It has been one year exactly since my family crossed the Alaska state line into Canada. Our journey eventually landed us in Adrian Missouri. Adrian is only 30 minutes from my Student Ministry in Urich Missouri and only 45 minutes to my first “fill-time” ministry in Bronaugh Missouri. All of these place are only an hour and a half from Joplin Missouri where I went to college. So in a way, it was a homecoming to me. I came back to my college roots and my fledgling years of ministry. But upon returning to Missouri I had to relearn about life and ministry in the area. Here are a couple of things I had to relearn (In no particular order)
1. Churches are close but most ministries are separate. In Alaska I had a local ministers meeting with all denominations every week. Also, we had a statewide men’s meeting once a year for our brotherhood of Churches. Personally, every minister in our Brotherhood contacted me when I moved to Alaska and I knew every similar Church in a 6 hour radius. Here, I work with 3 other local Churches on 3 or 4 projects each year and we meet sporadically. I have little to no contact with any Churches in our Brotherhood at all. I know there are numerous ones close but they have not contacted me (and I have not contacted them). Ministry feels more individualistic to Churches than to towns or regions. Working together as Churches is a lot harder than Alaska, even with more Churches.
2. Youth Sports dominate people’s lives. I have 4 teenage sons and I know about youth sports from numerous angles. Here in Missouri there is an opportunity to participate in youth sports 7 days a week 365 days a year. I often think that the biggest tool of Satan to lure kids away from Church and from Christ is not drugs or sex, but sports. It is more dangerous because it slowly pulls you away from a supporting faith community into isolation and eventually it leads to apathy. The even more troubling part is that none of the kids around here (including my own) will ever play pro sports (Read THIS). The chances of them getting a college scholarship is pretty small too. (and how much money are you spending in their youth sports to get that scholarship?) The Church must compete with well-intentioned parents to develop the faith of the next generation.
3. Ministry in the summer is hard. In Alaska things get going in the summer. People stay home and enjoy the most beautiful season of the year. They have company come and stay for a week or two that they bring to Church. New people are moving into town and visitors fill the city by the dozens. Summer is exciting for both your personal life but also for the Church. In Missouri it gets hot (real hot) and that makes life miserable in many ways (at least for me). People travel away from town, Church attendance is down and very few people visit. It is a tough time to do ministry.
Those are the biggest things I have been relearning since my return to Missouri. Most of life here is good and ministry is enjoyable but it is a big change to my last several years as a pastor.