Brian: What I Wish I Knew In My First Call…

Brian Christopher Coulter —  October 2, 2013


(This is part of the What We Wish We Knew Before Our First Ordained Call series.)

Seminary prepares you for certain aspects of ministry.  Seminary specifically prepares you for the academic and theological portions of ministry.  You go to class, read smart books, write your papers, pass your ords.

But then, all of the sudden, you plunge into the wading pool of church leadership.  And the gravity of it all hits you like an unintentional belly flop.  Everyone seems to be staying afloat … except for you!  You splash, you struggle, you flounder your way through the first couple of years of ministry.  You eventually go under, get out, or cling to those around you long enough for them to teach you some of the other aspects of ministry.

It is an abrupt departure — being accustomed to diving into the text then acclimating yourself to diving into jello-salads — but I guess that is why they refer to it as an odd and wondrous calling.  But with that being said, here are a few things I wish I knew:


1.  I wish I knew that I did not know very much.  I still do not.  There are libraries filled with books that I know nothing about.  For that matter, there are shelves in my office filled with books that I know nothing about.  There are many ministry tasks that require a large amount of confidence, and so it is very humbling to realize how little we know.

2.  I wish I knew when to respond and when to stay quiet.

3.  I wish I knew when to hug and when to shake hands.

4.  I wish I knew when to email and when to call.  Do not put delicate things in writing.  And sarcasm on an email (with or without emoticons) does not work at all.

5.  I wish I knew the balance between efficiency and effectiveness.  If efficiency is getting things done right, then effectiveness is getting the right things done.  Efficiency is writing the newsletter article, planning the all-church picnic, crushing the children’s sermon, and making it to the surgical floor on-time for the prayer.  Effectiveness is choosing these things while delegating, deflecting, and/or deferring the rest.  We need both.  It is not an either/or kind of situation.  We constantly make decisions about how to spend our time.  I simply try to be more aware of these decisions as I make them now.

6.  I wish I knew better budgeting strategies.  For my sake.  For the church accountant’s sake.  It is harder than I imagined.

7.  I wish I knew how important it was to protect my personal devotional time.  Sermon prep and teaching guides are not a suitable substitute.  I heard this plenty.  But it really is true.

8.  I wish I knew how to properly mix ashes into oil.  Every Ash Wednesday I say to myself, “I need to call a priest about this.”

9.  I wish I knew that I would make lots and lots and lots and lots and lots of mistakes.

10.  I wish I knew why Advent is turning blue.  I read about it.  I just don’t care enough I guess.

11.  I wish I knew the unstated dress codes.

12.  I wish I knew advice on how to handle power-groups that form.  They are not even all bad.  But they are a force for sure.  Handle with care.

13.  I wish I knew how to make technology always run smoothly in worship.  You really only get one shot with it too.  If you mess up with technology just once, you get the “that’s why we don’t do things like that here.”  Practice a lot before implementing.

14.  I wish I knew a different title to use when describing my job in barber shops, in waiting rooms, and on the airplane.  It is not that I am against having heart-to-hearts with folks outside of the church, but it makes for some awkward moments when you are trapped in one place for an elongated period of time with no option to leave.

15.  I wish I knew the secret to raising a preacher’s-kid.

16.  I wish I knew the number of all my former youth pastors, camp counselors, and confirmation partners so that I could simply call and apologize.

17.  I wish I knew how to better learn from my own failure.  Failing forward.


I wish I knew a lot more than I know.  And I continue to work on it.  I would like to think I am fine-tuning a lot of this in my fourth year of ministry, but that would be a silly lie.  I continue to stay in the wading pool of church leadership.  I continue to struggle with my role as pastor.  I continue to wrestle with my calling.  And I continue to enjoy the learning process.

(This is part of the What We Wish We Knew Before Our First Ordained Call series.)

Brian Christopher Coulter

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Brian is currently serving at First Presbyterian Church in Aiken, South Carolina. Brian is a husband, father, pastor, author of BE HOLY, and a ping-pong champion.