There's no way to quantify the things that you learn as you step into ministry. No one is grading your knowledge, but how quickly you adapt practices to that new knowledge greatly shapes the future of ministry. No professors hold office hours, but congregants and colleagues stand by as willing teachers to help reinforce the development of faithful ministry.
In short form, here's ten things that have become vital learnings in my first ten months in ministry.
#10 - Don't be confined to your office.
This is a tricky one because people want to find the pastor, and the pastor ought to be accessible. Fortunately, with the advent of cell phones, this isn't much of a problem anymore. Yet, people need help with that transition to calling first rather than assuming you're working in the office rather than the coffee shop, the park, or somewhere else in the community. Getting out of the building helps to build relationships in your immediate mission field, which is an invaluable tool for increasing awareness of the congregation's ministry.
This also applies if you're bogged down in work that's sapping your life force. If your energy is draining in your office, find a comfy chair in a classroom to prepare for council. Write your sermon in the church yard. Do your devotionals in the sanctuary. Changing space can help to change attitude and rejuvenate your body and mind for mission.
#9 - Visit when asked.
This is fairly simple, but it's so essential. If someone asks you to come to their home, go. It makes a huge difference in building positive relationships. If someone wants to introduce you to their workplace, check it out. It helps you to understand how the people you're called to love and serve spend their time. Make the time for these uncommon and holy moments, and you'll see how God works in the lives of your people.
#8 - Change...
Seriously, change is a good thing. In a congregation that deeply wants to see new life, taking the risks to change for the better is a huge gift. We've changed our worship space, incorporated screens to display the liturgy and images, and brought in new styles of music. We've started a new campus ministry (Highlander Lutherans) and a new outreach ministry to people on the autism spectrum and persons with disabilities (Across the Spectrum). Each of these has paid a clear dividend in our community: life. We've become excited about the opportunities, and enlivened by the new relationships built because of these shifts. We've seen new members join and old members return for a new, healthier experience of relationships in church.
#7 - ...at the right pace...
This happened, in part, because we've been pacing our change. For instance, when we first put up screens, we didn't start displaying all the words for worship right away. That would have been too quick. They first sat covered for a few weeks as we finalized the audio/visual system. Then for about two months we displayed images that related to the sermon, the readings, and the liturgical calendar. Then one of our longest tenured members, a strong leader in her eighties, said to me, "Pastor, why don't we just put all the stuff in the bulletin up there?" All of the sudden, change became a valuable move for the growth of the congregation, even from the perspective of this matriarch. Rather than a forced idea from a new leader, it developed from within the community as we created consensus to move forward together.
#6 - ...for the right reasons.
These changes also had a clearly mission mindset in mind. We're installing a chair lift as we speak in order to make our building fully accessible to all people. Since we don't have a large fellowship hall, we've removed the pews in our sanctuary to make it more flexible not only for Sunday worship, but for use by community groups throughout the week. Highlander Lutherans and Across the Spectrum were born out of the realization that our congregation had particular gifts and passions that could help to develop invaluable relationships with these populations. The changes we made weren't without forethought or reason, but rather came from a commitment to help better serve and live life with the community in which God placed us to minister.
#5-#1 will appear on the next post!
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.