Not too long ago a pair of events coincided which have led to the post before you today. The first event was the completion of my first year of ministry as the Pastor-Teacher of Stansbury Park Baptist Church in Utah. The second was a message from a friend just about to enter pastoral ministry with some questions he was hoping I might answer. I was happy to help him and even encouraged that he found my answers helpful. And since he did, I would like share the same info here in case it might be an encouragement to anyone currently serving in ministry or facing the prospect of having a new Pastor arrive at their local church. What follows is the letter/email that I sent to my friend, I pray you find it edifying.
Dear Brother Pastor,
Once again I want to express my thanks that you would trust me to provide this sort of information in order to serve you. My prayer is that this email finds you and your family settling into the ministry with little to no difficulty. I also trust you are all enjoying your new home! You asked about a few things which I want to address in this initial email:
1. How did you approach the first few months?
Probably poorly, but it’s all behind me now. But no matter I will still give a short description of a couple of things I think went well.
a. I actually attended the church for two weeks before I fully took over the preaching ministry. In my case this was possible because there were other men already working together to ensure the pulpit was filled each week. During these two weeks I handled welcoming the church to the Worship Service, Reading Scripture, and doing announcements. This allowed for the people to get used to seeing me in church and to realize that after two long years they actually had a man whose sole function was to be their pastor!
b. Once I entered the Pulpit I pretty much did everything – welcoming, announcements, Scripture Reading, praying, and preaching – for about a month. Then I asked the other men in leadership to rotate through Scripture reading and Prayer. We are still doing this now and are looking to add men from the congregation into the mix once per month. We hope to use this as a means of identifying potential candidates for future leadership roles.
c. On preaching – the first few weeks I used sermons I had prepared for preaching labs and pulpit supply opportunities during Seminary. This way the folks got to hear me preach from a few different areas of the Bible and see that expository preaching applies to all genres of Scripture. I also announced the first Book of the Bible we would preach through so folks could be preparing by incorporating it into their daily Bible reading. In our case I chose to preach through Titus. I also took the opportunity to “throw in” a short two or three part series from other books or on other topics while preaching through Titus. I did this because the folks here (and most places) were not used to spending so much time in one book. What I mean by this is most churches are not accustomed to hearing the same man preach from a singular book week in and week out until it has been completely covered. Therefore, I expected this to be a challenge even though it is what the people of the church wanted. By taking these “short breaks” it allowed their mind to process what they had been learning each week and provided for opportunities to apply it as well. Even now that we have completed Titus and started the Gospel of John, I have taken time to do a special service for Christmas and a two part series from Psalm 19 for the same reason.
d. Because I went through Grace Advance and came to an existing church I also took the opportunity to gather the existing leadership team and any men interested in similarly serving and having them read through Alexander Strauch’s book “Biblical Eldership” together. We just finished in December and it had the effect I expected of sharpening each of us.
2. What did you do to get to know everyone?
The church I serve is a bit smaller than yours but I think what I did can still serve you well. My wife and I examined our schedules and picked out two days each month to host people from church in our home. In our case it was the 2nd and 4th Thursday of each month. We prepared a sign-up sheet for folks and I made announcements each week from the pulpit expressing our delight and desire to serve the congregation in this way. After a couple of months I had eaten dinner with the majority of the church. Now instead of asking for “volunteers” I just invite folks over, starting with ones I haven’t had in my home yet.
Oh yeah, there are still people whom I haven’t had in my home because there are some people who will just never accept the invitation. But when that happens I don’t make a big deal about it because they have been invited and know they are welcome in my home if they choose to accept in the future.
3. What changes did you make?
Other than the things I have outlined above, I would rather not list the changes I made initially. Instead I prefer to provide this advice – If what you initially think should be changed doesn’t involve sin, false-teaching, etc, leave it alone for now. There will be plenty of time to address those things which are preference issues as your ministry progresses. In all honesty, I wish I had taken my own advice on this matter as this is an area I believe I could have handled much better than I did/have.
I hope all of this is useful and encouraging to you in your new ministry. Please follow up with additional or more specific questions and I will gladly respond as well as I am able.
Praying for your faithfulness!
In Christ Alone,