What are the characteristics of the community in which you serve?
Hastings, MI is a very unique place. Hastings has 7,000 residents and the county has less than 50,000. It’s a small town in a small county. When I first moved to Hastings I asked the barber, “What is the best thing about living in Hastings?” She replied, “Everybody knows everything about everyone.” My follow up question, “What is the worst thing about living in Hastings?” Before my barber could answer the gal next to us chimed in, “Everybody knows everything about everyone.” It didn’t take long to realize how true this was.
While we’re very rural (there isn’t a 4 lane road that enters the county), there are multiple manufacturing plants in town, and we are the county seat. Despite being overwhelmingly white, there is a unique type of diversity in Hastings. Blue collar factory workers, farmers, and local government workers all live, work, and play in a shared space. This manifests into some pretty beautiful relationships. People from different socio-economic worlds and different political worlds have to rub shoulders with one another and work together.
CPL: What are some weekly preaching rhythms that you’ve found to be effective?
Perhaps I’m not doing it right, but I haven’t been able to forecast or write ahead in my preaching. I have yet to write a sermon or sermon outline prior to the week before I preach. Thus far, I believe I’ll keep it that way. I try to spend time each week in different parishioners’ homes and the presence of the people has helped inform how I will preach every week. Being aware of the spirit of the church by sharing life together might be a bit messy but has become a profound catalyst for preaching.
Nearly every Tuesday I record a podcast with the co-founder of A Plain Account, Ben Cremer, on preaching a particular passage from the lectionary. This time of reflection with another pastor (on the same passage) has become more formative that I originally imagined. Not having a staff at the church can get pretty lonely, but sharing with another pastor about their sermon helps me reflect on mine.
Another habit I’ve taken up for sermon writing is simply getting out of town. I write every Thursday and instead of writing in my office or a local coffee shop where I’m sure to be interrupted, getting out of town and into creation helps me write. I’ll frequently write from my hammock at Lake Michigan’s beach, a riverside, or one of my county’s 300 inland lakes. I have found entering creation helps me be creative.
CPL: What were some of the hardest challenges you faced starting out as a brand new (and young) pastor?
Hastings Naz called me as a 27-year old fresh out of seminary. Growing up in a parsonage and having received an Mdiv from NTS I thought I knew what I would be getting into. It was rather humbling to realize that I really had no clue what I was doing. This doesn’t mean that my upbringing didn’t prepare me or that NTS didn’t educate me properly. NTS prepared me for ministry in marvelous ways, but there were some things I had to learn on the job. Not the least of which was my own perceptions of what pastoring would be like. One challenge I had to face was myself; thinking that because of my lineage or my education people in rural Michigan would care.
While the church has loved Kayla and I completely from day one, my ability to serve the church and lead through change wouldn’t be built on a name or a diploma. This was an important lesson that I hope to always keep before me.
Another hurdle early on was shifting the culture out of survival mode. The church was in a sinking mortgage, not paying any apportionments, and not raising enough funds to meet the needs of the facility, let alone minister in the community. It has taken the last three years to shift this perception, and there may still be some vestiges of survival, but we have begun to see that God is enough and that ministry begins with service not with surviving.
CPL: Tell us about A Plain Account and how it has helped to sharpen your own preaching skills and that of other pastors.
A few years ago Ben Cremer and I were lamenting about the lack of online Wesleyan Lectionary resources. We desired well-researched, pastoral reflections for our own ministries and thought maybe we could curate a site of our own. Once we solidified our contributor base we began to build a website to house online commentaries. A Plain Account now hosts commentaries for every lectionary passage ever week, has a Scripture index to access all the commentaries written, records podcasts almost every week of the Gospel passage, and has multiple new initiatives being developed.
Even though I’m the curator of the content at aplainaccount.org I still use the resource myself every week. Being able to hear how other Wesleyan pastors might preach informs my own preaching. I’ve also found it valuable to read the commentaries of the other passages, not just the one I’ll be preaching. Often I am able to glean something relevant to the message from the other commentators as they’re frequently writing on similar themes.
Danny Quanstrom is the husband of Kayla, pastor at Hastings Church of the Nazarene in Hastings, MI, and co-founder and president of A Plain Account (aplainaccount.org). He moved to Hastings shortly after graduating from NTS and has been serving there for three years.