In a previous column (part one), two strategies were suggested for the first year of a teaching elder’s ministry. What else assists the beginning of a pastorate in a healthy way?
Establish professional and personal goals.
It is important to work with the session and congregation to establish professional and personal goals early on. Rather than being self-centered or selfish it demonstrates that the pastor understands the limits of his or her own time, how demanding and time-consuming the ministry can be and the value of good spiritual, mental and physical health, not only for personal reasons but for one’s family and the church as a whole.
Several years ago, the session of a church I served asked the associate pastor and me to turn in “time studies” for a two-month period. We were surprised to discover that both of us were regularly working more than eighty hours a week! Obviously we could not keep up that pace and remain effective or even personable. A new pastor needs to establish a day off each week and stick to it (except in emergencies). We all need personal time, spiritual refreshment and space for family and friends. When pastors retire it is unlikely that many will say, “I wish I had spent less time with my family.”
Daily physical exercise is also necessary for good health. Although excuses can be always be made, the alternatives are devastating: high blood pressure, alienation from self and family, resentment and physical or mental exhaustion. Apps like “My Fitness Pal” are excellent tools to help maintain diet and exercise routines. Pastors and church leaders know that they are integrated into the Body of Christ. But what about their own bodies as part of that larger organism?
Be clear what you will NOT do.
In 1975, Juan Arias wrote a book with the intriguing title “The God I Don’t Believe In.” The chapters end with what he does believe: “My God is young,” “My God is disconcerting,” “My God is poor” and “My God is free to all.” His bluntness reminds us to resolve to work on being honest in our preaching from the start, to refuse to cut corners in sermon preparation, interpreting the Bible in regard to the hard personal and cultural issues members really face, regardless of how wary we are of controversy. If sermons proceed from having the Bible in one hand and the newspaper (Twitter or Flipboard?) in the other, pastors and church leaders need to be reminded that they are pledged to corrective orthotic preaching, “rightly explaining the word of truth” (2 Timothy 2:15; in Greek orthomounta ton logon) as God leads them.
It is also important to establish a transparent ministry from the beginning: administrative decisions and information will not be concealed from members; doctrine and policies will not be more important than people; professionalism and high ethical and legal standards will not be ignored or diminished, not by the pastor or any other church leaders.
Focus on Jesus Christ.
When teaching elders or church leaders are installed or ordained they are reminded, in the words of Colossians 3:17, that “Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus” (W-4.4006e). In church leadership, and in our lives as Christians individually or collectively, there is no higher priority than service to Christ, faithfully and without reservation. He will lead us where we need to go, give us courage to replace fear and grant the energy of the Spirit instead of hesitation or uncertainty. If we all resolve daily to renew our commitment to Christ, our churches will be right because its leaders are right.
EARL S. JOHNSON JR. is a retired pastor living in Johnstown, New York, and adjunct professor of religious studies at Siena College.