Thursday, April 29, 2010

To New Pastors going to their Call

Here is some advice for the New Grad ready to head out to his first call.

Always

1. Preach faithfully
- The preaching of Christ Crucified for the forgiveness of sins is your highest task. Period. Many other things can be delegated. People can assist you with many things. Unless you are an assistant or associate, no one gets delegated preaching. This is your highest task - and shape your schedule like it is your highest task. For me, the first thing I do Sunday after Church is look at the texts for the next Sunday - let them ruminate. Write a draft. Preach a few dry runs - see what flows well, what you get caught up on. And make sure you preach Christ - I point to the cross in the Church - if I realize I don't point to the cross in a dry run, I know I need to fix something.

2. Visit Your Sick and Shut-ins - No excuses. If someone is in the hospital - see them. Go pray with them. Pop your head in for even just 5 minutes, pray, and let them rest. If the hospital is within 30-45 minutes one way, do this every day they are in there. Be with them before surgeries. Nothing you say or teach or preach will demonstrate Christ's love as clearly as this.

As for Shut-ins - make sure you see them. If they are difficult about scheduling - you get to be flexible. Go when it is good for them. But see them, bring them the Word and Supper frequently.

Fewer things will win you good will quicker, and fewer things will lose you good will quicker than doing or not doing this.

3. Exercise Patience - You have no need of raising your voice unless it is to project. As the Scriptures say, be slow to speak, slow to anger, quick to listen. And as Ignatius of Antioch points out, the Bishop is to be feared, and all the more when he is silent. Nothing unnerves and publicly undercuts one who is bickering or a noisy malcontent more quickly or effectively than to simply quietly watch and then move on.

This also plays in with teaching. Remember, you had 4 years at the Seminary (and probably some prep pre-Sem) where you would spend 15 hours in class a week and many more hours studying - for four years. The class you teach is an hour a week, and they aren't going to be doing home work. Remember how patient your profs were with you - be that with your people. Don't expect them to be able to wax poetically about the hypostatic union 6 months after you've gotten there.

4. Be Flexible - You have a salaried position. You are on call 24-7. Thus, you have flexibility. Set up your day off, keep it as inviolate as possible - but if someone needs something - find a time for it. Example - I had a member who had moved 2 hours away, but her husband did his adult instruction here. Why? The pastor at the church they were at said, "Adult instruction is at X time" when X was right in the middle of the fellow's shift. I taught adult instruction on the weekends when they came home (and then pointed them to a different congregation in their locale where they are quite pleased). It took longer, it meant I lost some of my weekend time - but it served. You'd be surprised how many people you can teach and instruct when you are willing to work around their schedule - because it completely undercuts the "oh, I don't have time" argument. Sure you do, one hour a week -- oh, I could do it at 7 in the morning on Tuesdays -- okay, I'll see you Tuesday morning.

Then with that - don't be afraid to (within reason) take time for yourself. If you get your tasks done and just came off a busy week, go see the wife, go see the kids. Work first, then play - and be ready to go work if called upon. Make your priority the Preaching of the Word, the Administration of the Supper to those that desire it, the teaching of those who wish to learn -- and when that is done, enjoy the life God has given you.

5. Study - Learn more. Read good books. Read good blogs (of people who read good books that you haven't read). Do daily devotion and mediate upon the Word. Be in the Word. You ought to have a "study", not an "office". Grow in your own understanding, grow in your own sense of wonder at God's love, God's working - and then teach and preach.

Never

1. Simply Use Jargon
- Don't talk about the Hypostatic Union - talk about how Jesus really is true God and true Man. Don't just toss out justification by itself (unless you are at a congregation full of Preus kin) - explain it as well - that Jesus has done all the good that we need and gives His goodness to us, that the Father sees us as good because of Christ. Always explain your terms - that way people will both learn the terms (so they can read things that are more advanced) and understand clearly what you are saying.

2. Try to change the congregation - Your job is not to change the congregation. Your job is not to turn them into a new version of Redeemer or St. Paul's or whatever congregation you have loved. They aren't them. Simple as that. Mayhaps they will never be the super high-church congregation - maybe they will never have this awesome program or that. Who cares. That's not your job - to make them into something else.

Your job is to preach and teach faithfully. If change comes of that - so be it. If it comes quickly - so be it. If it comes slowly - so be it. Some plant, some fertilize, and some reap the harvest. Don't assume that you are the one who will reap the harvest - you may just be breaking up the soil. It is not your job to turn your congregation into some hypothetical perfect congregation - it will never be that (there never is one), and more over, you won't be the pastor of the perfect congregation anyway. Simply be faithful and patient and teach faithfully.

3. Try to mimic another Pastor - I love the way my field work pastor Peter Cage preaches. I'm not Peter Cage. I love the way my field work pastor Kevin Karner lead the liturgy. I'm not Kevin Karner. I love the way my Vicarage Supervisor Stewart Crown taught bible class. I'm not Stewart Crown. There are many things I love about how Dan Dahling is a pastor, or my dad, or David Nehrenz, or Paul Harris, or Mike Knox, or Pless - but I'm not them. I can't try to imitate them -- but I can learn from them an I can incorporate what they have taught into how I teach - how they preach into how I preach.

But the simple fact is this. God has not called Cage or Karner or Crown to be the pastor of your congregation - He has called you. Learn to shape and hone your own skills with what you have learned from all the pastors God has given you time with, but learn and know and trust that YOU are the pastor there - and when you preach, it can be influenced by these folks, but it needs to be you preaching - when you teach, it can and should be influenced by these folks, but it needs to be you teaching. Quote if you like, mention, refer - I mention Quill in my sermon last week, and I enjoy doing the occasional Scaer impersonation in bible study (with appropriate introduction talking about the old cranky prof I had at sem who would say. . .). But you are the one who is called there to be a Pastor - and that is no accident. Do not put on airs - be whom God has called you to be.

4. Speak down to your people - There will be times when you want to strangle people. There will be times you want to beat people with a stick. Tough. Suck it up. It is not your place to speak down to them, it is not your place to assert your dominance or superiority over them. Rather, have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus. . . you getting the whole Philippians 2:5-11 kick here? You lower yourself to below them and serve them. You don't need to prove you are _______er than them. You need to teach them simply and humbly. Don't treat them as foolish - although you might know more theology than some, chances are they know a lot more about other things than you, and you don't want them swinging around and humbling you in those areas - that is the way of pain and suffering. Teach with love and patience.

Sometimes

-Pause and Reflect-
Every once in a while pause and reflect on what you've been doing - and see where you have been doing poorly. In many ways I condemn myself in writing this - and that is not bad. It is good to reflect on what you need to do better, what you need to improve upon. I examine myself with my own standards now, and see what is lacking. It is best to fix that now before it gets worse. Do this