Updated: Sep 6
As I look back on 35 years of ministry, I want to be known as someone who proclaimed the gospel and eventually hear, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” Having said that I confess that I am not a great preacher. Oh, I get the typical “good sermon” remarks, still I feel my sermons compare to your mother’s home cooking and not to any form of fine dining.
Having said that I want to reflect on three words that I feel helped me carry out the ministry I was called to in the five settings across Nebraska (Literally 20 miles from the Wyoming border to 20 miles from the Missouri river.) My first call was as Assistant Pastor at Trinity Papillion. That was an urban setting, the remaining 4 calls have all been in rural areas. Currently serving Calvary in Scottsbluff, which in ways is akin to Trinity and in ways very much a rural setting.
The middle three calls were typical rural Nebraska, either in the middle of cornfields or in towns of 4000 or less. The three words that I associate any ‘success’ with are patience, persistence and relationships. When I recall the most joyful times in my ministry, I can look back and see one of these words at play.
First about relationships. I understand there are boundary issues to consider here, but especially in rural areas one must establish healthy relationships in the Church and in the community. This is redundant but needs to be said. I am not talking about being BFF’s but making connections that lead to opportunities. I’ll never forget Glenn, as shared in the Zoom meeting, he represents where I found joy in rural ministry and success.
He had bone cancer and would travel to Mayo clinic for treatment. Each time he returned I drove out to the acreage and paid a visit. Long story short we had to replace the Church’s outdoor nativity set. Glenn was a woodworker, but he had just returned to Cook NE minus his left leg. They had to take it nearly up to his hip which meant no prosthesis possible. (at least at that time). The new nativity set was an idea put together by an artist in the congregation and me. I wanted Glenn to create it but wasn’t sure he could do the work because it involved handling two full size sheets of plywood. I explained what I wanted and said I’d be out the next afternoon to help create it. That next afternoon I came out and he was just finishing a spacer to stabilize the cuts in the silhouettes on the front panel. He told me he would paint it the next day and I could have it that weekend. Through those many visits I had built a relationship with Glenn. Had I just picked up the phone and not put miles on my car, I am sure he would have turned me down. As it was, he took my challenge, and it gave him purpose again.
This of course, is one of my favorite memories and why I am confident in saying ministry has been joyful and successful. The other two words follow from this one. I am not a very patient person, to speak of patience is really to admit how many times I’ve been figuratively knocked on my behind. Still when the relationship was built, I could pick myself up dust my backside and wait. I still marvel at what could happen if I just showed patience.
Finally, persistence. This may seem antithetical to patience, but the two go hand in hand. Persistence is knowing it’s not going to happen tomorrow but finding little ways to not let an idea or activity get lost in the dustbin. Often persistence worked when building a relationship led to finding the right person to bring up the idea.
When I allowed these three concepts time to work together, I find there are places to celebrate and rejoice, not in huge numbers filling the pews but in lives given meaning and purpose. Individuals restored to community and activity lighting up darkened spaces.
Chris Kester Beyer