Ben: 10 Things I Wish I Knew In My First Call

Benjamin Kane —  October 15, 2013

Photo Sep 27, 11 19 23 AM

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

Things I wish I knew… Oh the list could go on forever.  The best advice I can give a new pastor is to take mental or physical notes about whats happening–reviewing them from time-to-time might help reveal what God is saying to you through your experiences.  The list below portrays a wide view lens of my first four years in ordained ministry.  Often times, unknowingly, I had what I termed a “ministerial breakthrough”–a time when I not only did something (whether positive or negative) and was able to articulate why!

1.  Temper your expectations

Your seminary education is aimed to teach you the academic side of ministry; the local church (or hospital or campus ministry, etc) needs/wants the personal side.  Both are important, but it is important to temper your expectations as to how much your ministerial setting cares about what you learned in seminary.  Truthfully, they just want you to love them!

2.  Remind yourself constantly that you aren’t Jesus

Seems obvious, but it is important to note.  All of us come out of seminary primed to change the landscape of ministry; rarely, if ever, does that happen–particularly in our first call.  You aren’t called to save the church; again, you are called to love those folks using your natural and learned gifts and skills.  Take a deep breath, realize you aren’t Jesus, and go about doing ministry!

3.  Follow the leaders of the past

I recently received this advice from a GQ column; yep, you read that correctly, GQ!  It was confirmed by the great writer, William Zinsser, who wrote On Writing Well.  Both GQ and Zinsser espoused that we all need mentors and individuals to emulate as we learn our craft(s).  Take the lead from the saints and sinners that have walked this path of ministry before us–particularly in the beginning.  Everyone has ministerial crushes on particular pastors–go ahead and feed that crush a little bit.  Follow his or her lead and see how they structured a sermon or handled a session meeting.  It will save you time and effort as you don’t always have to recreate the proverbial wheel.

4.  Find a mentor (or two)

Ministry is a lonely profession; even so, no one said we have to walk the journey alone.  Find a mentor who has walked a similar path and call her/him up and ask to hear her/his story.  Pastors love to talk, particularly about themselves!  Reaching out to hear a word about what her/his journey entailed will give you guides and signposts to look for.  Furthermore, and more importantly, they can be an honest dialogue partner who can allow you to speak freely as you discern what God is doing in your world.

5.  Get used to disappointing and being disappointed

Here’s my Debbie Downer post.  You are going to disappoint people in your ministry setting (and those outside of it, if we are being honest!) and you are going to be disappointed by your church and the congregants.  See #2 above and you will realize why you will disappoint your church.  See #6 below to remind yourself why your church will sometimes disappoint you.

6.  The church is never as pretty or ideal as the search committee said it was

Their job is to sell the church to you.  If you are sitting in the office at the church they must have done their job.  Rarely do we offer our warts to those we are attempting to bring inside.  Churches are no different.  Even though no church is ideal, remember the particular hopes and aspirations from the conversations you had with the search committee–those are usual seeds that are worth planting and watering!

7.  Laugh at yourself in public

People want to see the human side of you.  You are going to make mistakes, but how you handle them is what people will remember.  I was a stickler for doing everything exactly right, particularly in worship.  It was only when I inadvertently said something humorous and the congregation laughed that I realized I could laugh while leading worship and God would still be glorified!  As I tell myself daily, if God doesn’t have a sense of humor we are all doomed.

8.  Get a life–but tell your congregation about it

The hardest thing to do is protecting your personal time.  People will scramble, pry and prod for all the time they can get.  This is all the more reason to get a life.  Find a hobby and protect it.  But don’t forget to tell your people about your hobby; if you feel comfortable, invite them to join you.  I began running marathons and half-marathons when I started at Westminster because I realized I was sitting around too much at work and needed to move.  It was only when I began telling people about what race I was running and occasionally training with some folks that I realized they enjoyed seeing the non-pastoral side of me.  Seeing me sweating and smelly and unkept after a run was all the more endearing because I was just like them in those moments.

9.  Find friends outside the church

You need people in your life that can be your pastors.  These are the friends (and family) that prop you up by allowing you to be yourself.  I threw myself at all the church could offer, but found myself wanting to talk just about Duke basketball without referencing an upcoming worship service or church event.  Being able to talk about something non-church related is a spiritual practice–one that I have to remind myself to practice daily.

10.  Never stop learning

Read all kinds of books; if you don’t like books, watch all kinds of movies.  Go see plays, visit museums, attend concerts and go to an art opening.  These events and experiences will feed your ministry even if they don’t become sermon illustrations or sunday school curriculums.  They will stretch your brain and heart and we can all use some good stretching!

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

Benjamin Kane

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Ben is a husband, father, son, brother, and a PC(USA) minister. These identities provide him myriad glimpses of God's unconditional love and grace. He is a Duke basketball fan, NPR listener, reader of almost anything, occasional writer & runner, hopeful New Yorker cartoon creator, and discerner as to who God is. He is the Pastor at Howard Memorial Presbyterian Church in Tarboro, NC--"the crossroads of western civilization."