It’s Pastor Appreciation Month!

It's Pastor Appreciation Month!I’m not sure who decided it, but October is Pastor Appreciation Month. (Really, just one month?) I want to thank all the ministers out there who…

…work more hours than most of their care recipients realize.

…put their hearts and souls into creating worship services, learning experiences, and mission opportunities that help their people grow as disciples of Christ.

…don’t get real weekends.

…have trouble making friends or finding partners because others are leery of letting down their hair around a member of the cloth.

…are often the anxiety sponges for those who are mad at God, mad at the church, or mad at the world.

…lay down whatever they’re doing to be with a parishioner in crisis.

…stress about money because of seminary debt or shrinking church budgets, yet continue to serve faithfully.

…feel burdened by the ways humans do harm to one another and to the world, yet persist in hope that God is at work.

…risk their livelihoods by faithfully challenging their congregations to live toward God’s vision.

…live, along with their families – who deserve their own appreciation month – in the fishbowl.

…do so many tasks that weren’t taught in seminary and fall under “other duties as assigned.” (Emergency toilet repair, anyone?)

This is not an exhaustive list of reasons to appreciate a minister. I hope the people in your care tell you how much your leadership means to them, not just this month, but year-round.

 

Denominational meetings

Right now I am at a denominational meeting. It’s true that I’m a bit of a conference junkie, but there are several legitimate reasons why:

  • I get to worship. I can participate instead of mentally scrolling through the checklist of the behind-the-scenes details that contribute to a worshipful environment for others.
  • I get to learn. Workshops! About so many interesting topics! The problem is choosing.
  • I get to hear the good that is going on elsewhere. I emerge from my bubble to find out how other churches are doing innovative and effective ministry.
  • I get to connect. I renew old friendships and start new ones with people who speak my language.
  • I get to visit a new place. Often I travel somewhere that I probably wouldn’t have gone to if not for my meeting.
  • I get swag. Ah, pens, cups, magnets, sunglasses, reusable totes…

But perhaps most importantly…

  • I get to breathe. I am away from my routine and my regular responsibilities. I can use this time to hit the re-set button and return to Real Life refreshed and re-energized.

Starting well

Creative Commons "Golfland start" by Todd Dalley is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.
Creative Commons “Golfland start” by Todd Dalley is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

You jingle your new keys as you look for the one that fits the lock. You open your office door and find (ideally) a clean desk and a few neatly-arranged office supplies. You adjust the height on your desk chair and turn on your computer.

Now what?

It’s your first day in your new ministry. There are only possibilities before you, and there are no crises yet to direct your day. So…where do you begin?

Maybe the better question is not now what, but now who? Ministry is relational work, so whom do you need to reach out to first? Consider not just formal church and community leadership, but also other influencers (e.g., “gatekeepers”). Find out about these folks and their passions. Tell them yours. Let them fill you in about potential landmines and unwritten expectations the church has of you.

What preparations and processes is the church actively engaged in? Is your congregation getting ready for Vacation Bible School? Hitting the lull after the initial excitement of a capital campaign? Dealing with a difficult staff departure? It’s important to know your role in these situations, if any.

How will you build a relationship with the congregation as a whole? How will you use your public forum and individual interactions to know and be known by your people? It’s easier to work toward a shared mission with people you know.

What expectations do you want to set? What will your weekly work pattern be? What boundaries will you be instituting regarding personal/family time? How will you handle complaints? The easiest time to set expectations is at the beginning of your tenure. Communicate them well and maintain them as consistently as possible.

What would be some good early wins, and how will you go about getting them? What gift has the last minister left you in terms of a quick victory? Take advantage – doing so will bank some goodwill and extend your honeymoon period.

What support or resources do you need? You don’t have to do it all on your own time and dime. You may be the leader, but you and your congregation are all in this ministry together.

And…don’t forget to have fun in your new role! Ministry is a serious calling, but the work of the ministry doesn’t always have to be serious – and neither does the minister.

Being a good teammate

Creative Commons "Team" by Dawn (Willis) Manser licensed under CC 2.0.
Creative Commons “Team” by Dawn (Willis) Manser is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0.

As the NCAA tournament has played out the past few weeks, I’ve spent some time reflecting on what makes a good teammate. Ministry is a vocation that can lend itself to Lone Rangerdom, but it bears the longest-lasting fruit when it is done collaboratively. (Hey, even God needs three aspects working together to get the job done.) Whether you are part of a big staff or a solo pastor who recruits laypeople for some of the tasks covered by ordained ministers in larger churches, the following observations apply.

Good teammates:

  • Cooperate. This seems obvious, but it doesn’t always happen.
  • Coordinate. The most effective ministry requires some measure of advance planning – together – not just in our individual areas of responsibility.
  • Communicate. Learning teammates’ verbal and non-verbal cues cuts down on costly misunderstandings and allows the team to roll more easily with the unexpected.
  • Practice and play hard. The whole team looks good when everyone has prepared. On the other hand, one person’s lack of preparedness can make the whole team look like it hasn’t taken the task at hand seriously.
  • Share credit. Spread the word about how others contributed to a good outcome. Your teammates will become more deeply invested in your relationship and in your shared mission.
  • Encourage one another. We all get down. And when we get down, we rarely do our best ministry.
  • Know how and when to confront one another… Teams run into personality conflicts and differences of opinion. Don’t let them fester.
  • …but also maintain a unified front. Nothing tears a team apart faster than teammates talking behind one another’s backs.

Being a teammate is about working with others toward a common goal and making those around us better. And there are few things as exhilarating and productive as being part of a team that has really gelled.