Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Student Appointment

I have been given a student local pastorate comprising a small-town church some distance away. I would like to solicit any advice that my readers have to offer about the first days or weeks at a new church.


John B said...

Congratulations on your appointment, you'll be a great pastor!

My advice is to make relationships a priority. When you first start out in a new church there are so many things that need to be done, so many things you need to learn they don't teach in seminary, that it's easy to lose track of the importance of relationships. This is especially true in small congregations. Your first few sermons may not be "homeruns" and people will be understanding of this. But if you don't visit Aunt Mabel in the nursing home, they will think you're not doing your job.

Whether or not it's your job to visit Aunt Mabel is a whole other topic.

TN Rambler said...

John B makes a good point. The saying goes "they won't care how much you know until they know how much you care." Get to know your people and let them get to know you. And most of all, just love them. Once you build that trust, then they just might follow your lead.

Of course this comes from someone still getting his feet wet in the first appointment. :)

May God richly bless you in this first appointment.


larry said...

I agree with the other comments, and I'll throw in my own observations:

1. If you're following another student pastor who lived a distance away, the congregation may be adjusted to not having the pastor available at their beck and call.

If that is not the case, then make the PPR chair your new best friend. That will help to get him or her to back you up on setting boundaries in terms of time committment on your part.

2. Figuring out what to say on your first Sunday can be difficult. I have found that sharing my personal testimony of how I came to Christ on my very first Sunday in the pulpit is helpful; I do this in place of a standard sermon. People like to know where you're coming from personally and spiritually. With some practice, we should all become experts at telling our own story and tying it into the scriptures.

3. Finally, just be yourself!

jim said...

Wow! Congratulations. Love people. Breathe. Love every minute of it.

I'm sure there are many people that are proud of you and excited for you. I am. Let all of us be support!

Todd said...

Remember, above all else, that this is a student appointment. You are still learning. Your folks will know this. (This will also apply to the first 20 or so appointments after seminary also.)

The second is like the first: you are their pastor. For one year or 4. With 2 people in the pews or 200. You are the person God has sent to them for this season. Be all of the pastor you can be for them.

Michael said...

I will also add: don't try to dazzle them with your education. As a local pastor who has served plenty of small, rural congregations, it is my observation that their level of faith is simplistic in its nature, not bad or good, just simple. Concepts of theology are generally beyond their concern but not their capacity to comprehend.

Above all else and these other excellent suggestions, remember that you can learn as much from them as they can from you. Best wishes!

Unless, of course, they are zombies.

Elizabeth said...

Yes, congrats John!

Advice? Take a deep breath! The day before I started at St. Paul's I was terrified, wondering what I'd gotten myself into.

- Try not to take criticism too personally. People will feel comfortable commenting/critiquing every aspect of your life, personal and professional. They sometimes forget that this is strange and hurtful. They don't mean it to be so (usually), and don't mean it about you as a person (usually), so try not to take it personally.

- Know that no matter how hard you try, you will offend/insult/hurt someone in your ministry. Trying to avoid it will just make it harder for you to be a good pastor.

- Be clear about your time off. Clear to your congregation and to yourself.

- Ditto everyone - it is about relationships. People are so grateful when someone seems to care about their lives. It is actually sad how grateful, because it always says to me that people aren't finding much caring from other sources...

gavin richardson said...

don't wear your lapel mic into the bathroom, especially when it's on

Dan Trabue said...


Ride a bike or walk to this distant church. Nothing says Prophetic like copious amounts of sweat.

Or did you want Good advice?

On a serious note (and this coming from a layperson with no pastorin' experience), one of the things that I think is GREAT about my pastor is that she weaves the congregation into her sermons in meaningful, funny and deeply moving ways on nearly a weekly basis. It's something I've never seen in another pastor.

So, if she's preaching about God's Kingdom Come, she might point out positive ways that WE are already working on that: "Like when Bart, who treats the mentally ill,..." and goes into a story about Bart.

"Or when Sue, who's adopted these children..." and she tells a short story about Sue.

It's a very meaningful technique that I think contributes greatly in a spiritual sense but also from a purely strategic sense - people start listening when they hear their name of that of a friend or a loved one.

Of course, this requires knowing the congregation. All the more reason to do it, though.

For what it's worth.

Keith McIlwain said...

Praise God! Wonderful news for you, the Church, and the congregation! I'm sure you will be a blessing, and that you will be blessed!

My only advice would be to love the people of the congregation and the community. Understanding the time constraints of a student appointment, be present at as many things as you can, both in the church and in the community-at-large. The ministry of presence cannot be overstated!

Mark Winter said...

THOU SHALT NOT alter the order of worship in any way right off the bat.

THOU SHALT NOT preach grace to the exclusion of obedience, or vice versa.

THOU SHALT NOT get lazy in spiritual disciplines but continue to grow through study, Bible meditation, prayer and fasting, so that thy congregation might see the glory of the Lord on thy face and want some of it for themselves.

THOU SHALT be with the people, but thou shalt also have boundaries with thy flock, lest they interrupt thy dinner continually and call thee on vacation.

THOU SHALT lead and not just maintain the status quo, for the sheep always need to move toward greener pastures.

THOU SHALT help the congregation understand that thy wife may not be able to play the piano, teach Sunday school, quilt and smile 24/7.

THOU SHALT develop strong tastebuds and sample everything from the churchwide potlucks, lest thou offend Susie Pearl and Emma Mae.

THOU SHALT diligently study the Book of Discipline, but do not preach from the Book of Discipline or thy congregation shalt fall asleep.

THOU SHALT be remembered fondly among the young ones if thou bringest thy bunny occasionally to the children's sermon.

THOU SHALT offer them Christ and not just "church membership."

Rev. C. S. Roberts said...

Student pastoring is perhaps the most difficult appointment in the UMC. Since I am finally! being ordained this AC, I have been offering some reflections on my last two appointments at my blog, including my student appointment.

May God be with you... your going to need Him now more than ever.

Anonymous said...

Congratulations and good luck John! You seem to be receiving some good advice. Your scenario reminds me of being an intern all over again, especially when on call for the first time.
As to what Gavin offered, he is indeed spot on! When I was a medical student, my embryology professor - a sweet, elderly British lady - forgot to to remove her mic before her trip to the loo! Dare I say "priceless"!


Art said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
tom ream said...

Congrats and some good advice from all the above.

I found it helpful to remember that God didn't need me, but He did call me.

Serving as a pastor...student, part-time, and/or ordained...is a priviledge. Give thanks to God for allowing you to participate in the lives you will touch through your new congregation.

Also, Art is right about remembering that you are a student. While you want to give your best to God and the church you serve, don't let your zeal for your new pastoral responsibilites interfer with your student responsibilities. It will be tough finding that balance, but remember that God has called you to ministry in the Body of Christ and not just that local congregation. As a United Methodist, you will serve many congregations throughout your ministry. Don't let the ones to come suffer because of shortcuts you take now.

Finally, when I was in Boy Scouts everytime we went camping we were told to leave things better than we found them.

May you be able to say the same when the time comes for you to leave this appointment.


tom ream

David said...

What to say that hasn't been said...I am sure there are reams of paper that will do that...be sure to read those (NOT!!). Read your people...don't cater to one or another...remember God first...tougher to do in the church setting. Be willing to learn from them.
Congratulations and blessings to you.

Jeff the Baptist said...

Following from biblical principles, I think you need to follow the example set by Rehoboam in 1 Kings 12. Tell them that their last minister was a total pantywaist compared to you and that you're going to be twice as tough on them as he was. Three times tougher even. You know, following in the Lord's example by reaping where you did not sow and whatnot.

I mean it worked so well for Rehoboam right? What are they going to do? Start going to Golden Calf Baptist Church at the big hill on the other side of town?

But seriously, I'm not a pastor so I can't offer much help other than to reiterate Mark Winter's comment about spiritual discipline. I know when I've had trouble in a position of spiritual leadership, it is because I've slacked off in my own walk.

But really, that's my problem. You need to know your stumbling blocks and have someone hold you accountable for them. You're being put into a position of spiritual warfare. The enemy will almost certainly exploit those things.

Andrew Conard said...

John - Congratulations! There are some great resources for pastoral transitions

lorna (see through faith) said...

This IS good news.

I look forward to reading how it goes and am pleased to be able to pray for you and the congregation. May it be a match made in heaven.

Much of the advice here is good :) esp the emphasis on getting to know people and loving them, weaving them into the sermons - so they can see the Biblical application - and I think the idea of giving a simple personal testimony in the first service is wonderful!

don't wear a hat that isn't yours - and remember not to expect too much from yourself or from the congregation - but a LOT from God!

Don't be afraid to pull Him into focus in the sanctuary and give Him a lot of space when He shows up.

and DO make it a high priority to schedule time off - no matter what your precedessor did / didn't do - if you want to continue to grow spiritually that is!

Dale said...


What happened to lunch on Monday? I awaited your call. It would have been a perfect opportunity to chat about your new appointment. How exciting.

Advice is a dime a dozen. But here's some advice that I got way back when and it has served me well over the last 15 years.

Start out focusing on building relationships and loving your people. That will go a long way down the road when you need to handle a tough situation or want to begin a new "something."

Congratulations. Call me if you ever need to.


DannyG said...

Best wishes, John. I'm sure that you will do well

John said...

Hi Dale. Well, when I didn't hear back from you, I figured that you weren't interested, too busy, or hadn't checked your e-mail.

Thanks for the wonderful advice, folks! My DS likewise told me to focus on relationships. But I must admit that Gavin's advice is the most useful thing that I've heard in the past few days.

Turbulent Cleric said...

John, you've been offered so much good advice both here and I suspect elsewhere that I will simply congratulate you and wish you well.

Be yourself and to yourself be true

doodlebugmom said...


My only advice:never betray a confidence. I know it should be a given, but sometimes it is forgotten.

doodlebugmom said...

hmmm, why did my word verification pop in at the beginning of my post? Very strange. please ignore the jibberish!


Nathan Mattox said...

Since you're too far away to be "part of the community" and accept all the pastoral roles that involves, preach well. And understand that the parishioners aren't seminary students. I'm not saying you should preach to them like they are slack jawed yokels--just ease up on the references and theological name dropping, etc (if that is your natural tendancy anyway) i.e. no need to discuss with them who the author of Hebrews is-it is Paul as far as they are concerned, and they don't know who the hell Priscilla is. (Well, no need in a sermon--this might be interesting in a Bible study.) This is interesting to seminarians, ministers, and sem. profs, not laypeople. are you bowled over with 26 comments? That says that we all wish we could take another shot at our student pastor/first parish days. You'll make mistakes--everyone obviously has. Just trust the parish enough to be honest with them when you have.

Vicki said...

Looks to me like you have all the advice you need, John - I just wanted to add my congrats! You'll do well if you keep God in focus.

Andy B. said...

Love the people.
Preach the Gospel.
Care for yourself and your family.

And have fun, too!

DannyG said...

John, I have an idea for you over on my site...it might help with that long commute if you can get your DS to spring for it.