Some mid-summer traditions may involve baseball, apple pie and Fourth of July fireworks. In the United Methodist community, mid-summer can also mean changes in pastoral appointments. Some churches are receiving a new pastor just after having said goodbye to the pastor with whom they have worked, prayed, worshipped and served.
As a pastor, who is not moving this summer (right, Bishop Mike?) and as someone who has more than 30-years of experience in parish ministry, I offer some words of advice to congregations receiving a new pastor. Whether this advice is helpful in assisting you in beginning a positive partnership, I that leave to you.
If I were in a congregation receiving a new pastor or where a leader or a member of a Staff Parish Relations Committee, I would:
- Pray. Pray for the pastor and his or her family as they do the hard work of packing, saying goodbye and moving into a new community. Pray for the congregation that people would be open to a new day and a new person.
- Do my very best to bless the pastor who is leaving us. Be sure to send a note of blessing (maybe including a gift card to a coffee shop or Target or…?), ask if they need help along the way and encourage them.
- Let the departing pastor go. You can be friends, but don’t ask the exiting pastor to come back to officiate at a wedding or funeral.
- Send a note of welcome and blessing to the new pastor (and remember that gift card!). Tell him or her something about myself, my family, the church and the community.
- Be sure and wear my name tag at church, and when I see them around town never expect him or her to know my name. Always introduce myself again and again!
- Invite the pastor and family over or out for a meal. If their “dance card” is full in those first few months, I would offer the invitation again several times.
- Look at the new pastor with the eyes of grace. The new pastor will not be a duplicate copy of the former pastor. Pastors have different ways of preaching, different ways of leading, and different ways of thinking. I would work hard to let the new pastor be who he or she is created by God to be – not demand he or she match my expectation of perfection.
- Encourage the new pastor to stay well. That means taking a day off, keeping the Sabbath, eating well, getting 7-8 hours of sleep each night, exercising, knowing it is okay to say a loving “no” when parish expectations are unrealistic. Jesus says we are to love our neighbor as we love ourselves. So I would want my pastor to take good care of him- or herself.
- Speak directly with the pastor if I have a concern. I would want to say what I say with love, not huddle with friends in the parking lot following a meeting to discuss the pastor’s strengths and weaknesses. The New Testament way is to be direct with one another.
- Remember that ministry is something we do together. The pastor isn’t a pack mule on whom we load all the expectations and ministry hopes of the church, but the Apostle Paul says ministry is something we do together. In fact the role of a pastor is to equip the people of God to do the work of the church. If you see a need that needs to be addressed, pray and huddle with others to see how you can help the church respond.
- Be patient. Vital, life-changing ministry happens with time. Ministry is a long distance run and not a sprint.
- Love them as well as I could. I would want to ask myself if my relationship with my pastor is shaped by what the Apostle Paul has to say in 1 Corinthians 13 about love (am I being patient and kind, not keeping a record of wrongs but rejoicing in the truth… the good?).
- Never take the good for granted. Sometimes when the partnership is working and things seem really right, we can take what God is doing for granted. Nothing lasts forever (even summer). I would pray for the ability to rejoice in each week, each month, we get to serve God together, because someday the pastor I love and who has helped me grow in Christ will be packing boxes and we will start again.
If you are getting a new pastor, how you welcome that person and family into your life in these first months will shape your future together. Celebrate your congregation’s new season with the fireworks of Christ-like grace!
Mark Fenstermacher is lead pastor of First United Methodist Church in Bloomington, Ind.
He is serving his first year in that appointment.