Originally published March 13, 2013 – the day that Jorge Bergoglio was elected as Pope Francis.
For the last year, I have served as Dean of my local conference. For those not in the ELCA, a conference is a small geographically defined division of the church. Among my responsibilities is the installation of pastors who are new to the area as they begin a new calls.
So I deal with pastors who are are starting in a new position in a congregation and community. I also deal with new pastors – pastors who are newly ordained and learning what it means to be a pastor in the parish. I get to think about what would be helpful for new pastors and people in new calls. Whether I am preaching an installation sermon or sitting down for coffee, I often get to ponder: What is the best advice for new pastors? As it happens, today as I sat down after noon midweek worship, I am watching the most widely publicized pastoral transition in the world — there is white smoke, a new Pope has been elected.
So whether you are newly ordained, starting a new call, or just found out that the conclave elected you as Pope, here is my advice for a new pastor.
1) Love the people.
Welcome to your new call.
First, love the people in your church on Sunday morning. They are strangers to you, you don’t know their names yet.
Sit and learn at their feet. Who are they? What matters to them? What are their values? What are their needs?
Listen, listen, listen, and love your new people.
2) Love the people.
There are people who will peek around the church, checking you out.
Will you be different from your predecessor? Will you be the same? Often they are hurt. Scarred. Damaged. Looking to see if you are a threat or a comfort.
Love the hurting people.
3) Love the people.
Outside the doors of your church, there are lots of people.
Some of them are potential members of your church. Many of them will never be members of your church. But they are your community. Get involved in the life of your community outside the sanctuary doors. Know how the community celebrates and how it hurts. Learn what the needs are in the community and where the broken people are.
Get out in the the community, and love the people.
4) Love the people.
Soon. Maybe not your first Sunday, maybe not your second, but soon, there will be conflict. The honeymoon will end. Someone or a group will criticize your decisions and the way you do things. They may insult you and hurt your feelings. Your instinct will be to defend yourself, or even to fight back. Don’t. Bite your tongue. Sit back and wait. Listen to the criticism, with grace and humility.
Love the people, especially when they are hard to love.
5) Love the people.
Take care of yourself.
As you jump into your new position, the tendency will be to try to do everything. If you are exhausted and spiritually drained, you are no help to anyone. Pay special attention to your prayer life. Pray for your congregation. Pray for your leaders. Pray for your community. And do not be afraid to ask them to pray for you! Do not be afraid to let them love you and take care of you.
Love the people, and let them love you.
What advice would you add?