This month we asked our bloggers what they wish they’d known as they graduated seminary and began their ministry. Here are their answers.
I’ve only been at this ministry thing in an ordained capacity for about six years now. Asking me for advice about being a pastor is equivalent to asking a first-grader for advice on your ordination exams… there are many better, more-qualified options available to you out there.
But with that being said, I thought I would reflect a little on what I wish I knew coming out of seminary. Maybe these will provide some talking points as you continue to seek advice:
- I wish I knew that I did not know very much. I still do not. There are libraries filled with books that I know nothing about. For that matter, there are shelves in my office filled with books that I know nothing about. There are many ministry tasks that require a large amount of confidence, and so it is very humbling to realize how little we know.
- I wish I knew when to respond and when to stay quiet.
- I wish I knew when to hug and when to shake hands.
- I wish I knew when to email and when to call. Do not put delicate things in written form carelessly. And sarcasm on an email (with or without emoticons) does not work at all.
- I wish I knew the balance between efficiency and effectiveness. If efficiency is getting things done right, then effectiveness is getting the right things done. Efficiency is writing the newsletter article, planning the all-church picnic, crushing the children’s sermon and making it to the surgical floor on time for the pre-op prayer. Effectiveness is choosing these things while delegating, deflecting and/or deferring the rest. We need both. It is not an either/or kind of situation. We constantly make decisions about how to spend our time. I simply try to be more aware of these decisions as I make them now.
- I wish I knew better budgeting strategies. For my sake. For the church accountant’s sake. It is harder than I imagined.
- I wish I knew how important it was to protect my personal devotional time. Sermon prep and teaching guides are not a suitable substitute. I heard this plenty from other people before I ever got into this gig, but it really is true.
- I wish I knew how to properly mix ashes into oil. Every Ash Wednesday I think to myself, “I need to call a priest about this.”
- I wish I knew that I would make lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of mistakes.
- I wish I knew why Advent is turning blue. I read about it. I bought a new stole. But I’m still not sure that I get why.
- I wish I knew the unstated dress codes.
- I wish I knew advice on how to handle power-groups that form. They are not all bad. But they are a force for sure. Handle with care.
- I wish I knew how to make technology always run smoothly in worship. You really only get one shot with it. If you mess up with technology just once, you get the “that’s why we don’t do things like that here.” Practice a lot before implementing.
- I wish I knew a different title to use when describing my job in barber shops, in waiting rooms and on the airplane. It is not that I am against having heart-to-hearts with folks outside of the church, but it makes for some awkward moments when you are trapped in one place for an elongated period of time with no option to leave.
- I wish I knew the secret to raising preacher’s kids.
- I wish I knew the number of all my former youth pastors, camp counselors, and confirmation partners – so that I could simply call and apologize.
- I wish I knew how to better learn from my own failure. Failing forward.
I wish I knew a lot more than I know. And I do continue to work on it. I would like to think I am fine-tuning my ministry methods by now, but that would be a silly lie. I do continue to remain in church leadership. I do continue to struggle with my role as pastor. I do continue to wrestle with my calling. And I do continue to learn more about all of this each and every day.
If you do stumble upon some helpful advice or wish to add to the conversation, please leave a comment below or send me a message – you can find me in the twitterverse or on the book-of-face.
BRIAN CHRISTOPHER COULTER is a husband, father, pastor, author, blogger and pingpong champion who is pretty good at sidewalk chalk and currently resides in Aiken, South Carolina.