Much of my church is older. Sometimes we have young people for a season. So my question is, “What is the necessary step prior to this one that either holds the younger people in the church or draws them to it?” I think this is a great topic of a future conference or a podcast episode.
- Emphasize the advantages of relating with people from all walks of life and encourage your congregation to be purposeful about doing it. This point reminds me of the time, early in my ministry at the rural church where I serve. A farmer, by the name of Gordon, asked me to help him get the hay in. At the time Gordon was using the small bails. Now I am a chubby pastor who sits behind a computer all day. This work almost killed me. I think my flush face and hard breathing scared Gordon because he has never asked me back. Thankfully he also changed to the big bales and can now get it in with a forklift. In my church, I have farmers, bricklayers, electricians, AND I also have computer programmers and government contractors. I need to find a way to relate to all of them. Without being killed by the experience.
- Finally, design the worship service to reflect the relational bent of the congregation. Ron gave the examples such as adding a sharing and praying time and adding a personal touch to the greeting and announcements. These are simple changes any of us can do.
Instead of sharing the details of his talk, I want to share just a few points he made.
Early in his session, he asked an important question:
Is joy a dominant theme in your ministry?
So is it? Is joy the dominant theme in your ministry?
Later, as he spoke on Ezekiel 37, Jared said, “The purpose of Christianity is not to make good people better but to make dead people alive.”
I’ll add my two cents here. There is a lot of making good people better and only a little of making dead people alive in the church today. How do we make dead people alive? The answer is Jesus and His gospel.
Jared presented several points on doing ministry in hard soil. Here is one that stood out to me. Hard soil requires hardy prayers. I like that. And it makes me wonder if I am praying enough.
I have not mentioned all of the speakers. If you would like to hear the entire conference, recordings were available for purchase. I am not sure how long they will offer them, but I would encourage you to go to RHMA.org and ask if you can purchase the full set.
Thanks to RHMA for a great conference. I look forward to the next one in Lancaster.
Don’t forget the one in Illinois in 2019. Go to RHMA.org for more information
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As I mentioned, I am a small-church pastor, but I also have a Christian Coaching Practice that focuses on small-church pastors. If you are a small-church pastor email me at Mark@CoachingChristianLeaders.com. I would love to walk alongside you as your coach. So, feel free to email me about any question you may have about the coaching I provide.
Thanks again, and I will speak with you soon.
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