Wednesday, December 28, 2005

Things I've Learned As Senior Pastor

One thing I have learned in the ministry is that the only person who can take care of the minister is the minister.

Lately my hours have been rough -- I start work at 8 AM and finish at 11 PM, midnight or 1 AM. I'll take a 2 hour break when I get home, spending time with the family and cooking supper. Occasionally I'll spend a few minutes surfing the web as a diversion.

It's part of the Advent and Christmas routine -- too much to do and too little time. Long ago, I learned to finish my Christmas shopping by November. I suppose that is the second thing I've learned in ministry.

If I tell people about my long hours, they think I am exaggerating, or they will say, "You think you got it bad, let me tell you about my life..."

The one thing I have to do when I get home is to get back on track with my exercise program. No one will do it for me.

What else have I learned?

1. Never tell people you are taking a day off, or that you can't meet with them because you are taking your son to a movie or planning a romantic dinner with the wife. That produces a negative response. Simply say, "I'm booked at that time, what other time is good for you?" People respect your professional time more than your personal time.

2. Proof read the bulletin over and over -- with lots of eyes looking at it. Any mistake will be the pastor's fault.

3. Protect your staff. Stand up for the Associate Pastors, DCEs, custodians -- everyone. You are all in the same boat. Never put down a staff member in front of a parishioner. If the staff member screws up, deal with it behind closed doors with just the staff member, and maybe a couple of elders if it is serious.

4. Negotiate salary and compensation when you accept the call. Never negotiate after that. Negotiate for the staff members, encouraging the Session to give Cost of Living and Merit increases. If you succeed for them, the Session will provide for the Senior Pastor. If the church has a good staff -- you all deserve the best the church can give.

5. Never handle money belonging to the church. I made this a rule from the beginning, so there is no experience-story here. Sometimes people will hand me an offering envelope and say they were working in the nursery or whatever, and couldn't put it in the plate -- I tell them I don't handle church money, and ask and elder to handle it for us. The people seem to appreciate this hard and fast rule.

6. Always have access to people's giving records. Some churches won't let you do this, but we know who is on drugs, who is having an affair, and who is doing all sorts of private and secret things. Knowing that a person who gives generously has suddenly severely cut giving indicates there is a pastoral concern. Is the person suddenly unemployed? Is the person angry and trying to send a message to church leaders?

7. Always stay in touch with the members who need pastoral care. Follow-up after a while. Everyone forgets a person whose Mom died 4 months ago -- but they are still grieving and a call from the pastor is always appreciated.

8. Never make pastoral visits in homes. This one I break, but only on rare occasions. Nothing bad ever happened to me, but I could see the potential as a young pastor. A woman said she and her husband wanted to talk to me, so I went to her home and found only the wife. She was wearing a see-through blouse and was mad at her husband for having an affair -- she must have thought I'd be good revenge. Twice I've had people pull a gun on me -- we need to remember the church attracts disturbed people (healing is our business, after all). If I go to someone's home, an elder must go with me. I always clarify this sort of thing in the hiring or call process.

9. Someone in business told me that the most important person to a meeting should be the last to arrive and the first to leave -- it is a time saving thing. I've learned pastors need to be the last to arrive at a meeting, start the meeting immediately, but after the meeting we need to be the last to leave. The socializing builds foundations for pastoral care.

10. Prayer is crucial. I spend at least an hour a day in the Sanctuary or walking in the neighborhood in prayer. Truth be told -- that's not enough.

11. Reserve only one or two nights per week for work. The rest is for the family. For me it is Tuesday and Wednesday. On Wednesday, me family is attending church programs -- so I reserve that time to meet with individuals in the office. Tuesday is usually Session or a committee.

12. Network! Meet lots of other ministers and church educators. Help them when you can. They can help you as well. Support one another. For Presbyterians, this means being part of the Presbytery.

13. Be a cheerleader. You know people who just make you feel good when you see them? That is the kind of person you should be for others. People need to feel good about their pastors and churches -- help them feel that way.

14. Be sincere. There are times when cheerleading is inappropriate. Know the difference.

15. Remember the names of parishioners' children and pets -- and be sincerely interested in them.

16. Consider the children true parishioners, and treat them accordingly.

17. Dress appropriately. I always wore a suit and a clerical collar until I moved to Miami -- now it is jeans and a clerical collar, which is culturally appropriate for an inner city congregation in the tropics.

18. Remember the Coca-Cola rule. We are going to the Coca-Cola museum later today. YES, there really is such a museum in Atlanta. How can one visit Atlanta without taking in the Coca-Cola museum, Cyclorama or the Varsity? Remember the cola wars of the 1980s? Coca Cola and Pepsi were in hot competition, and Coca Cola decided the best way to compete with Pepsi was to become Pepsi. They changed the formula and sweetened the taste. Sales went down. Stock prices plummeted. They went back to the real Coke. As Popeye the Sailer man said, "I yam what I yam." God Himself said, "I am what I am." Or as Will said in a play, "To thine ownself be true." Be yourself.

Well, those are a few thoughts -- I might post some more. What have you guys learned? If you are in the ministry or not -- what have you learned about the work of the pastor?


Blogger ~**Dawn**~ said...

you aren't kidding about the proofreading thing. i can see any error--grammar, punctuation, spelling. it's like my eyes are drawn to it LOL! i don't blame the pastor but i do wonder who didn't bother to proofread! i guess that just proves i *am* reading the bulletin & order of service & following along! ;-)

the only other thing that comes to mind about every pastor i've ever loved is that they had the ability to greet each person like they were the only one in the room--eye contact & sincere attention. and a sense of humor, usually somewhat goofy. made them seem more real & like someone you could really talk to. breaks the intimidation factor. =)

1:07 PM  
Anonymous Bill said...

Some great advice! I don't follow all these bits of wisdom -- but can see that they are wortwhile and helpful!

1:38 PM  
Blogger Quotidian Grace said...

Although I'm not a pastor, I believe that it is one of the most difficult, underappreciated jobs there is.

I particularly like your rule about access to giving records. Our long-time pastor has his own rule to the contrary which I believe has compromised the ability of the church to respond to brewing problems just as you predict.

Good list!

9:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow! It sounds like you're a wonderful and wise pastor. Your congregation is fortunate to have you!

I posed a question in response to the comment you left in my journal. Thanks for stopping by!

1:22 AM  
Blogger Preacher Mom said...

Reading this post makes me miss being a part of a pastoral staff. As solo pastor in a small town, I find myself needing someone to provide such words of wisdom. You sound a lot like the pastor I did my internship under. You are both very wise. Thanks for sharing.

11:04 PM  
Blogger Julie & Davis said...

Very good advice. This is the practical stuff that isn't taught in classrooms that we all need to hear!

9:45 AM  
Anonymous Towanda said...

I'm a seminarian, and this is a great list which I shall save. One thing I also remember is from my mom -- preacher's wife and church musician. She refused to learn how to turn on the heat/AC. She said 1) she didn't want to be "responsible" for any high bills, and 2) she didn't want to be expected to show up early to turn stuff on.

1:45 PM  
Blogger amy said...

If only your wisdom could find its way into our seminary curriculum!

4:45 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Dear ApostleJohn,
Who watches over ministers?
Elders do. I do it, my mother
does it, the other elders on session do it. You're not alone out there. PCUSA elder.

11:29 AM  

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