By Rev. Dale Cockrum | Inland District Superintendent
[dropcap]L[/dropcap]ast month, JoAnna and I hosted a workshop for pastors who began ministry this summer at an Inland District church. Normally, pastors planning to move to a new church attend a conference‐sponsored Transition Workshop in late May, but in the Inland District, a range of unusual circumstances led to a series of last minute changes, and we had 14 pastors to our home who did not attend the May event because they did not then know they were moving this year!
Mary Huycke, a church consultant and former cabinet colleague, was one of the leaders of the May event, and I asked her to guide our time together. She asked me to name my expectations for pastors in the district, and I took that on as a challenge, recognizing that it’s hard to live up, or down, to unnamed expectations. I thought it might be helpful for our Inland Steeples readers to know my answer to Mary’s provocative question. I identified seven of my deepest, most fervently held convictions about ministry, and over the course of the next few months, I’ll share them with you.
For a glimpse of where we’re going, here are all seven:
- Ministry is all about people and relationships.
- Ministry requires a team.
- Ministry gives itself away.
- Ministry helps people deal with change.
- Ministry focuses on making disciples and engaging our mission‐field.
- The most important hour of ministry is Sunday morning worship.
- Ministry builds on the strengths of a congregation.
As I shared with the pastors, I was sitting in front of my library, and I introduced each of these convictions about ministry with a favorite book. Mary Huycke and Dan Smith wrote the first book, Practicing Right Relationships. Here’s what I said:
1. Ministry is all about people. In Bishop Hagiya’s presentation at the May Clergy Transition Workshop on “The First 90 Days” of ministry in a new parish, he talked a lot about visitation—and how important it is. I echo that from my own experience in four churches over 30 years, and from listening to churches talk about their pastors in six years as a superintendent. Nothing is more important than building strong spiritual relationships with the people of your church. I’ve heard from some churches (you may be serving one now) that apparently pastors don’t visit anymore. Pastors must have other more important things to do, people say, with wistful sadness.
I think it is true that the nature of visiting has changed over time; expectations from generation to generation may be different, but the need to visit has not changed. We may visit more in people’s workplaces or at a local coffee shop, but we will still visit. The two hour‐long pastoral call in someone’s living room snacking on cookies and tea may give way to something shorter, but I expect you to visit the people of your church.
I believe it will pay huge dividends. When you visit beloved shut‐ins, that word spreads—we have a caring pastor. When you visit church folk, it builds real power for your ministry.
[pull_quote_left]You already have positional power, simply by being pastor. That and $4.00 will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. [/pull_quote_left]You already have positional power, simply by being pastor. That and $4.00 will buy you a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Real power in a church is relational power; it comes over time and through having been with people through tough times, sitting at bedside in a hospital, helping someone cope with loss and grief, sharing conversations on things that matter.
I know there are many things you want to do in ministry, but everything else depends on how well you know and care for the people of your church. It informs your preaching in huge ways. As I was preparing to teach a CLM class on preaching recently, I remembered that about a year after I have arrived at each of my churches, someone came to me and said, quite seriously, “Dale, your preaching has gotten so much better recently.” Now I know that wasn’t true, but what had happened is that I knew people in the church better after a year and they knew me more fully, and it made my preaching better than it is.
Every few days in ministry, you have to make a choice. Will you take an afternoon to visit shut‐ins, check with a parishioner at the hospital, or have coffee with a church leader, OR will you (fill in the blank: work on the church website, arrange your library, or post something on your blog)? I may have given away some of my personal choices there, and sometimes we do find ourselves doing those other things, but I encourage you to spend time with people anytime there’s a choice about what you will do.