By Fred Koenig
Come July nearly 50 Missouri Conference clergy will begin answering their call to ministry in a different church. Before they begin, they already share one thing in common with their new congregation: Both are praying things go well.
Starting things off in the right way was the focus of that Rev. Candice Lewis took in her keynote at the annual Right Start event. The Missouri Conference event gathers clergy who will be moving to a different ministry appointment. Lewis looked to the first 90 days, described as a time of listening and learning.
“Go into appointment as curious person, and be very intentional about your curiosity,” she said. Lewis is the Gulf Central District Superintendent from Florida Annual Conference. She has previously worked in Discipleship Ministries with new church starts.
She suggests pastors start things off with a fellowship dinner in which the church’s timeline is written up on paper posted on the walls around the room. Spending an hour doing this, talking through the church’s history and hearing about its highs and lows, will give new pastors an idea of the context they are serving.
Another immediate action she recommends for pastors going to new churches was to engage in community asset mapping, in which they take inventory of the gifts, talents and resources in a community. They should do this by getting out into the community and talking to people.
“Meet local people. Ask them about themselves. Listen. Pastors like to talk. You may not be used to listening,” Lewis said.
She advised that the conversations should be intentional, with specific questions and cautioned against spending time socializing but learning nothing.
“Don’t rely on Mission-Insite and demographic studies,” she said. “If I’m a DS and I ask a new pastor about his or her community, and they tell me it is primarily made up of urban singles, I’m going to say, ‘OK, tell me about five urban singles you have met.’”
It is tempting for pastors to hide out in their office, file papers and check email, Lewis said. To make sure they are getting out, she suggested that the pastors commit to be out in the community talking to people for at least one hour a day, five days a week and speaking with a minimum of two people or as many as five. She recommended they work with their district superintendent on this to hold themselves accountable.
“There are people in your communities who would love to have a conversation with a person who is a spiritual person – they are ready and waiting to be engaged,” Lewis said. “I am called, and what God has called me to do still matters. Some of you feel discouraged and rejected. Awaken what you received with the laying on of hands.”
Lewis asked one of her pastors to do the Bible study called “Experiencing God.” It ended up being a transformative experience in that pastors life.
“She found a new zest and heart, a renewal to be in mission and ministry,” she said. But the first 90 days can’t be entirely spent learning about the new community. There is also that thing that happens every week called worship. There will be 14 sermons preached in the first 90 days. Lewis asked pastors to consider their best worship services, the ones that brought them the greatest joy or challenge, and how they might be used in the first 90 days. She also strongly recommended working with a team on sermon preparation, using the acronym FLIP:
Feedback – Who gives you feedback in your sermon preparation process? Work with team to expand creativity and overall connection. Collaborate with someone
Look – Look up, look around, look ahead. Keep the sermon relative to what is around you.
Ideation – Once you’ve determined sermon theme, focus and scripture, gather a few creative people to ideate illustrations and relative examples to communicate the message
Plan – Plan ahead sermon ideas, series and theme.
Alive In Love
On day two Rev. Chelsey Hillyer of First UMC in Jefferson City shared with the group that her personal goal is to help people and communities come alive in love.
“Worship is when we come together to celebrate what God is doing in the community,” Hillyer said. “Worship in our transition (from one church to another) can be super awkward, but it’s OK to be awkward.”
Hillyer referred to three things to think about when leading worship or the three knows:
Know God – Transitions send us into ourself and make us think we can control everything. Know God is in control.
Know Your Call – “Last year I walked away from Right Start knowing my call was to incarnate the heart of God.”
Know Your People – To be an authentic worship leader with authority, you must know your people. This is hard to do in transition because you don’t know anybody.
“These aren’t things you will figure out in your first 90 days and maybe not in your lifetime,” she said. “But transitions are best times to try new things. If you want to try to preach without a manuscript, give it a try. Even if you fall on your face, you’ll be fine. If there was something you were doing that isn’t working, try something different. Try something you’ve always wanted to do. Folks will be excited the first few weeks no matter what you do.”
Hillyer stressed advance worship planning and asked people to consider their worship team. Even in a quarter time appointment, there is a worship team. It isn’t just musicians and liturgists. The people who unlock the church, start the furnace or clean the church – they are part of the worship team. She suggested two levels to bring the team together:
Long-range, idea-focused planning
“It’s tempting to think you’ll be a super pastor in transition, but I’m sorry friends, you’re just going to be yourselves,” she said.