In the last post, I offered the first five learnings (#10-#6) from my first ten months in ministry. This post continues that countdown.
#5 – Take vacation & continuing education seriously.
This is one of those areas that always gets tricky. Written into my call documents are four weeks of vacation and two weeks of continuing education. That means six weeks away from the congregation, even before you begin to count required denominational events like the Synod Assembly, the Gathering of the Ministerium, and the First Call Retreat. Taking this much time out of a fifty-two weeks for ministry can seem, at times, too much time away.
Yet, without intentional time for further learning and for Sabbath rest, pastors quickly become overwhelmed. Congregations deserve excellent pastors, and those who choose not to utilize all their time away risk exhaustion, burnout, or perhaps most invasive, complacency. Even further, these times allow for healthy differentiation, reminding congregations and pastors that their identities, though related, are not one in the same. Long after I’m gone, there will still be a Christ Lutheran Church, and it is a healthy reminder to have other preachers and leaders step up at various times to remind everyone that while we rely on one another for effective ministry, we’re not called to become codependent.
Even as I’m in the middle of a vacation week right now, I feel the strength returning to my mind and body. New ideas are flowing for ministry and I’m genuinely excited to return to the people of our congregation. Recharging my batteries with family has helped prepare me for the next steps we’ll take together as CLC.
#4 – Create consensus.
This requires the long view on decision making. Consensus comes not from immediate problems, but rather discerning together how to adapt to particular issues facing your community. Perhaps the most important part of this is opening up to the possibility that the decision you want is not necessarily the decision that will be made.
As a congregation, we recently decided to commit to a sanctuary full of portable furniture rather than pieces like pews that must be nailed to the floor. This decision wasn’t easy. In fact, it took us nine months of prayer, of using moveable furniture in our worship space, and of discerning what other options this opened up to us. When we took the vote, as a congregation we made the decision almost unanimously. This potentially divisive decision instead became a discussion of God’s mission for ministry through our congregation.
#3 – Empower others.
Creating consensus also works to empower others. When leaders open up to the work of the Spirit within their communities, other leaders begin to arise. Recently, we’ve seen ministry coordinators arise to become leaders in our Across the Spectrum outreach and on our property team. This sharing of new perspectives, skills, and ideas helps to hone the ministry we share at our church, as well as offers me renewed energy to direct in other areas of our church’s life. Again, the decisions you want won’t necessarily be the decisions that are made when you empower others, but good leaders help to foster growth in leadership as well as develop a shared vision, one created by the aforementioned building of consensus.
#2 – Don’t always lead from the same place.
Some leaders naturally lead from the front, gathering a group around a dynamic personality, vision, or cause. Others lead from the center, emanating direction from the core (which is, in general, consensus building). Still others lead from the rear, getting a full view of the battlefield and calling out troop movements informed by that panoramic perspective.
What I’ve learned is that, while I’m most comfortable leading from the center, which is where it’s easiest to build consensus and empower others, there are times when I need to lead from the front. Certain times require a leader at the front in order to blaze the trails necessary for ministry. This often requires more hierarchy than I prefer, yet it produces results when none seem likely. Yet, when the terrain seems so muddled that I can’t gain a full view of what’s best, it helps to step back to the rear and allow others to lead particular ministries while I gain a sense of the entire system at work. From this vantage point, I may help to shepherd us all in the same direction, under the same vision, toward the shared goals we’ve identified together.
#1 – Remember who’s really in charge, and that it is not you.
Perhaps the worst thing that pastors can do is assume that they’re in charge. We’re invited into the life of Jesus, the mission of Jesus, and the ministry of Jesus. As soon as the churches we serve begin to look more like us than like Jesus, we’ve done something wrong. As we’re called into this holy work, we must remember that we’re always subject to the guidance of God and the movement of the Holy Spirit.
Of course, there's much more that could be said about the first ten months. Further, I know there's much more learning yet to be done. Thankfully these things have helped me to embrace my role as a pastor more fully, and my place in this community more faithfully. I hope they help others to embrace their vocations more authentically and effectively. As always, I'm available for further discussion if processing this would be helpful for any readers.
Finally, I pray that the next ten months are even more blessed than these first ten. That's a tall order, but the God that we love and serve loves and serves us beyond measure. God's vision is surely beyond my wildest expectations, so I'm excited to see what that future looks like with the people of CLC.
Simultaneously a sinner and a saint.