A few weeks ago, in an earlier E-pistle, I asked what advice you would give to the new clergy who are being commissioned or ordained at our first Annual Conference Session of our new Indiana Conference in June. Dozens of you replied, and the total list of advice amounts to over 60 pages. I have worked through those many pieces of advice, and I have prepared the following summary which I just shared with our candidates at our Ordination Retreat this week. I cannot possibly put all of this into my sermon at the ordination service on June 28, so I am sharing it here:

  1. I received lots of comments about preaching – length of time, using the Bible, asking speech teachers to help, some said “stay in the pulpit” and some said “move around and look us in the eye”, topics were suggested, use of the Lectionary was suggested to avoid the preacher using only her or his favorite texts, etc. It is clear that most people see preaching as a primary task of ministry. So do it well. Laity can tell when their clergy take short-cuts, use others’ sermons, or rely too much upon internet resources.   Many expressed their hope that their pastor will preach from the Bible and from their own heart in a way which helps the listeners to be better Christians.   I concluded: United Methodists still believe in the power of the Word of God expressed through the sermons and teachings of our clergy 
  2. The advice include lots of concern about pastors knowing their people and their community, showing care, being “with the people” and not separated or above them, many comments about getting away from the office and the computer and being with the people (one person – another bishop – wrote to me and said, “Tell your new pastors that their computers don’t need pastoral care”). So clergy are advised: visit in hospitals and homes and for emergencies, stay in touch by technology, too.  Lots of people – clergy and laity – see that people skills, being with people and being “real” with people is essential 
  3. I received many suggestions about leading the church in a way which brings the people along. The UMW wants clergy to be “faithful and flexible” in their style. Many people want their clergy to be bold in leading on behalf of the Lord, but they also want their clergy to care for those who disagree and to try to bring them along. There were many comments which reflect this balancing act of being bold without being arrogant. Terms were used like “servant leader” and “humility.” One woman summarized it well: “Don’t forget, it is not your church and don’t let us forget that it is not our church, it is Christ’s church.” So lead accordingly.
  4. Many, many people – both clergy and lay – expressed concern about the clergy being faithful in their own devotional life, being people of integrity, being people who are following Jesus themselves. Many clergy talked about the need to care for our own souls, our own bodies, our own faith – even as we try to lead others. Laity talked about how clergy can fall into the trap of “giving” so much that they don’t nourish their own spirits – and the laity say they can tell when their clergy are not being “fed” and thus don’t have much to offer to their people. One person said it this way: “Just because you are ordained doesn't mean you leave God behind.
  5. Several offered advice about “staying connected” – to the laity as partners in ministry, to other clergy, and to our UMC. Most of our laity want their clergy to be loyal to our UMC and to lead them to be loyal. They see the lack of integrity of clergy who accept the many benefits of being a UM pastor while at the same time failing to offer faithfulness to the UMC – laity see that, and they have lost respect for clergy who act that way. They also see that clergy cannot be effective when they disconnect themselves or isolate themselves from others as they serve the church. So, stay connected
  6. Many of the clergy, and several of the laity, said that I should warn these new clergy that ministry is difficult – but it is worth it. Several pastors wrote comments which reflected their own current painful situations, wanting these new clergy to know that ministry can be painful, that some folks take pot-shots at their pastors, and that the culture as a whole is working against us as Christians. So, they said, new clergy should be prepared to stand firm in their faith, but they should also be assured that the tough times in ministry are worth it – if we are faithful
  7. Many clergy and also many laity expressed concern for pastor’s families and for their marriages. Lots of advice was offered about being faithful and fair to your own families while serving the church. Lots of pain was expressed by some clergy as they offered this advice, one saying very frankly, “I have neglected my family.”
  8. Several people said I should remind our clergy that the best advice is summarized in our 3 Simple Rules: “Do no harm. Do good.  Stay in love with God.

This is a summary of the long list of good advice that was offered to our new clergy. Thanks to all who responded. I know that our new clergy will benefit from this excellent list, and I will be providing them with the full list of advice (without the names of those who submitted their advice). Now what I must do is to offer an Ordination Sermon which is worthy of this excellent advice. Please pray that I may do so.