After pastoring for nearly two years, I would like to offer some meaningful advice for young ministers. First let me start by saying, pastoring is not an easy job. It requires a great deal of patience, grace, understanding, and stamina. Young preachers often start out with a lot of passion and optimism. They approach their first pastorate with the mindset that they are going to make a difference, and that they have what it takes to turn a church culture completely around, and do something that has never been done before by their predecessors.
While that is not an entirely bad goal to have, it is highly idealistic, and should be tempered with reality. For a short while, people will be excited about your presence in the organization, this is typically known as the honeymoon phase. However, the honeymoon period will soon end and you will realize that being a pastor is more than just preaching on Saturday or Sunday morning, but you carry the weight of all aspects of the ministry—from preaching to teaching to the very complicated and nuanced administrative functions of the job.
What young ministers have to remember is that there is an established institutional church culture that already exists, and you have to build trust among the members of the organization before you start implementing change. Change is difficult for most people, and it must be a gradual process to bring people on board. It cannot be drastic or far-reaching or you will run the risk of losing any support that you might have gained had you taken the time to learn and understand the ethos of the church community.
One of the first things you would want to do is to survey the environment. Often times, ministers think they understand what needs to be transformed in the community, and begin to make immediate changes. This is not always a bad thing especially if the culture is completely toxic, but it must be done in consultation with the voice of the majority. Also, be aware of the potential backlash from the silent minority. Please do not overlook the influence of this group.
The silent minority often works in the dark, and will undermine every attempt towards progress. In order to disrupt this group, you would need to first try to get them to see your vision and why it is best for the organization. Remember it is about maintaining power for them. If you are unsuccessful in convincing them to see your vision, then it is imperative that you begin to build around them.
For instance, for every non-supporter you need to add two additional supporters to your team. This strategy will help drown out the voices of the few critics you have in your congregation. Either they will jump off of the abandoned ship onto the progressive ship that is ostensibly sailing, or leave altogether. You would hope that they do the latter, but just in case they decide to stay, find a way to work with them, but don’t put them into key positions because they hardly ever change their old habits.
Moreover, do not make your parishioners your close friend. Remember you are their pastor and they are your congregants. Familiarity breeds a certain level of contempt. And other people in the congregation are watching. This is not to suggest that you cannot be friendly towards your parishioners, it simply means that you have to create appropriate boundaries for the relationship, especially if you want to be in ministry for a long time.
Typically, there are many things that young ministers have to be mindful of that has the potential to utterly destroy your ministry for good. For the sake of brevity, I would like to focus on just two: Money and Women/Men. Never, ever, touch the money and never place yourself in a compromising position where you breach the ethical and moral standards of the organization or violate your own ethical principles. Once you have betrayed the trust of the people, it is very difficult to recover from that, and you run the risk of these perceived improprieties following you wherever else you might decide to go in the future. Always be mindful that your reputation will precede you.
Next, don’t be afraid to ask for more resources to help assist you in the work that needs to be done. Hence, don’t overwork yourself. Instead, pace yourself, and don’t start something you cannot finish. In essence, don’t be a full-time worker with only part-time pay. The moral to the story is-- once you start something, people expect you to keep doing it. It is okay to delegate and assign things to competent laity to carry out your mission. I am sure there was unfinished business when you arrived there, and there will be unfinished business when you leave there. Never lose sight of the fact that the congregation existed long before you got there, and will more than likely outlive your tenure at the church. Remember that it is not your church. You, along with the people, are simply stewards of God’s church. Therefore, all parties are necessary and a needed part of the equation in order for the organization to be spiritually healthy.
Meanwhile, don’t waste your time trying to fight every battle. Every situation does not require a reaction or a response. If you take on every challenge with the same level of vigor, it will tire you out, and if you are not careful, you will suffer from burn out. Don’t let this be you. Reserve your energy for more difficult challenges that require more brain power, and I can assure you that new challenges will certainly arise. More importantly, never let the people see you sweat. You are the professional assigned to the church. Never allow the people to make you stoop to their level. Always rise above the whispers and the criticism and continue to be great. Lead with integrity, veracity, and excellence at all times.
Last but certainly not least, make time for yourself. You cannot be effective if you are neglecting yourself. Self-care is not selfish; it is finding time to nurture yourself back to full strength. As pastors, especially young pastors, we think that we can save the world. And we often forget that there is nothing new under the sun, and that we do not have the solution to all the world’s problems. If we did, our profession perhaps might not be necessary. Find time to spend with your family if you have one. Plan a vacation or a retreat with trusted friends, get away from your parish, and reenergize yourself for the tumultuous work ahead. Don’t allow your first appointment to discourage you from the work. The world needs your moral voice, especially in times like these. You are built to last.