So I’m finishing this journey with breakfast at the same table I had breakfast at four days ago – at the Baltimore airport. I joined Small Town Vineyard partners Luke Geraty, Ross Nelson and Justin Barney in Maine to help train pastors to band together to plant churches in small towns. I also went to teach folks how to share their faith within the context of small towns and rural America.. I also went to learn from Dick and Maida Ray, pastors of Mechanic Falls Vineyard, as they’ve been living this out for 20+ years. Sitting down at this same table triggered a question in me: so what did I learn?
With that in mind I present 10 things I learned while in Maine.
- The Vineyard is blessed with great pastors. Starting with Dick and Maida, then their staff, and then pastors from all over New Hampshire and Maine I was impressed with the caliber of men and women who lead churches. Most lead in small towns. Some are bi-vocational. Several have persevered for years in difficult situations. None are doing it for glory, fame nor fortune. They’re doing it for the glory of God and the well being of humans.
- Dick and Maida Ray are the real deal. Their passion for Jesus is real. Their heart for their small town and ability to pastor in a small town is real. Their love for their children and grandchildren is real (so is their legacy as they’ve passed on their faith to them). Their translocal leadership is real. Their wisdom in the moment is real. It flows from a deep long term reservoir. Their impact in their town is real – we didn’t go anywhere where Dick was recognized and pulled into conversation. I was blessed to be in their presence and to learn from them as they hosted us.
- Pastors are eager to play in the church planting mission. Pastors from churches of 1,500 to 50 ate up the teachings on using triads to work together to plant churches in Maine and New Hampshire. This tool helped them to understand that ‘everybody gets to play’ can mean ‘every church gets to plant’.
- Stories are powerful. Whether it was a story of how God saved a child’s life from a doctor proclaimed death sentence, the radical transformation of an addict, God loving the world through an adult child with Downs Syndrome, the miraculous provision of a building for a small town Vineyard, or the reconciliation of a father and his adult son stories are powerful. I cried a lot as I was touched by His story woven throughout our stories.
- Luke Geraty and Ross Nelson are really really smart. Yes Luke’s known for blogging, endless selfies, and a cool Wu-tang shirt. And Ross is known for his sermon illustrations. But these two are really smart and very theologically adept. They are a gift to our movement.
- Laughter is good medicine. I laughed a lot on this trip. Ross and Luke are hilarious. I’m a goofball. Dick had great golf jokes. As I sat down at my airport breakfast table I thought of the many prayers my church prayed for me that not only would I give out on this trip but that I would receive. I received from my collaborators’ teachings and from the times of worship. But God touched my heart and rejuvenated me most through laughter.
- Jesus’ Presence really does bind us together – quickly! As Dick prayed over our last meal of lobster he thanked Jesus that the only reason we know each other is Jesus. I cried. I am so thankful to Jesus for answering His own prayer in John 17 by unifying fellow Jesus Followers even if we’ve only hung out 4 days.
- I love our tribe! I love and appreciate the whole Body of Christ. But I’m grateful He places each of us in unique tribes and I love the Vineyard tribe. From waiting on the Spirit, waiting on the Spirit, taking any moment to share a God inspired encouraging word, intimate God directed lyrics in worship, to even silly stuff like pastors preaching in shorts or operating on Vineyard time I felt at home. And apparently lots of others do as hundreds gather from various small towns to worship god in small town Maine & NH Vineyard churches.
- Maine Lobster is great! I liked lobster before I went. I loooooooooovvve lobster now. But I’m afraid Ohio lobster just won’t be the same! Which brings me to the final thing I learned…..
- I must come back to Maine. Besides incredible lobster there is so much more to learn from the people, churches and pastors who are already ‘doing the stuff’ in New England. And there is still more Small Town USA has to impart. We all could use some more iron sharpening iron.
About the author
Joel Seymour is beloved child of God, the husband of Kristi, the father of 3 great kids, and the lead pastor of the Lancaster Vineyard. Although Lancaster is a mid-sized town, his first church plant was in a town of 5,000. He serves on the team of the Small Town Vineyard Partnership and as an Area Leader for Vineyard USA. His particular Area is mainly comprised of villages, small towns, and rural areas. He can be reached through Twitter @JoelSeymour or via email [email protected].