My Rookie Season
It doesn't take long to get an education in ministry. In fact, here are six things I learned in my first year as a solo pastor.
1. Don't ignore people's expectations. In the leadership classes I've taken, the emphasis was on vision and values, clarifying them and creating a plan to realize them. My focus, starting out, was much more on what needed to happen than on the needs and expectations of the people in the church. After all, the church isn't a place where people are concerned with what they're getting; we're about what they're giving, right?
Well, in my first year as a solo pastor in a small church, I learned that people had things they believed they needed and expectations of what the pastor was supposed to provide. In my first year I responded to this in three ways.
In some cases I decided to do the things they were expecting. Many of these things were not biblical mandates, but they also weren't a big deal, and they made people feel loved. For instance, the church had a long-standing tradition of the pastor standing at the exit of the sanctuary to shake hands after the service. I prefer to hang out someplace where I can talk to someone for more than three seconds, but it wasn't a big deal. If I had refused this request, I would have put my preference ahead of their perceived need for no good reason.
In other cases I responded to expectations by helping them see they weren't really needs. For instance, the church expected the pastor to do children's sermons on Sunday morning. My problem was this: I was doing announcements, transitions, leading the prayer time, some of the singing, the preaching, and guiding the Communion time. In other words, we said we wanted to be a church where the whole body functioned using their gifts, and if I did everything there was no chance for that! So I did a few children's sermons early on, but slowly talked to people in different settings about the reasons why it was good to have others do them.
The final way I responded to expectations was just not to meet them. And I learned this was almost always a mistake. At first, when people needed things that didn't fit with the vision I believed God had for our church, I just didn't come through. Bad idea. When you aren't able to meet their expectations, you need to communicate why, and what you are doing. If you simply don't come through, it will be perceived as a failure, not a step in the right direction.
2. Carefully choose your battles. As my wife and I flew to Colorado to interview with our church, I said, "I hope they don't have a flag in the sanctuary." On our tour of the church, we walked up the stairs, into the sanctuary, and of course, there was the flag prominently displayed. I know this isn't a big deal for everyone (for some it might be a big deal not to have a flag), but the point is that you will run into some things that you feel are misdirected in the church to which you are called.
Over the first year, I had a couple conversations with people about the flag. I learned that folks from the World War II generation in our church saw the flag in a different way than I did. It communicated a different message to them than it did to me. I also knew it would cause a huge stir if I tried to remove it. Among the issues the church needed to address, the flag, I realized, wasn't the most important.