Saturday, December 22, 2012

Some Steps To Starting A New Pastorate

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  1. Ideally, move into the community two weeks prior to starting in the new ministry.  Let the family settle in.  Find new doctors, dentists, health clubs, etc.  
  2. Arrange to have a public start date that is different from your real start date.  Don’t announce the day you go on the payroll, but announce the date of your “first Sunday in the pulpit.”  This will allow you to be able to attend worship with your family.  Arrive at the last minute and take a seat in a pew like anyone else.  Join the coffee hour.  Observe how the elders and others greet you.  You will never again have this opportunity to access your new church from the eyes of a visitor.  This will also give you time to set up your office.  Before your first official visit, you’re your books on the shelves and the degrees on the wall.
  3. Remember that the impression you give in the first few months will be the expectation people have of you for years to come.  Do the things as you want to continue to do them for many years to come.
  4. Lay out a schedule for time off and stick to it.  It is tempting to work 7 days a week for the first few weeks.  Don’t.  Ministry, as we all like to say, is not a sprint but a marathon.  Pace yourself.
  5. Don’t focus on work.  Focus on people.  Focus on socializing and enjoying the company of the parishioners.   Let them enjoy and feel comfortable in your presence.  Get to know the sheep of your new flock.  It will help to have your first three months of preaching primarily from your last church.  There is nothing wrong with using a few oldie but goldies from your preaching barrel – especially now.
  6. Plan your installation service with care.  Sunday service time is best, but sometimes impossible in some churches or denominations.  Whatever time it is held, be sure that brevity is stressed to all participants.  Most installation services involve a number of people, with each person speaking a wee bit too long, so that taken together the entire service is way too long.
  7. No changes in the worship service the first week.  Change it with the leaders later.
  8. Focus on that first sermon.  This is not the sermon you can afford to mess up!
  9. Find out who is in the hospital the day you arrive, and visit them immediately. 
  10. Find out who the shut-ins are and visit them during the first month.
  11. Find out who the recently bereaved might be, and visit them during the first month.  Visiting the sick, shut-ins and recently bereaved quickly will help you to focus on the needs of the people, and it will help the people understand that you care about them.
  12. Make contact with the entire congregation in the first year – of course, in most congregations that will be impossible.  A good way to do this is to have someone organize small group meetings in the church and visit a dozen or two per week.  Not everyone will sign up for these small groups, but it will enable you to personally contact and interact with most of the congregation as soon as possible.  Since the smaller the church, the more there is an expectation of the pastor to visit than in the larger church – the larger the church the less vital it is to visit those who would not sign up for a small group experience.
  13. Make contact with the Inactive Members, if there is such a list.  The presence of a new pastor might be all the catalyst that is required for these folks to return to church.
  14. Get to know the staff.  Pay particular attention to the first staff meeting, but then take each pastor and program director out for lunch, one on one, or one on two.  Ask them to review their official job description and have them tell you what their real job is.  Ask them “what can I do to help you.”  Communicate that you want to work with them, not boss them around.  Build a sense that “we’re in this together as a team.”
  15. On day one, have the secretary place your desk the past three months of board and committee minutes.  Read these recent minutes and find out what has been happening recently. 
  16. At the first board meeting, go around the room and introduce everyone.  Ask the board for their personal hopes and dreams.  Assure the board you will be praying for them by name every day, and ask them to do the same for you.
  17. Meet with every committee of the church during the first two months. 
  18. Get to know the judicatory.  Visit the office of the presbytery, diocese, or district.  Introduce yourself to its office staff.  Make yourself available to them to serve them.  Ask if there is an orientation for new pastors in the judicatory.  If you are asked to serve on a committee of your judicatory, take it, but also ask that you need at least 6 months to settle in before taking on a task.
  19. Find out who the other pastors are in the area.  Take them out to lunch.  Pay attention to the other pastors of your denomination, but also the pastors of other denominations who are very close to your church.
  20. Find out what civic organizations the previous pastor joined.  Find out if there is an organization a substantial number in your church are part of, and join.
  21. Get to know the community, especially if it is a small community.  Be visible at community meetings.
  22. From the first week, start sending birthday cards to all of the parishioners.  Get a volunteer to help by addressing the envelopes and putting the birth date on the envelope where the stamp will go.  If a volunteer prepares these a month or two ahead of time, the pastor can sign the cards leisurely from time to time.  Sometimes the cards might be a simple signature, but at first these might have a note, “I’m honored to be serving as your pastor and hope that we can get to know each other” or “I want to thank you for being part of the choir.  I’ve been impressed by it during my first few weeks.”  These will help you get to know them and for the members to get to know you.  We rarely thank the usher who is there every week, or the one who pulls the weeds in the church courtyard and these birthday cards are a great way to offer a pastor such an opportunity.

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