A Word For Pastoral Freshmen
Yesterday I sat at lunch with a colleague who has been serving a congregation faithfully for the past seven years. The church is engaged in the ministry of social justice and transforming the community it which it serves from a sight of poverty and struggling individuals into a an oasis of hope. He is doing great work.
Our conversation at lunch transitioned to discussion on the number of young pastors who are resigning or have been voted out by the congregation within their first few years. Why is this occurring? How can we stop the bleeding?
Who is to blame? The blame is scattered. There is the church. There is the seminary. There is the preacher.
The blame is the church. We must understand that in the African American baptist tradition the pastor is called for his or her preaching. There are countless examples of better candidates on paper being defeated in the vote by those who can “say it.” And, in most situations, because of the obvious financial and physical challenges, congregations select a pastor within six months to a year with little known about their skills in the areas of finances, their family life, or their understanding of congregational care. They receive the call for the most because they have charisma and can “say it.” Soon the pastor is dismissed because though they may have the gift to “say it” they can’t live it.
The blame is the seminary. We must understand that within the context of seminary preparation, most seminaries do not offer courses which assist “freshmen” pastors for the pastorate. In fact, most seminaries do not offer courses on systematic theology better yet pastoral care. Therefore, these individual’s graduate having been educated in church history, theological reflection, spiritual formation, and biblical interpretation but have not a clue what to do the first day on the job. Seminaries need to develop a tract that provides this future pastors with a hermeneutic for congregational care.
Thirdly, there is the preacher. The freshmen preacher, for the most, goes into the pastorate and the first day on the job is to not to pray for the skills to build the people however it is to build their brand. So what do they do? Got to the list of ecclesiastical “whose who” to extend an invitation to preach. Or, they photocopy the program and practices from high profile ministries and simply do what others are doing.
I have been in the pastorate for twenty-two years. Though I am only forty-two, I think that I have enough years of experience to offer some feeble advice for freshmen pastors.
The first month of your pastorate time should be well spent reading the history of the church. The church existed before you were called. It is important to educate yourself on the history of the church and those who have served and sacrificed that has provided you with a place to serve.
Get acquainted and educate yourself on the political landscape of the city. Have coffee with your district representative. The reality is that issues will arise such as crime, gentrification, or simply erecting a new edifice and you need to be know who to call to assist you in getting things done.
Get acquainted and educate yourself with the spiritual community. This is particularly important when you are relocating to a new city. Get acquainted with the local associations and Christian groups. Understand the relationship between the history of the church and the religious organizations the church has affiliated herself with. They may not matter to you but, trust me, it matters.
Your first three years do as little hiring and firing as possible. What is the first area the freshmen pastor attacks – the music. It’s off to hiring a worship leader and a skilled band. That will eventually matter in time but for now it doesn’t. So what does matter?
Spend your first year doing most if not all the preaching. Think about it, if you invite four speakers on different Sundays that adds up to one month you have not preached. Preach and allow the Holy Spirit to reveal to you the hurts, needs and hearts of the people you have been called to serve. Faith comes by HEARING….
Take advantage of the opportunities to learn your people and develop a relationship with your new congregation by attending wedding anniversaries, celebrating birthdays, performing weddings, carrying out the ordinances of baptism and communion, kiss the babies and hug the elderly. What I am saying is support your members as much as possible and they will in return support you.
Refrain from the temptation of discovering a “vision” the first few years. How many times have I heard a freshmen pastor say regarding the congregation “they won’t follow my vision.” Look somebody has to say it so it might as well be me – YOU DO NOT HAVE A VISION THE FIRST FEW YEARS OF YOUR PASTORATE. Why? Until the Holy Spirit gives you the heart of the people you are just their preacher.
In a season where millennials find the church irrelevant it is so important that we assist them in rediscovering the need for faith and living within an authentic community. This is best done when we work to build relationships. This means work more on building believers and not on building your brand. Or to put it into a biblical context:
5 Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, 6 who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, 7 but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. 8 And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross. 9 Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name that is above every name, 10 so that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, 11 and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. (Philippians 2:5-11 ESV)