Does anyone ever tire of giving advice to new parents?
Be sure to swaddle the baby whenever you lay her down.
Don’t pick him up every time he cries, you’ll spoil him.
Never use the white diaper cream—it makes your baby’s bottom look like a ghost.
If advice were made of gold, new parents would be the richest people around. The world is full of parents and even fuller of people who have had parents, and so we are all automatically “experts” on parenting.
The most shocking thing about having a baby—even more than the number of diaper changes or four a.m. feedings—is the sheer volume of advice new parents receive from every conceivable direction.
Recent conversations have led me to believe that seminarians often feel the same way. The world is full of pastors and even fuller of people who have had pastors, and so we are all automatically, “experts” on ministry, generously giving conflicting advice to thousands of defenseless theological students.
When you go to a new church you have a certain amount of goodwill to use. Be sure to make any changes quickly before the opportunity passes.
Whatever you do, never change anything for at least a year.
Above all else, early in your ministry it is important that you be approachable and accessible to your congregation.
From the very beginning, you must set and keep clear, well-defined boundaries.
Like new parents, seminarians are no strangers to advice. But the best advice I ever received on church and ministry actually came from a seminary classmate. Her simple words were, “people will put up with a lot if they know that you love them.” It seemed like the wisest, truest thing I had ever heard.
My colleague’s advice harkened back to some older, wise and true words from scripture. “Above all, maintain constant love for one another, for love covers a multitude of sins” (1 Peter 4:8).
For congregations and for pastors, there is nearly no end to the sins love will cover.
People will cheerfully endure bad ideas, sub-par administrative skills and even mediocre preaching from a pastor whose love for them is obvious. When a pastor brings a tender word, a gentle hug or a timely visit to a person in need of God’s love—she does more to communicate the reality of the heavenly kingdom than during her very best sermons. When she notices something out of the ordinary and responds with attentive love, she shares the Gospel in the intimate and transformative way that befits a servant of Christ and a steward of the mysteries of God.
Conversely, pastors will unflinchingly attend long meetings, work long hours and pray long prayers in service of the deeply flawed congregations who love them. When congregants care for the well being of their pastor (and his family), they give him a glimpse of the “abundant life” he has been preaching about. Pastors who are beloved because they are children of God (rather than because they are awesome at their jobs) are better equipped to model humility, ask forgiveness and provide pastoral care.
It seems almost unspeakably simple to say, “things are better when we love one another.” But for pastors, congregations and even new parents, it’s something we can’t be reminded of too often.
Scott Hauser is pastor and head of staff at First Presbyterian Church in Clarion, PA.