Advice to a Congregation with a Young Pastor
(Second of two parts. Part one: Advice to a Young Pastor)
Marion D. Aldridge
- Don’t expect your new pastor to be like your last pastor—or any other pastor, ever. Not too many decades ago, seminaries produced cookie-cutter candidates to be pastors. Same theology. Same clothes. Same haircuts. Same gender. Their wives could play piano and teach Sunday school, two employees for the price of one. Your pastor could retire or move on, and your church could almost be guaranteed to get another man very similar to the last one. That is no longer so. Nowadays graduates of the same seminary vary theologically—from fundamentalist to liberal. They vary in worship style from traditional to contemporary. They may wear tee shirts to church on Sunday and have beards or shaved heads or both. Some of the best pastors are females. If you want an old-fashioned, twentieth-century pastor, you might as well put up a For Sale sign in front of your church building now.
- Love your pastor. Pretend he or she is your beloved grandchild. Invite the new pastor to your house for a meal or meet somewhere for coffee and a donut. Remember your pastor’s birthday. You are at least partly responsible for your pastor’s success or failure. All pastors need support and encouragement, especially young ones. I made mistakes as a newly-minted seminary graduate in my first church. I needed help, good advice, a listening ear, wisdom, and grace more than I needed judgment.
- The job of being a pastor looks easier than it is. Pastors don’t think jokes about working one hour each week are funny. Believe it or not, a twenty-minute sermon may take twenty hours of preparation. Make sure young pastors have coaches, mentors and support systems that can help them successfully navigate the inevitable challenges in a congregation made up of human beings—an organization that operates in real time with real money and with real problems. Make sure your pastor does not have to choose between vacation and continuing education. No pastor graduates from seminary with all the requisite skills needed to be a competent pastor. Allow them time and money for continuing education experiences.
- Most conflicts in a church are about power. Even if the conflict is about the color of the pew cushions, it’s about power. He said/she said/he said/she said is always about power. Power is often about change—a marriage, a birth, a death, a retirement, a hospitalization, a bankruptcy—something that may look as if it has nothing to do with the church. Pay attention. The issues under dispute are almost never the real issues. God advises patience. God advises listening more than talking. God advises kindness. Reducing anxiety is a worthy goal. Everything young pastors attempt to do won’t work. Make sure you, as a member of the congregation, are a part of the solution and not a part of the problem. Blessed are the peacemakers.
- Every generation has new insights about Jesus, Holy Scripture, and the Christian faith. With a young pastor, be prepared to hear something different than what you were taught in Sunday school fifty years ago. The Bible is a Big Book. Every generation, every culture, every denomination, even every family emphasizes aspects of faith unfamiliar—maybe even anathema—to older ears. Many members of my first congregation after seminary, in 1977, deep in the segregated South, did not want to hear anything about race relations. Or, about peacemaking. Or, about an expanded role for women in the church. They heard it anyway. They grew (at least some of them did). I grew.
- The Christian faith, while acknowledging sin and failure, also highlights faith, hope, love, joy, peace, freedom, gratitude, being born again, resurrection, salvation, hospitality, rites of passage, baptism and blessing. Churches that find occasions to celebrate, to eat together, to laugh, to praise God, and to acknowledge successes are doing something right. Have you ever noticed how important festivals and holidays (holy days) were in the history of Israel? Milk and honey, bread and wine. Find reasons to recognize, honor and dedicate people, places, events, or memories. Your church and your pastor will, by doing so, not only be more faithful, but happier as individuals and as a congregation.