This past Thursday evening through Saturday morning, we attended our first Minnesota-Wisconsin Baptist Convention Pastors and Wives Retreat. Because I usually teach on Fridays, we have never been able to attend this annual event. However, due to a change in my schedule this year, we were finally able to go. The focus is on marriage and we think it is definitely good idea to go to a marriage retreat for a "tune up" every few years. Not only was it a marriage retreat, but also an opportunity to meet and network with other Southern Baptist pastoral couples serving in MN and WI. What an awesome experience it was!
First off, the retreat portion was good. The leaders for the weekend were a couple who teach via sketches and drama. It could have easily veered into cheesy territory, but it didn't. The sketches went from humorous to insightful and it was obvious that they really understood the unique stesses that church and ministry place on a marriage. After the sketches, there were topics for small group and table discussion. While we didn't necessarily learn anything new, we were reminded about what we do know and the things that we sometimes get to busy with. We were encouraged to think about how we communicate with each other and how powerful our words are. They can so easily build up or tear down. We were also reminded about how little interruptions can sneak in and how the domesticity of marriage can slowly overtake the friendship and love parts. And we took time to write out how our spouses bless us, something that can be improved, and spent time praying for each other. Those are all such important things they sometimes fall to the wayside in the busyness of life.
We also met a lot of really great couples. However, in talking with the other pastoral couples, I realized that there are some big differences about being a Southern Baptist up North versus one in the Bible Belt.
Previously, Robert had pastored churches only in the Bible Belt in Alabama, Texas, Missouri, and Louisiana, so this is a whole different ball game. The Upper Midwest is considered "frontier territory" for evangelical churches. Here are a few key differences:
- Most of the churches are small, less than 100 members/regular attenders. I don't know the exact numbers, but I suspect that the greatest majority of churches are about 50-75 on a typical Sunday. Not very many SBC mega-churches here. In fact, a mega-church would probably be in the 200-300 range.
- Because of the above fact, all but two pastors that I talked with were bivocational. Most of them worked full-time in addition to being the full-time lead pastor of their church.
- Not only that, but every single wife I talked to also worked, typically full-time as well. This is a huge contrast to SBC wives in the Bible Belt. And we were the rarity in that we only have two kids. Most couples have 4+ children, plus both parents working full-time, plus full-time pastoring. You can see how that can be uber-stressful.
- The amount of diversity amazed me. Such events down south would be mostly white folks, with a few African-Americans. I would guess that a full 1/3 of the 90-100 attendees were international--from China, Russia, Ukraine, Korea, Laos, Liberia, as well as other Latino, Asian, Eastern European, and African countries. They are planting international churches mostly in the Twin Cities, Madison, and Milwaukee areas.
- In addition to the international population, another 1/3 of the pastors are from the south. The accents were scattered around the room and I kept trying to peg where each person was originally from. A lot more Southerners have come up, but don't embrace the winters and don't last. There tends to be a high turnover. My thoughts? If God calls you, He equips you, but that's probably a different post for another day.
- Because of the limited finances of most pastoral couples in the frozen tundra and the limited resources from the MWBC, we depend on the graciousness of a partnership with Texas Baptists who funded the entire weekend, from the speakers to the lodging and the food. Thanks, Texas Baptists!
Because of the fact that we are in a largely unchurched and/or non-evangelical area, churches are small and often not even self-supporting for years. While our church is now self-supporting, it certainly can't pay Robert a living wage yet. We have to rely on my full-time salary and Robert's additional part-time job to make ends meet. So this is where we have renewed appreciation for the North American Mission Board and the Annie Armstrong offering. Almost every church, and certainly every church plant (which we were!), have been the beneficiary of financial support through NAMB.
Also, through the Texas WMU (Women's Missionary Union) all of the wives were given an awesome special gift through WorldCrafts. Here's my necklace made by a Muslim sheepherder in India. So beautiful and much cherished!
We had a wonderful weekend of renewing our marriage and spending some quality time alone together. It was also fun to meet lots of people who know, live, and understand the unique joys and stresses of church planting and pastoring in a frontier territory. And for those of you who read this and are Southern Baptists, thank you so much for supporting all the wonderful things that are happening in Minnesota and Wisconsin through your prayers, tithes, and offerings. I can assure that this fine group of folks is doing great things here for God's glory.