This month we asked our bloggers what they wish they’d known as they graduated seminary and began their ministry. Here are their answers.
For several years after I graduated from seminary, I would find myself sending messages to former classmates through email, Facebook and Twitter with the phrase “things they didn’t teach us in seminary” as the header, hashtag or subject line. As in, “One of the things they didn’t teach us in seminary was how perilous it is to miss the Presbyterian Women’s Salad Luncheon.”
Yeah, I stepped in that one once. Only once.
More often, the “I wish” list had to do with solving problems in and around the church property. Like, “I wish I’d learned in seminary how to: unjam a copy machine, fix the Wi-Fi, run the sound board, change fluorescent light bulbs, clean melted wax off the carpet….”
The truth of the matter is, there isn’t enough time in seminary to teach you everything that you need to know about being a pastor. You barely have enough to time to figure out how to find books in the library before it’s time to graduate. (I didn’t ever really figure that out, honestly.)
So in the spirit of collegiality, I offer these nuggets of ministry wisdom from a 17-year veteran of church ministry and a 10-year veteran of being an ordained minister, teaching elder or whatever we’re calling ourselves these days. It’s not a comprehensive list, by any means, but it’s a start:
Never respond to “anonymous.” I’ve gotten more than my fair share of correspondence from “anonymous.” Anonymous likes to remain anonymous because Anonymous is a coward. Anonymous loves dropping emotional hand grenades on the pastor from afar. If Anonymous drops you a card, tear that card in a hundred pieces, drop it in the trash and then set the trash can on fire.
You aren’t needed at every committee’s committee meeting. This is a lesson I learned after years of frustration, weariness and over-commitment. Here’s the truth: You being at every committee meeting for every committee in your church is probably keeping those committees from really getting any work done. Work harder at developing good leaders and then trust them to do the work.
Be involved in the things that matter most. Even though I don’t attend every committee meeting, there are some things I am very involved in – because in my particular context, they matter more than others. Here’s my list: Worship Planning & Evaluation, Stewardship, Vision Casting, Staffing and Pastoral Care. What I’ve come to understand is that these are the areas where I can have the greatest impact, and the fact that they also happen to be areas I’m held accountable for anyway helps narrow my focus.
Learn to preach—really preach. Listen, reading your sermon isn’t really preaching. It’s reading. The great preachers are prepared, engaging, lively, seemingly off-the-cuff, but very well rehearsed. They might have a manuscript, but they don’t look at all like they’re following it. Listen to audio or watch video of good preachers. Listen to recordings of your own sermons every week. Not recording them? Then start. Have someone record you preaching on video. Watch it. Criticize yourself. Tell yourself you need to stop doing that thing you do with your hand that’s so annoying. Memorize part of the text so you can quote it. Read every book on preaching you can find. Work at getting better every week.
This is not a comprehensive list, but these are things that I wish someone had shared with me when I was just starting out in ministry.
And listen, don’t forget to attend a few salad luncheons now and then, too.
Leon Bloder is a preacher, a poet, a would-be writer, a husband, a father, a son, a dreamer, a sinner, a pastor, a fellow-traveler and a failed artist. He is talentless, but well-connected. He stumbles after Jesus, but hopes beyond hope that he is stumbling in the right direction. Leon has been married to Merideth for 22 years, is the father of three awesome boys, and serves in ministry at the First Presbyterian Church of Eustis in Eustis, Florida. Visit his website.