A congregation needs to prepare to meet its new called worker.
“You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” The recent college graduate hoping to be hired keeps that in mind as she prepares for a job interview. The young man who believes he has found his future bride remembers that adage as he gets ready to meet her parents.
That counsel, so helpful for a job-seeker and an eager suitor, is also useful for congregation members awaiting the arrival of a new called worker. This article concentrates on preparing for a new pastor.
Reflect on why he is coming
Before congregation members meet their new pastor, they would do well to reflect on why he’s coming. If they think it’s because they’re such nice people who live in such a wonderful place, they’re missing the point. He’s coming to do what the congregation asked him to do in the diploma of vocation (the official document used to convey the Lord’s call to serve):
To preach the gospel and administer the sacraments.
To shepherd the members of the congregation.
To instruct the young in the truths of God’s Word.
To conduct himself in a manner worthy of a minister of Christ.
To devote his time and ability to the advancement of the kingdom.
Those who read through that document recognize that the pastor is coming for their spiritual benefit. He isn’t coming to be the new custodian or technology expert—not that those duties are beneath him in any way. But those duties would take him away from the work the Lord wants pastors to do. The diploma of vocation reminds congregation members to do all they can so that the pastor can devote himself to gospel ministry.
Members might also benefit from reading through the Rite of Installation that will be used on the day their new pastor begins his work as their shepherd. The rite not only defines the work of the pastor but also details the congregation’s responsibility toward the pastor:
To listen to him as Christ’s messenger and work together with him.
To honor and love him, pray for him, and provide for his physical needs.
To submit to his scriptural leadership.
That long list of duties leads a Christian to pray, “Lord, help me recognize our new pastor as your representative so that I honor him as I honor you.”
Pray for him during the transition
The congregation regularly prays for the man who is considering the call to serve as their pastor. In the six to eight weeks between acceptance of the call and the pastor’s arrival, however, the prayers often slow down.
But actually, the transition is a time for prayers to increase. While a pastor expresses excitement at following a new call, he also experiences some sadness in saying good-bye. He will leave behind people he loves.
Prepare for an honored guest
Before welcoming a guest to their home, most people go to great lengths to make sure everything is just right. The congregation preparing for a new pastor adopts a similar view—and for good reason. He comes to the congregation not by his own design but by the will of God. He comes as the servant of Christ and is to be received that way. Jesus told his disciples, “Anyone who welcomes you welcomes me, and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me. Whoever welcomes a prophet as a prophet will receive a prophet’s reward, and whoever welcomes a righteous person as a righteous person will receive a righteous person’s reward” (Matthew 10:40,41).
There are many ways congregations seek to have everything “just right” for a new pastor. They make sure the facility is in excellent condition before the pastor arrives. That doesn’t necessarily mean big-ticket items like replacing the roof or building a new sanctuary. A number of little things, however, could be done to make the place look as nice as possible, whether that’s a fresh coat of paint, a thorough cleaning, or some spruced-up landscaping.
Even though the pastor will spend a fair amount of time away from the church visiting congregation members and reaching out to the community, he also needs a quiet place in which to study and prepare. He could do that in a closet, but it might not be particularly conducive to fruitful labor. For that reason, members of a congregation will want to take a close look at the office space they provide for their pastor and find ways to improve it. The five-year-old computer that someone donated might find its way into the recycle bin. The outdated chairs that hurt the eyes could be used for kindling. Little improvements make a big statement: “Pastor, we welcome you as Jesus’ servant.”
If the congregation provides a parsonage for the pastor and his family, every effort should be made to get the home looking its best. Members of the congregation ought to tour the parsonage and note the improvements they would make if they were living in the home. Church council members may think the parsonage is just fine as it is; the members of the ladies’ group might hold an entirely different opinion. Somewhere between the extremes would seem like a good approach. Repairs and improvements made to the home are an excellent way to show appreciation for the pastor’s wife and family, who often take a little longer than the pastor to adjust to a new place.
Congregations regularly find other ways to communicate their thanks for their new pastor. Some have pantry showers so that there is food in the house when the family arrives. Others provide meals for the first few days so that the family can focus on unpacking. Each of those special touches demonstrates love and respect for the pastor and his family and helps the relationship get off to a good start.
Celebrate the Lord’s grace
The relationship between pastor and people becomes official on the day of installation. That’s a day for great rejoicing, because the Savior has graciously provided a shepherd to care for their souls. The congregation will want to pull out all the stops for that service. Congregation leaders will encourage every member to attend to show their support for the ministry and to join in praying for the Lord’s blessing on this new relationship. The dinner following the service (how could there be an installation service without a potluck?) will provide a good opportunity for the new pastor to get to know the people the Lord has graciously chosen for him to serve.
Both the congregation and the pastor want the relationship to get off to a good start. But those who recognize the Lord’s grace in giving them a pastor don’t just work hard at the beginning of the relationship. Moved by the Spirit through the Word, congregation members will continue to act as if they are still making a first impression. They keep on praying for their pastor and look for ways