First time guest to church: 5 things we appreciated

In 2016, we had the experience of being first time guests at a lot of churches. If I had to guess, I’d say that we visited 20 churches. Big churches. Small churches. Middle class churches and churches where most congregation members are living in poverty. Congregations that meet in old buildings, new buildings, etc. Quite a sample platter.

A friend asked if I’d write about what some of these churches did well in regards to welcoming us as new guests. In no particular order, here are 5 things that stand out from our experience.

First up, we noticed and liked when congregation members went out of their way to greet us. Whether this was done before, during, or after the service, we remembered their efforts. The message this sent was: this is a church who doesn’t expect the pastor to do all the work of the ministry (we were only greeted by the pastor in several churches). Also, this said to us: “there’s room for more!”.

MMM. So one church gave us a bag of homemade cookies! That was a first and hasn’t been repeated since. Who wouldn’t enjoy cookies for their drive home from church? Taste buds aside, what was important was the message that it sent to us. The cookies said: this church thinks about, plans for, seeks out, and ministers to first time guests.

On another first visit, we were given a tour of the church building prior to the service. Everything from where the bathrooms are to the nursery in the basement were covered. Before the service even started, we felt comfortable and at home there.

As first time guests, one church demonstrated to us the difference between nursery volunteers who supervise vs. nursery volunteers who minister to children. (We’ve been to many a church where the nursery volunteers seem to be more interested in talking to each other than interacting with the children). At this particular church, the nursery workers got on the floor to play with our daughter to help her feel comfortable. It was evident that she was their top priority. And in addition to having a fun and safe nursery experience, she also learned about God.

For a few of the churches (read: 3 churches), we received contact from the pastor within a week or two of having visited for the first time. This took the form of one typed “standard welcome letter” and two that e-mailed us. (It was surprising to me that no church sent a personal, hand-written note. Despite his poor hand writing, this was something Derek did regularly in his ministry – which he received a lot of positive feedback for. Over the years, he was told on several occasions that the hand written note caused the guest to check out our church a second time). Whether it was a typed letter or an e-mail, we greatly appreciated hearing from the church that we had just visited. It helped us to feel noticed, appreciated, welcome. It also sent the message that the pastor/leaders don’t only focus on those who are already there but they also take the time to reach out to those not connected in, yet.

Have you recently been a first time guest in a church? Can you think of something that the church did well that helped you to feel welcome? Would love to hear about it!

 

 

When a pastor resigns remember the pastor’s wife

I just did the math. It’s been 85 days since we’ve become a pastoral family “in transition”. 85 days since our last day at our church. That’s almost 3 months. Here are few reflections from my perspective as a pastor’s wife re: resignation, leaving and being in transition:

  1. After my husband resigned from our church, he received phone calls and e-mails and coffee dates from colleagues who were all interested in seeing how he’s doing. He even had a coffee date with a pastor in our area who is from a different denomination. As a result, he felt very supported. During that same time-period, I was attempting to process everything. But no one called to see how I was doing. This was a wake-up call for me. Of course, it’s natural for my husband to be more connected to his colleagues than I am to other spouses of a pastor. Part of his job has included denominational networking and he’s been part of an interdenominational pastoral group in our town. While I was previously aware that there’s not the same networking for spouses of pastors, this reality really hit home when we entered into transition and I was processing our new reality alone.
  2. In the weeks leading up to our last Sunday, we as a couple were committed to, “leaving well by loving well”. For me, I found it rather therapeutic to write encouraging cards to congregation members and to give a speech on our last Sunday at the church.
  3. Some days or moments, I’m able to soak up this “in transition” status. There is significantly less stress and more family time. We actually go to church together as a family! That’s been so nice.
  4. At other days or moments, I’m feeling impatient. Searching for a church can be a long process. I feel lost without a church family. I want to know people at a church and be known. I desire to serve. I describe us as being “an island” at this time. Not fun.
  5. A retired pastor said to me, “leaving a church is a loss no matter the reason”. He’s right. Some days or moments, I miss our old church family so badly that my heart aches. We’ve created appropriate space between us + them during these early transition days. But I think about them. I pray for them. I don’t love them any less now that we are gone.

If you recall anything from these ramblings, I hope it would be this: Remember the pastor’s spouse during a season of pastoral transition. Remember that their life has changed in a big way, too. They could be experiencing relief or grief or anything in between. They are likely feeling very alone.  Do ask how they are doing and offer support in the best way that you know how.

 (We’ve been asked by some people what “in transition” means.  In the Canadian Free Methodist Church, pastors are first approved for ministerial service by the denomination.  Then, they are eligible to be interviewed and hired by a local church Board.  That employee-employer relationship is then formalized by the Bishop officially placing the pastor under appointment at the particular location.  For those familiar with the terms ‘episcopal’ and ‘congregational’ when describing church governance, the Canadian Free Methodist Church is a bit of both. In a nutshell, then, “transition” is the season between when a pastor resigns from one appointment and begins another appointment.)

A new season: Pastor in Transition

6 years ago, we packed up all of our belongings and moved from the US to Canada. We moved to a small town that we never visited before the job interview at the church. To say that it was a step of faith is an understatement. More like a leap of faith. We left behind all that was familiar for the unfamiliar. We trusted that I’d eventually find a job. We said good-bye to good friends and family. We went knowing that staying wasn’t our next step. No, our next step was to go.

Now, after 6 years have passed by, we sense that our season at this church has come to an end. Truthfully, this conclusion took us both by surprise (and involved a lot of wrestling). We like longevity and thought we’d be here longer. But then I thought that I’d live in the States forever and here we are in Canada.

Sometimes we think that we’ll always do this or that…until we don’t. We can think that we’ll always live in a certain place, always work a certain job, always have certain friends, always think a certain way…til we no longer do. Thankfully, change doesn’t have to be a bad thing. Often, the unexpected changes in life can produce in us new fruit.

Our recent church will always hold a special place in our hearts. We’ve loved, we’ve learned, we are better people now than we were 6 years ago. We wouldn’t trade it for the world.
Now a new season is upon us. It’s scary and exciting. It feels a bit like 6 yrs ago. Except this time, we have evidence to recall of God’s faithfulness. He was with us then. He’s still with us now.

Here’s to being in transition. Come what may.

Looking for a church

Searching for a new church can be a challenging endeavor. As a pastoral family in transition, we are now experiencing this first hand. The fact that we’d like to find a church within a specific denomination (Free Methodist) helps to narrow down the list of churches in our area considerably. But we still have several churches to visit and chose from.

So far, we’ve been guests at 5 Free Methodist churches in our area on a Sunday morning. It is a great learning experience to be “new in the pew”. The following gives you a little insight into what the search process has been like so far for a “young family” looking for a church. Please keep in mind that our experience will be different from others (i.e. we are very familiar with church language, culture, etc).

Prior to Sunday morning, we are checking out the church website for the service time and also looking to see if it gives us any idea on what to expect for our first visit. Like many visiting a church for the first time, we wonder about attire. And as tired parents to a wee one, we wonder if we can bring our coffee to church.

Since we’ve never been to any of these churches before (on a Sunday morning), we are pure newbies when we arrive. We have experienced firsthand the importance of good signage (i.e. where’s the main entrance? where are the bathrooms?). We appreciate being told about the nursery (we have a 1 year old) and also being made to feel comfortable if we decide to keep our daughter in the service. This helps as I don’t plan to put our daughter in the nursery on our very first visit to a church. With this in mind, we appreciate when there’s space at the back of a sanctuary where we can sit or walk around with our one year old.

You may be wondering: what exactly are you looking for in a church? I think I’ll take a stab at this question at another time in a different post. We certainly don’t expect perfection.

firsttimeguestparking

Photo credit: looking-for-a-church

I’ll leave you with this: a church must be prepared for first time guests to arrive on ANY Sunday during the year. Even in the summer months. You never know when a person, couple or family will decide to give your church a try. Always be ready. And lastly, welcoming new folks isn’t just for the pastor to do, rather, it’s more-so for the congregation members. Besides the pastor being kinda busy that morning (a guest may slip in when the service has started and leave before the pastor can get to them),  it seems to mean more to first time guests when a congregation is outgoing vs. just the pastor is friendly.

That’s all folks. For now. We are midway through our journey to find where God would have us serve & be served. While in this process, we seek to learn, grow, and encourage each and every church that we visit.

– R.

 

Hurt in a church? A must read:

The following is such a good article. Highly recommend reading all of it.  It’s full of wisdom that’s helpful to understand whether you’ve been hurt in a church, know someone who has, or not. This is for every churchgoer.

How to Keep From Getting Hurt in a church by Dale A. Robbins:
Avoiding Hurts and Offenses in the Church

There’s 13 different and oh-so-good points. Here’s a sample of one of them (#12):

One of the great characteristics of the body of Christ is to care about the burdens and sufferings of one another. However, as we seek to console and encourage friends that have been offended, we may be tempted to take up their offense against another. In sympathy, we may tend to take their part against the pastor, the church or whoever they blame for the offense. This is very unwise and an unscriptural thing to do, considering that your friend may be the cause of his own offense. His hurt feelings may be due to a misunderstanding, a difference of opinion, his own rebellious attitude, emotional instability — or he may be childish and immature. There are always two sides to a story, and only an idiot develops an opinion based on one side or without all the facts.

Sometimes offended persons will seek sympathy from naive, listening ears. They go about pleading their case, pouring out their bleeding-heart of injustice to those sincere, tenderhearted persons who will listen. Their goal is to seek out persons who will coddle them, support their opinion and take up their offense against the offending party. You should love and encourage a friend with hurt feelings, but reserve your opinion and avoid taking sides, lest you find yourself a partaker in other men’s sins, or you also become offended and hurt with the church.

What’s next?

With Derek’s last day as lead/solo pastor behind us, we’ve been asked “what’s next?” Starting this week, Derek will be a stay-at-home dad to our toddler daughter. He’s looking forward to it! We don’t know how long this will last so we are going to soak it up while we can.

This summer and into the fall, we’ll be looking for a new church to worship at. We plan to visit all of the Free Methodist churches in the area and will be praying about which one to plug into. Derek will continue to serve the Free Methodist Church in Canada at a denominational level as a member on S.C.O.D. (a theological and doctrinal study and writing group).

You may still be wondering: but what’s next for him regarding pastoral ministry? At this time, we don’t know. This response is unsettling for some (’cause a pastor always leaves for another church, right??), but it’s not unsettling for us. We have peace about this next season of life and ministry.

As Christians, we believe what matters most is that you love God & love your neighbour. Good news – this can be done in a 20 person church or a 2,000 person church. A person can be a lead pastor, an associate pastor, OR a lay person and be greatly used by God. We desire to love, serve and grow wherever, whenever. All the while, we want to remain open to however God may lead.

What’s next? Hopefully lots of this:

Posted @ QUOTEZ.CO

Emotions leading up to last Sunday at church

With this Sunday being our last at our church (of 6 years), people have been asking me how I’m doing. The best way that I can describe it is…it reminds me of what it felt like to graduate from my beloved college. The years were special. Amazing friendships. Spiritual and personal growth. There were hard times but lots of good times. Life felt full due to living in community. But it had to come to an end eventually. You’re thankful for what was…sad that it’s over…and a little anxious with all the unknown that is ahead.

While that’s the best analogy that I can offer for how I’m feeling now as a season of life & ministry comes to an end, it also falls short. You see, after graduating from Roberts, I could go back to visit at anytime. It didn’t affect my friendships. Leaving a church (for whatever reason – even for those who retire) is different. I can’t go back. It would be considered bad practice if I walked in the church doors on a Sunday in the next year (or more). The finality of it all chokes me up in ways that my college graduation didn’t.

So to be honest, with our last Sunday quickly approaching…I’m either keeping myself busy by helping my husband tie up loose ends or feeling the weight of it all (sad). Leaving a church is a form of loss for every pastor and their family, even when it was their decision to do so.

Maybe it’s a good thing that I feel sadness as we lead up to our last Sunday. Maybe my emotions confirm what I say with my mouth: I’m grateful for the past 6 yrs at our church and will never forget it.  And maybe my emotions are showing me just how deeply I have loved this community of people (lump in throat). Okay, so on that note, I’m going to have a little cry…

Wish us luck for Sunday!