What I Learned During My First Pastoral Appointment

This past Sunday was a momentous day for me. Not only was it my first Father’s Day as a parent, but it was also my final Sunday leading worship at Mackville UMC and Antioch UMC.

This was my first pastoral assignment and I leave feeling blessed to have been a small part of what God is doing in and through these two great congregations. I will miss everyone there. The memories we have made here will last a lifetime.

Next week, a new chapter in my ministry will be written as I begin to serve as the pastor of Covington Trinity UMC. I’ve had the opportunity to meet several of the leaders and members of the church. We are looking forward to what awaits us as we join in the ministry God has called the church to do in the Latonia neighborhood of Covington.

Before loading the U-Haul, however, I think it is appropriate to look back on what was. The following are my reflections on what I learned during my first two years as a pastor.Be careful about assumptions: In the transition period, new pastors learn a lot about their new church and its ministries. It is natural that this information inspires some thoughts and assumptions. However, we must be careful about the assumptions that we make and not allow them to dictate our interactions with a church. Our assumptions are often based upon a one-sided view of a church and are void of perspective and interactions with others in the church. When we minister based on assumptions we are doing things based upon what is best for “me” and not the ministry of Christ in that community. A new pastor should be willing to take time to listen and hear from their new congregation and to fully learn about the community  they will serve. This should help to balance our initial assumptions about a church.

Comparing our church to other churches hinders ministry: One of the biggest temptations that pastors, and especially new pastors, feel is to compare their ministry and churches to what they see other pastors and churches doing. This happens primarily through comparing numbers. Does that church have more members than mine? Have they done more baptisms and gained new members? Are they doing more outreach projects? When we are too focused on another’s ministry it comes at the distraction to our own. The temptations will come, but when they do we should focus on the fact God has placed us where we are for a specific purpose.

You do not have to preach every Sunday: In my first year at Mackville and Antioch, I preached twice nearly every Sunday, delivered a monthly devotion at a community luncheon, and led a weekly Bible study. I was tired and doing too much. The reason I was doing too much is that I felt I must in order to be an “effective pastor.” I learned I wasn’t very effective and I was spreading myself too thin. Once I realized I didn’t need to preach every week or have to do everything my ministry and effectiveness improved. I had more energy for the tasks I needed to do and had more to give for the sermon and studies.

Never ignore an age group in the church: We spend a lot of time in the church speaking about the new to reach young adults and youth. I agree. We need to. Not because they are the future of the church, but because they are loved by God. I want to reach youth and young adults, but I want to make sure we do not ignore other generations as well. The church must be not only multicultural, but also multigenerational. The church does well when the gifts and talents of all living generations are used to give glory to God and serve others. One generation is not more important to God or to the church than another.

Be yourself … no one else can: Every church has its collections of favorite pastors. Members love to tell stories about what they meant to the congregation and to themselves. The temptation for pastors, especially newer ones, is to hear these stories as expectations for what the church wants from them. So, we will do everything  these “expectations” tell us to do and forget something important about ministry. That is that the biggest gift we can give a church is what God has blessed us with. We can be no one other than ourselves and we must not attempt to be someone else, whether it is a former pastor, a famous theologian, or someone else in the world. When we try to be someone else, we often forget who we are and what God has done in our lives. That is a dangerous trap no pastor should fall into.

I’ve learned a lot in these past two years. Many of these lessons I’ve learned on multiple occasions. I am still learning. I’m looking forward to what I will learn and how I will grow in Covington.

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