(Both Evan & Drew received new appointments this year. This is the first of a two-part series in which Evan & Drew reflect on their first three months in their new settings. Evan leads us off):
For the first 4 years of my ministry, I served small, rural churches. I absolutely loved this ministry context. I served between 2-4 churches at a time, all churches with membership under 60; the largest had an average attendance of around 45. As many of you who have served small membership churches know, such a pastor wears many hats: preacher, teacher, secretary, custodian. I loved serving these churches. These people loved me, showed me real grace, and allowed me, a total rookie, space to cut my pastoral teeth. I’m forever grateful for those folks.
On July 1, I began a new appointment. I am in the same rural NJ county, serving in the town of Belvidere, the county seat. So, in some ways, the rural context is the same. However, this congregation also has presented me with new challenges and opportunities. This is the first time I’ve led a staff. This is my first appointment with a sizable number of youth and young families. This is, for this rural area, a decent sized congregation; membership stands at 275 with worship attendance around 120. Several programs are run out of the church building, including a sizable day care/preschool and the area food pantry.
I want to offer a few reflections on these first 90 days in this new context and to elucidate what I have found imperative in beginning this new appointment well.
Listen, listen, listen. If “location, location, location” is the realtor’s mantra, “listen, listen, listen” should be the pastor’s motto, especially during her first few months. This has been beneficial in many ways, allowing me a greater level of clarity regarding my ministry context. One of the best ways to engage in this is to hold one-on-one meetings with leaders in the church. I have found these meetings invaluable, in that I have learned each one’s style of leadership, areas of growth and strength in the congregation, and their vision for the future of the church. By incorporating what I have heard into my own leadership, I model for the church what we are in ministry together. And, speaking of listening…
Remember people’s names. I’ve found that one of the best (and sometimes hardest!) impressions I can make as a new pastor is remembering people’s names. When I can meet someone for the first time, have a 30 second conversation with them, and then call them by name the following Sunday, I begin that relationship on a strong foundation. And trust me – people will NOT forget that.
Make contact with community leaders/agencies. I’ll never forget some of the best advice a seminary professor once gave me. She said (and I realize this is now a dated concept) that a pastor must build his “rolodex.” Perhaps some of you still use that desk top card index onto which you record names, phone numbers, addresses, etc. Her point was to communicate the importance of getting to know the community. I’ve done this by meeting with the mayor, introducing myself to the police department, making contact with several social service agencies in the area, etc. As you build your pastoral rolodex, you develop a network that you will almost certainly find invaluable in the future.
Hold small group “meet and greets” with the church constituency. These gatherings of 8-10 people, usually hosted in a church member’s home, have been one of the ways to ensure that my tenure as pastor begins in the best way possible. I have had about 12 of these gatherings so far, with a few more to go. As an introvert, this is tiring work! However, these groups have been invaluable spaces in which to share life stories, church experience, and hopes for the future. It has also resulted in several inactive church folk returning to the life of the congregation.
Maybe you are in a new appointment, or you have some feedback for what made a transition into a new appointment smooth and effective. We invite you to share below in the comments.