Christian Life

A Conversation with an Anglican Priest

I had the honor of interviewing my friend Christopher Haberman. Christopher is an Anglican Priest and church planter of the Church of the Resurrection in Sioux Falls. We talked about church planting, Anglicanism, liturgy, communion, among many other things. The full conversation is below!

(If you are reading this in your e-mail, you will have to go to the actual page to watch the video)

Church Membership Class (Online)!

As many of you know, I am the Lead Pastor of Renovation Church. I just finished recording our membership class so that people can “attend” the class when it is convenient for them. If you are curious about the story, values, vision, or beliefs of Renovation Church, check out the membership class!

(If you are reading this in your e-mail you will have to go to the actual page to see the video).

 

Low Attendance & Insecurity

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My understanding of leadership is that a leader is a person who is bold, courageous, and confident. Leaders aren’t perfect but they are pretty close. Leaders refuse to dwell on weakness and insecurity – instead, they exploit their strengths in order to make a bigger impact.

Well, I’m going to break all the rules of leadership with this blog post. I have been going back-and-forth with myself on how honest & transparent I want to be through a public medium such as a blog. I’ve been told that pastors should only share their insecurities with other pastors so they don’t cause the people who follow them to doubt their leadership.

But this is what I know: Every Sunday I remind the people of Renovation Church that we serve a crucified Savior. The message of the cross is a stumbling block for it displays Jesus at His absolute weakest point. He is abandoned by his disciples, rejected by the crowds, beaten by the Roman Guards, and crucified completely naked – this is true humiliation. Yet it was precisely at His weakest point that He conquered death, sin, and the grave. It is in our weakness that Christ’s power is perfected within us (2 Cor. 12:9).

So here’s my confession to you: I am deeply insecure about who I am as a pastor. Two weeks ago I had the honor of performing child dedications and we had around 70 people in attendance (which is a good Sunday for us).

Yesterday, we had 33 people in attendance. This is the lowest our attendance has been in years. I have nothing to blame it on – it was a beautiful day and there were no major events happening in the community that I am aware of. In my own sinful pride (self-pity is another form of pride) I became extremely discouraged when I got home after the service (just ask my wife!). Rather than praising God for the fact that He brought 33 souls – people loved by Him – under my care on Sunday, I complained and felt like a failure for all the people that WEREN’T there.

That’s a problem.

It’s a problem that I find my identity in attendance numbers & budget numbers.

It’s a problem that I am too afraid of people doubting me that I refuse to be transparent about how insecure I am when people skip church.

It’s a problem if I cover up the pain of people leaving the church through spiritual jargon rather than dealing with my real emotions.

It’s a problem because it’s in direct contradiction to the crucified Savior whom I worship. The One who emphasizes weakness & transparency as true strength.

Since yesterday afternoon I have been continually preaching the Gospel to my own heart. Here are the truths I am reminding myself continually in an effort to fight for joy. I pray this reflection encourages you as you begin a new week. To be honest, I’m writing this primarily for myself so that the next time I am discouraged I can read this post and remind myself of these marvelous truths:

1. My identity is the result of who Jesus is and what Jesus has done.
As I shared above, self-pity comes from the same root as arrogance – pride. It is an obsession with “self” and a demand that we get what we deserve. The truth is, if any of us got what we “deserved” we would be in Hell right now – separated from God as a result of our sin. The beauty of the Gospel is that my identity isn’t the result of who I am or what I have done but because of who Jesus is and what He has done through his birth, life, death, resurrection, and ascension. My identity needs to be rooted in the Gospel – not some cheap form of “success” in the church world.

 2. It is not my job to build the church – Jesus promises to do that.
Renovation Church does not belong to me – it belongs to Christ. He is the One called to grow the church – I am simply called to be faithful. I need to remember that “growth” doesn’t always look like increased attendance and giving. Sometimes growth can look like subtraction (i.e. Jesus once “grew” his movement from 15,000 people to 12 after a controversial message – see John 6)

3. Weakness is not a liability.
One of the sports I love to participate in is boxing. When you are in a boxing ring you do not want to show any weakness or openings. As soon as you show an opening you are usually rebuked by a swift punch to the face! The “foolishness” of the cross is that the way we display Christ as our treasure is to BOAST in our weaknesses (1 Cor. 11:30). We openly talk about our insecurity, our weakness, and our doubts. That is what makes Christian leadership distinctively Christian. We do not hide from our brokenness & sickness because we trust the One who came not for the healthy but for the sick (Mark 2:17).

These are three truths I am reminding myself of this week. I pray our attendance increases this coming Sunday – but what if it doesn’t? What we if go from 33 people to 20 people? I will fight for joy. I will celebrate the people who are there rather than despair about those who aren’t. I will remember that it’s seriously amazing that even one person entrusts himself/herself to my spiritual leadership. I will be honest about my own brokenness with the goal of pointing people to Christ – not Tyler Ramsbey.


P.S. – I’m not writing this to get your pity. Many of you have FAR more difficult things you are wrestling with than insecurity & low attendance at church. Instead, my hope is that this will encourage you to preach the Gospel to your own soul. Have a great week!

My Problems with Christianity (Message)

For those of you that live in the South Dakota/Minnesota area, you know that we had the joy of a Spring Snow Storm this past weekend! As a result of the weather, we were forced to cancel the special Sunday evening service we were hosting at the American Legion in Garretson. Instead, I did a special online service and shared a message from 1 Corinthians 3:1-9. Here’s the message – I pray it challenges you in your faith and helps you understand how much God loves you.

(If you are reading this in your email, you will have to go to the actual page to see the video) –

How Do I Prepare a Message?

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As many of you know, I am a pastor which means I need to be ready every 7 days to speak a 30 – 40 minute message from the Bible that is both faithful to the text and engaging to the audience. I was working on my message late last night and Ashley (my wife) was asking me about the process. After sharing it with her, she encouraged me to share it with anyone/everyone interested so they understand everything that goes into a Sunday morning message!

1. Choose the Text
Before I can begin the process I need to choose the text I am preaching from. This is relatively easy at Renovation Church because we generally preach through entire books of the Bible verse-by-verse. I simply pick up where I left off the previous week. I DO need to “cut up” the text in such a way that we are examining one coherent thought rather than trying to preach an entire chapter of the Bible at once.

2. Meditate Upon the Text
The first thing I do is read through the text I am preaching on slowly. If possible, I also like to read the entire book that the text is in so I am reminded of the overall context. I use the word “meditate” to explain an unhurried process of trying to absorb the text into my own life. Generally I write out the entire passage by hand, commit the whole passage to memory, and then make note of every observation and question I have about the text. The closest comparison I can think of would be that of a scientist studying the almost hidden characteristics of an animal – the scientist spends hours with the animal and takes copious amounts of notes.

3. Make Sure I’m Not a Heretic
After I have an understanding of what I think God is saying through the text, I invite a few scholars into the discussion by reading commentaries. Commentaries are books that go verse-by-verse through books of the Bible and share the scholarly and historical views about the text. I know that if I discover something completely “new” in the text that probably means I am reading it wrong. My goal is to be faithful to the original author’s intention under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit – not be “cute” with the text.

The reason I do not begin with commentaries is I do not want to give the people of Renovation Church the opinions and thoughts of a scholar. I do not think the common practice of pastors utilizing each others’ sermon outlines or manuscripts is wise (instead I think it is laziness and/or bad time management). Preaching is an “incarnational” event – God has something specific he wants to speak to the people in a specific place and the role of the pastor is to be attentive to both the text and the congregation so that the message is both relevant and theologically sound.

4. Manuscript the Entire Message
Once I have selected the text, meditated on the text, and studied the text on a scholarly level – I write out my entire message word-for-word how I want to say it. This helps me organize my thoughts and think of illustrations that would be helpful in encouraging others to encounter God through the text. For one of my regular messages (which is usually 30 – 40 minutes) this is anywhere from a 6 – 8 page document.

5. Outline the Message
Once my thoughts are organized and I have some illustrations to help others understand the text, I create a one-page outline. This outline has two major functions: First, it helps the Powerpoint person at church follow along with the message; Second, it is available for me to use in case I feel the need for notes on a certain Sunday. If you were to look at one of my outlines it would make absolutely no sense because I generally just use single words to remind me of the things I want to say.

6. Practice & Preach!
Once everything is done I practice the entire message at least two times as if I was preaching it live. The goal of practicing this many times is NOT to turn it into a performance but to rather absorb the message. I cannot preach something that hasn’t first changed my own heart. When it comes to Sunday morning and I have the opportunity to share the message with my congregation, I usually do so without any notes. I try to make it more conversational by only using my Bible and maybe some words jotted down on the page but other than that I try to prepare myself adequately while trusting that the Holy Spirit will give me illustrations and words of encouragement during the preaching of the message that I hadn’t thought of in my preparation.


This is a weekly rhythm that I absolutely love and it is vital to the life of the church. For those of you that attend Renovation Church who may sometimes get frustrated that I am not always available –  I just know that if I neglect to spend time in the Scriptures for both my personal prayer time and for message preparation, our church will die. Also, keep in mind that I do all of this in addition to working part-time at Southeast Tech, going to school full time for my Master’s Degree, and more importantly as a husband and a dad! I really DO love you and that is why I sometimes need to block out large chunks of time to be alone with God in preparation for Sunday! 

Am I “Wasting” my Gifting in Garretson?

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As many of you know, I am the pastor of a church plant in Garretson, South Dakota. When I explain this to other pastors they often look at me with utter confusion. Why would a young, gifted, and “charismatic” pastor seek to plant a church in a town of 1,200 people? Surely I am “wasting” the gifts that God has given me, right?

The church I pastor has about 80 people who consider the church their home and an average weekly attendance of around 60 people… oh and we do not even have a building! I even work a second job so that I can do ministry in my small town. Wouldn’t it be better if I applied for a position in a large church with a full-time salary and benefits?

I don’t think so.

Small towns NEED healthy churches. Unfortunately, many pastors go to small towns as a stepping stone to build ministry experience before they can apply for a large church in a big city. This disguises itself as professional ambition – as if pastoral ministry was a career rather than a calling. The reason many churches in small towns are unhealthy is because a new pastor arrives every 3 – 5 years. The people in the church know the pastor is not committed to the people so they refuse to follow any type of vision he/she casts for the church – and understandably so!

This Sunday at Renovation Church we are welcoming our first people into church membership. I am going to share a message from Acts 2:42 – “They devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching, to the fellowship, to the breaking of bread, and to prayer.” One of the things I will point out is that the early church devoted themselves to “the fellowship.” Not a building. Not an institution. Not a celebrity pastor. To the fellowship – the people of God in a local area who gather together to receive the sacraments and hear the preaching of God’s Word.

Why should pastors expect their people to be committed to “the fellowship” if we aren’t?

Ashley & my goal for Renovation Church is to remain in the same small church… in the same small town… for the next 40 years or so until I retire. My hope is to pastor only one church my entire pastorate. I seriously have no plans or ambition to go to a more “successful” church.

If you are a pastor in a rural community, I plead with you to consider staying in your community for longer than 3 – 5 years.

Pastoral ministry is a calling – not a career.