Advice for a Young Pastor
(First of two parts. Part two: Advice to a Congregation with a Young Pastor)
Marion D. Aldridge
- It won’t be like they taught you at seminary. That’s not always the seminary’s fault. They can’t predict the random realities of your life or our culture for the next thirty years. The past two weeks of my ministry have been dominated by trying to get the musty smell of mildew and mold out of our church building in the least expensive way. I am highly motivated because recently a couple visited our church and the wife told me she has allergies that respond badly to mold. De-humidifying a sanctuary was never mentioned in any seminary course.
- It’s a real job. Recently, I talked with a 26-year-old Dartmouth grad who wasn’t particularly thrilled with the nitty-gritty, unfulfilling duties of the entry-level job in her chosen career. But, she had been humbled by initially having to work as a maid—even with her Ivy League education. Every job involves grunt work. Nobody gets to do only things they enjoy. That’s why we call it “work” and why we are paid to do it.
- You are a meeting planner. You have pious thoughts about introducing people to God and counseling people in crisis, but what ministers spend much of their week doing is preparing for events—the big ones such as Sunday morning worship and the little ones such as the finance committee. You must become expert at convening groups. Some young pastors (like many laity) assume events magically happen and have no clue that hours are spent each week in coordinating schedules and planning activities.
- You are a fundraiser. No matter how big or small your congregation is, bills must be paid. Budgets and projects must be created that people will support. Call it stewardship, but the money must be raised. Emergencies happen. Heating systems fail. Your church’s best contributor dies. An unbudgeted summer mission opportunity needs to be financed or twenty teenagers will miss out on the experience of a lifetime. Jesus didn’t hesitate to think and talk about money.
- Preaching is the silver bullet. Your congregation will want your sermons to be lightening in a bottle. Every now and then a pastor is charismatic, charming and dynamic (one in fifty?). Have something to communicate, say it well, with humor, with drama, with clarity. Inspiring preaching will fill pews faster than excellent hospital visits. That may not be fair, but it’s reality.
- Your calling is crucial. There will be times when people criticize you. Sometimes you’ll doubt yourself. I never self-appointed myself to a pastorate. A congregation asked me to shepherd them. You’re not a pastor-in-waiting. This is your calling, your vocation. You could be led to a different vocation or the church could vote to rescind their call. But individuals or small groups of unhappy members do not have the right or the authority to alter what the church and the pastor have previously agreed to be God’s call.
- Take care of your own spirit, mind and body. Pastors who read scripture and pray only when desperate to prepare a sermon are sad, lost souls. Study. Listen. Learn. Exercise. Grow. Don’t get stuck in the theology or habits of youth. Change. Forgive others. Forgive yourself. Pay attention to your physical, emotional and spiritual health. Pastors who are more-or-less friendless (and there are thousands) with no systems in place (outside their congregation) for encouragement and accountability are not modeling relationships of love. You need to have a life outside the church. Find faithful friends. Pastors who aren’t working to maintain their own family ties are to be pitied. First things first.