Starting a new call well

The day you sit down in your desk chair for the first time, plotting how you will arrange your vast theological library and hang your credentials, is an exciting one. It can also be an incapacitating one. What do I do first? Who are these people? How do they operate? Why in the world do they operate that way?

Listening to staff and the people in the pews is an important step toward answering these questions. You don’t have to wait for cottage meetings or scheduled conversations with influencers to start putting your ear to the ground, however. You can ask for the following information before you even show up the first day. These documents will help you pick up on patterns, pinpoint whom to contact first, and refine your questions so that you can get off to the quickest possible start.

  • Most recent church directory
  • Staff list and position descriptions
  • Pastoral care list (including homebound, critically ill, and anniversaries of deaths)
  • Church calendar
  • Budget for the past three years
  • Constitution and by-laws
  • Board/committee information (including chair, chair’s contact information, meeting schedule and location, and recent meeting notes)
  • Special events and traditions (including when they occur, contact person, and the history of the event or tradition)
  • Locations of hospitals and other key places
  • Names and contact information for partner churches and organizations
  • Judicatory calendar
  • Notes left by previous or interim minister (if applicable)

Not every church will have all of this information at the ready. (What information is available and how current it is might, in itself, be telling.) But the documents you can get your hands on will give you a better sense of the church’s immediate needs and your pastoral priorities.

What else would you add to this list?

First sermons

Image courtesy of Hermano Leon Clip Art.
Image courtesy of Hermano Leon Clip Art.

I recently wrote a post with some thoughts about starting a new ministry position well. Though I didn’t name preaching specifically, a thoughtfully-considered first sermon is an important piece of a fast start for pulpit ministers.

I heard an example of a great first sermon a couple of weeks ago. (Brag alert: it was delivered by my husband in his new appointment.) Matt started by outlining the different schools of thought about how to approach a first sermon, then told a humorous anecdote about each of his previous first sermons. These stories humanized him and gave his new congregation a sense of his growth as a preacher. They also showed his parishioners that they are meeting up with him mid-ministry. Matt then pointed out that he is joining this church’s narrative – already in progress – and that together they are all locating themselves along the arc of God’s relationship with humankind. Matt gave his hearers the charge to grab different threads of the story of God’s work among us and weave them more tightly into the trajectory of the kingdom, making the fabric stronger and more functional in the process. It was a great way to acknowledge the linking of a pastor’s ministry and a congregation’s mission while honoring all the history that each side brings to the relationship. This kind of sermon takes experience and a strong pastoral identity to preach, and it struck me as very effective.

I’m not often a good (traditional) pastor’s wife, but I certainly was a proud one that day!