Though the writings of the gospel of Mark we hear the voice of Jesus calling his followers to go into the world and preach. You have heard and responded to this call. This is to help persons entering parish life for the first time. You will find numerous suggestions in the following text. It is by no means an exhaustive study of the ministry. It is not intended to replace the mentoring that takes place between you and your assigned mentor. It is meant to help make more efficient use of the time you spend with them.
The local pastorate is full of firsts. Your first Sunday morning in your first appointment. Your first wedding. Your first funeral. Your first charge conference. These are all exciting events in the life of a new pastor. They are also the events that can cause even the strongest of wills to lose sleep. This writing is dedicated to help newly appointed pastors through all the firsts encountered with a minimum of sleepless nights.
These are a few suggestions to help you the first few days in your new parish. Meet with your worship committees as soon as you can. This can be an informal meeting to introduce yourself and to ask a few questions about the services in your new charge. Ask the committee to describe a typical Sunday morning worship. It would help to have a recent bulletin to follow while they describe the service to you. It is also helpful to check with the worship committee on how often they have communion and what traditions the church may have. The church's worship practices may not be like your own traditions. When this is the case patience on both sides is required. Remember, you have not been appointed to make your parishioners be just like you. You have been called to aide them in building a deeper relationship with God. Sometimes this requires you, as the pastor, to have patience and understanding. During your first few weeks in the parish, ask someone who knows the area well to ride with you as you drive around the community. If the church has a photo directory take a copy with you.
First visit to the hospital
Hospital, nursing home, and home visitation is a vital past of any local pastor's ministry. You will find the majority of the parishioners feel that is the top of the list of pastoral duties. A few helpful tips regarding hospital and nursing home visits: When scheduling your visitation time make sure the person is going to be in the room if you can. If the hospital is several miles from your office, you may want to call first. When visiting a person, make sure that you so not overstay your welcome. Take your clues from them. If they are distracted, or sleepy, or in a great deal of pain, they may not want you to stay long. Everyone wants a visit from the pastor, but they don't always need you to stay three hours. When you are visiting a person in the hospital and there are family members or friends present so do not forget who you came to see. Nothing alienates a person more that the pastor coming to see them and he or she spends the entire time talking to the other people in the room. If you find you have several shut-ins to visit it may be beneficial to put their names on index cards along with their addresses and any other information you find helpful. Jotting down a few personal notes about the individual may help you build a relationship with this person. After you have placed the names and vital information of all your shut-ins on these cards, you can sort them by general location. This way, when you schedule a morning or afternoon of visitation, you will be able to visit several persons living in the same general area. Make the grouping on no more than three or four. This is probably all the people you can visit in a single afternoon. You may even want to put notes on the cards about your talks with the person and of the dates and times you have visited them. Keep the cards filed by areas. When you have visited a group of people, place that set of cards at the back of the file. Then start on the next list. This will help you to have regular schedule for your visitation.
During your ministry you will be asked often to perform a wedding service. It is a good idea to compose and print a concise list of requirements established by you and the administrative board of the church(es) you serve. A well composed list of exactly what you and your church expects from the wedding party can save you many headaches. You should include in the list the number of counseling sessions you require, rental for the church, the minimum amount of time needed, any honorariums. After you have compiled the list of requirements, present it to your administrative board for their approval. Aside from the counseling you will do with the couple, you will need to ask some technical questions.
These are a few questions you may want to ask:
- Will you exchange rings?
- Will you have an isle runner?
- Will someone be walking the bride down the aisle?
- Will you be arranging for an organist?
- Will you have a unity candle?
- Will you have a professional photographer?
- Do you have a wedding consultant?
The list of requirements and the questions for the bride and groom are two areas that you may want to discuss with your mentor. Above all, during your time with the couple, it is your task to show them the importance of God in the wedding service. Only three people are important to the wedding: the bride, the groom, and God. The pastor is only a facilitator.
Funerals and weddings are often the two events where you, as a pastor, come in contact with a large group of unchurched persons. It is important for the pastor, in these settings to project a positive experience. After being notified of the death, a visit with the family or survivors is imperative. A phone call to decide a good time to visit is generally a good idea. During the visit, listen carefully to the family and take notes of the appropriate thoughts that can be included in the funeral sermon. Ask for favorite hymns, scripture readings or a favorite poem. Ask if the family wants to include the reading of the obituary. Make sure you correctly pronounce the names of the deceased and the family. If you are not sure of the pronunciation - ask. Write the name on a post-it note and place it in you book of services. Check with the family to see if any family members or close friends wish to say anything during the service. It can be quite nice to have the people hear some meaningful words from a person close to the deceased. Visiting the family at the funeral home during part of visiting hours is also important. This may be a more important time of giving comfort to the grieving than during the funeral service. When delivering the funeral service, chose and read comforting, appropriate scripture. The eulogy should be 5-10 minutes in length. During the preparation of the eulogy, make sure you mention the person's name as often as you can. The family likes to hear the name of their loved one. It brings comfort. Make the eulogy personal to the family without being fake. Offer a sermon with words of comfort about life and death. Your dress should be formal. NEVER be late for a funeral. Make a pastoral call several days to one week after the funeral. A funeral, or memorial service, is an opportunity to give thanks to God for the life of the deceased, to grieve, to remember and to support one another. It is not an opportunity for you to hold a mini-revival, or gain prospective members. This is another opportunity to contact your mentor and ask for their guidance.
When attending your administrative board/council meetings, although they are not your direct responsibility, it is important for you to be prepared. Make sure the meeting is scheduled at a convenient time for the majority of the board members. Keep the meeting short and on track, Nothing frustrates a group more than a meeting that is run in a sloppy manner.
First Charge Conference
Make sure throughout the administrative process that, in the charge/church conference, you as the pastor, never forget that God is everywhere, even in the charge conference. Keep reminding your committee members throughout the meeting, the importance of their work and what you as a church are trying to accomplish.
"The mission of the Church is to make disciples of Jesus Christ. Local churches provide the most significant arena through which disciple-making occurs." Page 144, The Book of Discipline of The United Methodist Church, 1996.
Set up a schedule of meetings. Publish the schedule. Make a schedule for the paperwork. Make a set of photocopies. Make sure you always have an agenda.
Full-time local pastors shall complete four courses per year in a course study school. A full-time local pastor shall complete the course of study curriculum within eight years and a part-time local pastor with twelve, unless a family situation or other circumstance precludes the local pastor's opportunity to meet said requirements.
Your relationship with your mentor is meant to help you develop vocational goals. It is also meant to develop a covenant of supportive accountability for growth and decision-making in the pursuit of effective ministry. The mentor is to work specifically to supervise and counsel you in the practice of servant leadership within the church. Most of the time you spend with your clergy mentor will be in a covenant group. These meetings are an opportunity to explore the practice of ministry and to develop a relationship with colleagues who are beginning full time ministry. Use this time wisely. You can gain a great deal of practical wisdom and spiritual growth.
It is important to remember while you are living in the parsonage, that is your home, but it is the church's house. The parsonage is your home and the members of the church should respect your privacy as such. As an occupant of a house that is the property of the church, you should make every effort to maintain it, Choose a specific day of the week as your day off. Announce it to your congregation and guard it stingily. It is also important to make sure that you do not neglect your own worship life. Clergy spend so much time preparing worship for others that they sometimes overlook their own spiritual well being. It is important to have a strong devotional life. If you are married, you are now a parsonage family. Everybody handles the idea of being the minister's family differently. You and your family will discover what it means for you as you grow. There are a few points that you should keep in mind. Do not let the new responsibilities overwhelm your home life. It seems that many new pastors can become so consumed with all the responsibilities that come with the pastorate that they tend to neglect themselves and their families. If you are married make sure to include your family in the decision making process. Whether you want to admit it or not, you and you entire family are in the ministry together. Therefore, when making decision directly affecting their future, they have the right to voice their opinion.
Everett Stoddard, President
Phone: (419) 921-4498
The East Ohio Conference Office:
located in North Canton, OH,
near Akron-Canton Airport.
8800 Cleveland Ave. NW.
North Canton, OH 44720
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