Yesterday I shared six “can’t miss” tips for seminary graduates looking to burn very quickly through their first calls. You can read about how to be a short-tenured pastor here. Today addresses the much more challenging question of how to build extended, life-giving ministry relationships in the transition from seminary to full-time ministry. There are no “can’t miss” tips here, only gently offered thoughts on the pastoral life.
- Never think you can “clock out” when you are with parishioners. The pastor who stands behind the table during the sacrament is not distinguishable from the pastor at the barbeque with a beer in her hand. When you are with your people, everything that comes out of your mouth is spoken by the pastor.
- Don’t judge other people. I know that this sounds like advice for a high school student, but as a pastor you are going to have myriad opportunities to judge. People will come to you after making the biggest mistakes of their lives, and they will come to you sharing hard and ugly things about other people that you love. When that happens, remember that we are all broken vessels and that you are not getting the whole story. In almost every divorce narrative there is a villain, and somehow the villain has never once been the one to come see me in my study. I don’t think that’s a coincidence. Just about every story involves shades of grey (maybe not 50, but at least a few).
- Take the long view. Seminary is measured in semesters (whether they be 6, 8, 10 or more) but ministry is measured in much longer increments. Occasionally you will get to be there when the seeds you plant produce a harvest. More often, you won’t. The transformative change you are working toward happens slowly (really, really slowly). Don’t let frustration stop you from working toward a more peaceful, unified and pure church.
- Don’t count other people’s money. I am among those who believe the pastor should know what people give. Some of my colleagues disagree. Wherever you stand on that question, never assume that you understand someone else’s financial situation. It is a recipe for resentment and misunderstanding.
- Tithe. Living out gratitude and generosity will feed every part of your ministry. Too few pastors do this and you will never regret being one of them.
- Pray. Paul says, “without ceasing.” I say, “out loud, in your study, while you walk, in every pastoral encounter, and with as many children as you can.” There is no path to a vibrant spiritual life that is not rooted in prayer. Invite those around you to pray as well and when they do, listen to their prayers with your ears and your heart. An ever-expanding vocabulary of prayer is an asset everyone in ministry should have.
Many others have had far longer pastorates than I—what else nurtures long, abundant ministry relationships?
Scott Hauser is pastor and head of staff at First Presbyterian Church in Clarion, Pennsylvania.