Castor, Alberta was home to Charlie, the youngest, his older brother, and four sisters. His dad became a Christian when Charlie was four, but his mom did not, and so Sunday mornings saw dad and the kids regularly make their way to Sunday School and Worship at Castor Missionary Church. Castor is a small community, and the church was about 120 strong at that time. It was a healthy church, and the memories are good.
Having attended church for as long as he could remember, Charlie knew the way of salvation. He had become pretty good at being one way at school and another way at church. But down deep, it was slowing dawning on him that he had to make a decision and quit just pretending to be a Christian. This came to a head when one of his friends announced he was being baptized. “I knew I could do it too, pretend, make it look good, but I heard God say to me, ‘No, don’t do this as a hypocrite – make sure you believe it.’ This was a fairly significant turning point, and very quickly, my questionable language and other poor behaviours stopped.”
The years went on. Before long, Charlie had graduated from high school. He recalls riding the bus one day, musing over his future. Sportscaster? No. “Now what?” he wondered to himself. In those moments, he heard God speak to him and say, “You are going to be a Pastor.” It was a clear message, and he didn’t wrestle with it. He began to prepare.
30 Years as a Pastor
In the fall, he was a student in Pastoral Studies at Mountain View Bible College, which was in Didsbury, Alberta (before becoming a part of Rocky Mountain College). It was there he met Darlene, whom he married in 1989 after they both had graduated. They are now proud parents of
3 boys, Jason (now 30), and twins, Randy and Ryan (now 29), and are blessed with three grandchildren.
A year and a half after graduation, they arrived at their first church. Together they have been a pastoral couple in 3 churches, in Alberta and Saskatchewan, spanning 30 years. All three would be classed as ‘smaller’ churches, and Charlie is content with this. When asked if he would consider ministry in a large church, or ever felt pressure to move on to one, Charlie says: “I’d go if God called me, but I’ve never felt the call.”
Charlie’s mom had some mental health issues while he was growing up. Charlie feels that God used the challenges associated with her illness, and his first-hand knowledge of being raised in a home where only one parent was interested in spiritual things, to enable him to be more compassionate and understanding when he encounters various situations in which people live.
As the solo pastor for 18 years at Macoun EMC, in Macoun, Sask, ( a church of 120 people) where he presently serves, opportunities for personal interaction abound. Sometimes when visiting, he gets to ride in combines and tag along in trucks. And Darlene is well connected with the children, women and families. In the community, he is a Volunteer Firefighter and serves on the local School Community Council.
“People in rural areas are not home as much as they used to be, with sports and all,” says Charlie. And so, even away from city life, it is still important to make an appointment to check in with folks. And, as in larger centres, hospitality over meals is more often seen in restaurants than in a family’s dining room after church.
Combating Survival Mentality in Small Churches
Charlie cites poor self-esteem as being a hurdle for many smaller churches. “There can be a survival mentality. Existing, and that’s it. We have to combat that. Churches may tend to place an undue emphasis on faithfulness, but forget there is more than that.”
One of Charlie’s passions is to assist the church as they seek to be a blessing to others. “We actively look around and see what is here, in our sphere of influence. We have a school, a store, a town office, Parks & Rec, a mechanic, a local fire services – these are our areas for impact.”
Once the areas of impact are identified, it is time to ask God to stir ideas to create momentum. As examples, the Macoun congregation hosted an appreciation supper for the town council, and another time they organized a music concert to raise funds for a need in the community.
“When we step out and do something like this, and it is well-received, it begins to change the mindset, and a church can begin to move from ‘just existing’ to thinking, ‘what else can we do to get the message of Christ out there?’”
Numbers don’t tell the whole story. In Macoun, they experienced a growth spurt 10 or 12 years ago when the community grew because of an influx of workers who moved in from Ontario for work. But for the most part, their numbers remain relatively stable. There are other important markers of a healthy church. Charlie mentions their youth group that attracts church kids, and youth from the community, and the excellent youth leaders who disciple them. And he speaks of other markers: “How is our giving to things outside of ourselves, like camps/community needs/missionaries? Do we support our local EMCC Camps? Are we concerned about our neighbours and co-workers?”
Another passion of Charlie’s is preaching. Like so many other pastors during the pandemic, the congregation seems strangely absent on Sunday mornings. Still, although the building is empty, the church is present, each in their homes. Facebook and YouTube are now an everyday part of ministry, and the youth leaders are trying Zoom. Charlie is using the phone a lot more to connect and pray.
Charlie is available to encourage leaders in smaller churches!
As a Facilitator on EMCC’s Enrich platform, Charlie would be glad to hear from other pastors and leaders in smaller churches who require some encouragement or would like a listening ear and fresh perspective as they sort through some ideas or challenges. “Sometimes an outside perspective is good, he says. It’s easy to miss what’s right in front of you. Do you know what your areas of impact are? Maybe you just didn’t see it quite that way before.”
Visit the Enrich website to connect with Charlie.