This is the season of the year when many United Methodist pastors begin new assignments.
I’ve only been through that kind of season twice — once in 1990 when I graduated from seminary and began serving Mt. Carmel & Midway Churches in Monroe and again in 1999 when I began pastoring here at Good Shepherd.
But what should a pastor beginning a new work have in his or her “toolbox” to make sure the start goes well? Here goes:
1. A month’s worth of sermons — at least. Those first few weeks should be about meeting and connecting with people, not about hunkering down in the office preparing messages. Plus, if you start ahead, you’ll always be ahead. Even today, I am typically working on messages 6-8 weeks out.
2. A box of thank you notes. Pastors receive a lot of “love” in the form of food and gifts, especially in the first few weeks of ministry. Given that we are losing the art of hand written notes, thank you cards now have even more power. Twenty-seven years in, I still write five to seven notes a week.
3. A map of the community. In the days of GPS and turn-by-turn navigation, I still find it helpful to get a map-centric orientation for any new space or area. This helps provide a literal “lay of the land” and enables you to visit with people in their homes. Pastors still have unparalleled access to people in their homes and in their times of need … and we should use that access well.
4. A pocket bible or bible app with a set of “go-to” Scriptures. Home visits and hospital visits need to involve Scripture in order to be called “pastoral care.” I read from a rotating selection of passages, depending on the situation. My favorite readings include 2 Corinthians 1:3-5, 2 Corinthians 4:7-10, Proverbs 3:5-6, Colossians 1:15-19, and, of course, Psalm 23.
5. An eye for strengths. It’s easy for a pastor to focus on the flaws in the new work. I believe pastors have much greater effectiveness if they note what the church already does well and then build on that. It helps you grow into a more optimistic leader then giving guidance to a more confident church.