When was the last time you moved in ministry? Five years? A year? A month? We as ministers are not immune to the seasonal changes in life that move us from one place of service to another.
Statistically, a pastor’s tenure is 3 years (Parsonage.org). At times the circumstances of change are the realization of years of preparation or the fulfillment of a lifelong dream, while others can be difficult personally and emotionally. Unfortunately, we are able to tell fewer stories of celebration than we can of hurt.
When you find yourself in a new location for ministry, how do you look at the people you are asked to minister to? We must remember that we are undershepherds, filling in for the Great Shepherd, watching over His flock. We are called to be stewards and not owners, taking care of, shaping and utilizing the people that are His tools and resources.
Too often we fall prey to the reminders of what ministry was like somewhere else, what someone else did to us, or how a previous situation worked out. In order to combat those trappings we must enter a new place of ministry with a plan.
This plan is one of perspective. It is a decision to give our new flock a clean slate rather than force them to live through a filter that is tainted by our previous experience. These people have no idea what happened to you before, partly because you didn’t want to talk about it.
Instead we must commit to learning from the past without living in it. We deal with its implications for us personally, file it away for reference (not to hide it), and we start anew with a new group of people.
I know, that sounds good and easy, but it isn’t, is it? There is a list running in our heads of what type of people to look out for, which person will fill the role of so-and-so from our last location, build walls around our hearts and families, and slowly mold our new ministry into our old ministry, without giving the new one a fighting chance.
How do we do this? What effort must we put into the situation so that we don’t sink our own ship? There are two locks that we must unlock and throw away in order to be open to a new group of people.
1) SIGHT: See through fresh eyes
The first thing we have to do is take off the glasses of Last Assembly of put on a new pair of glasses for New Assembly. These are not the same people. Their situation is not the same as your last ministry.
You weren’t traded from one hockey team to another, you retired from hockey and took up baseball. The game is different. The rules have changed.
Not everything is transferable. You cannot teach a first baseman to be a better first baseman by teaching him how to be a goalie. Yet you can teach him about teamwork, work ethic and sportsmanship.
Neither can you scout or recruit based on your previous experience. This is a different group of people with differing gifts, passions and calling. Many people wonder why Scottish tartans vary in color. One reason is that they are ancient, and the colors were determined by the dyes they could create in their specific location. Do not try to recreate your last ministry. Inventory your new set of resources and build according to them.
Failing to look through fresh eyes locks out the potential of a new place of ministry. We will never see it because we are too busy evaluating the now in light of the past. Instead we must choose to see now with hope for the future.
2) SAFETY: Choose safety over security
Safety and security are not the same. Teaching my children to avoid strangers, say “No” to drugs and alcohol, and to walk on the sidewalk help to keep them safe. Locking them in the house 24/7 keeps them secure.
When we have endured hurt or hardship personally or as a family, directly related to a situation in ministry, we have a tendency to build a wall of protection around our own hearts. “If no one can get it, I can’t get hurt.”
What happens when we choose to lock ourselves behind walls of security?
- We become unapproachable. No can get close because we closeness means vulnerability, and vulnerability too often results in hurt.
- We become close-minded. The opinions and ideas of others hold little value to us because we do not trust them to succeed.
- We become replaceable. When we fail to connect to and interact with the people who invited us into their church family, they will look for someone else who will.
While it is beneficial to evaluate and update our personal boundaries or standard operating procedures, we have to be careful that we do not choose to build walls of security instead of learning how to explore in safety.
The church you have just walked into is more than a ministry or place to do ministry. It is a group of people that are a family. You were invited to that family, by them. They deserve every opportunity to be loved, strengthened and adopted by you. Make a commitment to unlock your heart and open it to them.