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8 pieces of advice for a new pastor

A friend asked for advice in his first month as a pastor.  He writes,

So tomorrow I begin and lead my first staff meeting and begin my first week of being a pastor. What are the things you all think I should make sure I do.

Here is my take:

1. Study the Scripture text you are going to preach on. Read 2 commentaries on the passage. If you and the commentators agree, you are on the right track. Preach it!  Get this reference to help you find some good commentaries: Commentary and Reference Survey: A Comprehensive Guide to Biblical and Theological Resources by John Glynn (Paperback - Feb 15, 2007)

2. Take walks just for the purpose of praying.

3. Learn everyone's name (first and last name) including the kids and janitor. Make your own photo directory or flash cards if you need to.

4. Schedule as many meals and coffees with people as possible.
Go to their workplaces and pick them up and take them to a place nearby that they often go when they go out to lunch. These meetings should be 45 minutes to 1 hour 1/2--no longer.  Pay and turn in the receipts to the church. But only order very basic (as opposed to extravagant) things at the restaurants--equivalent to the price of a burger and soda. No dessert or alcohol on the church's bill. I'm tempted to say on this one, "It is better to ask forgiveness than permission" because I think you should do it even if the church does not typically pay for these sort of things.  You will not get fired for meeting with lots of people. It is difficult to do it if you don't meet at restaurants and coffee shops in this day and age. People don't have time to go to your house and people often don't host people in their homes often. Every day meet with someone. Please! This is crucial. There is a book called:
Never Eat Alone: And Other Secrets to Success, One Relationship at a Time by Keith Ferrazzi (Author), Tahl Raz (Author)   It is a good motto.

Questions to ask when you meet with people:
a. Where did you grow up? Where are all the places you've lived?
b. What is your job? Can you tell me enough about it so I really understand what you do? Is it terrible or great or just so-so? Why? How is your relationship with your boss?
c. What is your church background? Why did you come to our church?
d. Should I just lift up these things we have already talked about to the Lord or is there something else I can pray about as well? (In other words, you will know enough already to be able to pray for them). Do a quick prayer for them.

People will be surprised at how pleasant and interesting and good it is to meet the pastor and you will be relieved not to get into all the church politics until you get to know people. This person is more important than their complaint about the church.  When you get to know people, you will understand where they are coming from. The person who is passionate about missions grew up in Africa. The person who is passionate about pastoral care, works in a nursing home.  They are passionate for legitimate reasons!

As you can see from my questions, I would urge you to have low expectations for those first 1on1 meetings. The point is to get to know people. You will get close to some of them eventually. You will need to have difficult conversations with some of them eventually. But at this point, just enjoy people and get to know the basics. This is critically important to eventually ministering deeply to them.

Pastoring is 1/3 preaching (study, prep, reading), 1/3 administration (meetings, email, phone calls, mail, chaos), and 1/3 pastoral care (meeting with people). But you will have to initiate and be intentional to meet with anyone. Very few will reach out to you.

5. Read books by pastors for some sympathy. 
Read Eugene Peterson's books The Contemplative Pastor and Under the Unpredictable Plant. Just read the stories if you get bogged down. Ditto - David Hansen's The Art of Pastoring. I would also recommend the Mitford books (fiction) by Jan Karon to get a sense of warm personal pastoral ministry practiced by Pastor Tim.

6. Eventually, read some leadership books to help you analyze the organization. 
"Pastors overestimate what they can accomplish in one year and underestimate what they can accomplish in five years." Sandy Millar, former Vicar at Holy Trinity Brompton, London, England. Next year, when you get madly frustrated by the disfunction of the organization of the church, you can read leadership books like Five Disfunctions of a Team by Patrick Lencioni and his book Death by Meeting; Good to Great by Jim Collins; Primal Leadership by Daniel Goleman; First, Break all the Rules by Marcus Buckingham; Seven Practices of Effective Ministry by Andy Stanley; Simple Church by Thom Rainer and The Effective Executive: The Definitive Guide to Getting the Right Things Done by Peter Drucker. In addition to these books, the article (available online for free) entitled "How to Minister Effectively in Family, Pastoral, Program, and Corporate Sized Churches" by Roy M. Oswald, former Senior Consultant, Alban Institute, was helpful for me.  At a minimum, these books will help you realize that disfunction in churches and other organizations is the norm but that there are some things you can do to start positive movement in the right direction.  Will Willimon reports in his post, "Non-synoptic church leadership in church" that he was given the following advice as a young pastor which he now shares with others, 

"I am sure someone has told you that you shouldn't change anything when you go to a new church for at least a year," he said to me.  Indeed, someone had told me just that. "Well, forget it!  Don't change anything in a new church unless you become convinced that it needs changing! Change anything you think that needs changing and anything you think you can change without the laity killing you.  Lots of churches are filled with laity who are languishing there, desperate for a pastor to go ahead and change something for the better.  Lots of times we pastors blame our cowardice, or our lack of vision, on the laity, saying that we want to change something, but we can't because of the laity.  We ought to just go ahead and change something and then see what the consequences are."

7. Get 8 hours of sleep. Get to bed the same time every night and get up the same time.  You will thus have more resources of patience to keep your cool as you encounter all kinds of craziness, disfunction, and beauty. The sleep will help you from getting too discouraged. Expect the organization to be terrible! Expect the people to be great . . . once you get to know them.

8. Learn the history of the church.  You need to be able to tell the old, old stories as well as anyone.