Building a new ministry

How many pastors does it take to hang two pieces of F-channel (a vinyl siding accessory trim) over the back porch of the conference Habitat house?  It took Robert Eckert, Mark Johnson and me 90 minutes to figure out what to do, including several “re-dos.” 

I am very grateful to the 12 pastors who gave up their day spent last Thursday to help build a house for Natasha Blakely and her 4 young children.  I learned many things that day, not the least of which is the fact that I know next to nothing about building a house.  I’ve done painting and dry walling before, but this time we were working with soffits, fascia and F- channels.  Don’t ask!  I can’t understand it, let alone explain it. 

We had a very patient site supervisor, Dave Zimmerman, who gave us lots of responsibility but was always there to help when we got stuck.  After we contemplated giving up on the F-channel, Dave fixed it within minutes.  When we asked why it took 90 minutes for us to attempt the same thing, his reply was simple, “I eyeballed it.”  In other words, experience is everything.

I’m not sure how much we actually contributed to the building of the house at 510 Fuller S.E. in Grand Rapids.  However, I sensed satisfaction in being able to see some tangible results of our efforts.  At the same time, we thanked God that we were called to build the kingdom of God, not houses. 

We have a number of pastors right now in the West Michigan Conference who are beginning to build the kingdom of God in new locations.  I have been holding these pastors and families and their churches in prayer for months, asking God to bless this time of transition.

I can’t resist offering a bit of wisdom to all those who are building new ministries, knowing that these principles also apply to pastors in continuing their current ministries.

  • Ministry is not haphazard, so create a plan for how you spend your time in the first three months.  The first 90 days in your new congregation are critical to the overall success of your ministry. 
  • It is human nature to want to follow people we trust and want to be like.  The most important way you can foster trust in a new church is to build relationships with staff members, meet with key lay leaders in the church, and visit the shut-ins.  
  • Listen more than speak.  When you learn the collective stories of the congregation and the individual stories of parishioners, you are much better equipped to come alongside existing ministries and build on them.
  • Working hard and smart as you build a new ministry will reap enormous benefits in the future.  At the same time, set aside a specific day off at the beginning and stick to it.  If you honor your own day off, your parishioners will honor it too.  Build longer times of retreat and renewal into the year as well. 
  • Eyeball your ministry by building on your own pastoral experience.  There is a reason United Methodist bishops don’t appoint 25 year olds as senior pastors in large churches.  Deep and sustained pastoral experience as well as growth in emotional, spiritual and leadership intelligence is critical if we are to pastor churches with larger and more complex ministries.  Eyeballing ministry does not mean thinking that what you did in your last church will automatically work in your new church.  It means looking at your new ministry setting with fresh eyes and seeing potential for transforming ministry.
  • Grow the church where you are.  Don’t covet your neighbor’s church or complain that you are appointed to a dead end church.  Every church can grow!  If you desire a bigger appointment, bloom where you are planted. 
  • Think strategically.  Work in partnership with lay leaders and staff to develop a long range plan for the church’s ministry.  At the same time, set goals for your own ministry, goals that include professional growth as well as cultivating your own spirituality.  Be a life-long learner.
  • Move outside the church!  How deeply is your congregation involved in your community?  Would anyone miss the ministries of your church if it closed?  Don’t let anyone guilt trip you into ministering only to members of the congregation.
  • Communication is at the heart of effective ministry.  When issues come up, face them directly, graciously and hopefully.  Avoidance never works.  Discern who needs to be at the table, then pray, listen, talk and compromise together.  Accept responsibility for your own mistakes, learn from them and move on.
  • Find a coach, mentor, spiritual friend, covenant discipleship group or spiritual director.  Every pastor needs support and accountability, and you are no exception!
  • Ministry is not a safe profession.  It demands boldness, moving out of our comfort zone and enlarging our borders.  We throw open the doors of the church to all, not only so that others are welcome to enter but so that we can move out in ministry.  Remember, you are much more than a chaplain or a caregiver.  You are also a prophet, a leader, a risk-taker, and a visionary.

What a joy it has been to be a superintendent for the past two years and have the privilege of sharing in the ministry of 70 congregations.  You have inspired, touched, prodded, challenged and eyeballed me to deepen my faith, learn new skills and grow in grace and spiritual maturity. 

For those who are not moving, please take the time to welcome your new colleagues.  And for all those pastors who will be preaching in a different pulpit this Sunday, I pray that God will bless you richly.  Create your new ministry by building on the solid foundation of your own experience and the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, the one who calls and sends.  And if you discover a need to know about F-channels, just give me a call.

Blessings, Laurie

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