Q: I received my first call this spring on “call day” at the seminary. I will be ordained and installed at my first congregation this summer. It’s truly a time of great excitement. But it’s also a time of nervousness and tension for me and my wife. This is all new for us. I have been working toward it for a number of years, and I believe God has called me to do this and that He will not abandon me. Yet I am tense. Are there things you might suggest I do to help ease this tension as I enter this congregation to which I am called? I want to serve its members well.
Q: These are great days! I am called as a teacher to a Lutheran school, fulfilling my lifelong dream to teach. I want to do the best job possible. I think that the early interactions I have with people will set some of the tone for my work. How can I make the best connections early on with the faculty, school board, parents, teachers, and children?
A: Both readers ask very important questions. They want to start their ministries with relationships that are positive, supportive, and help further healthy ministries.
I think that one of the basic factors is the attitude of the incoming worker — that and the receptivity and encouragement of the congregations, which was discussed in the July “Pressure Points.”
Both of these new workers indicate that they have at least one healthy attitude. Both want to do well and work at it. The pursuit of excellence is important.
The ministry is not a place for passively hoping that things will happen while the worker is mired in inactivity. Rather, it is a place for the pursuit of active service
surrounded by prayer, study of the Word, participation in Holy Communion, and support of the community.
I very much support the attitude and desire these church workers have to strive to do excellent work in their respective vocations.
An additional healthy attitude is suggested in an old line that says it is the necessary task of an incoming worker to be both a lover of people and a historian of the people and the organization (in this case, a parish and a school).
My interpretation of this is that the first tasks of the new worker are to learn in-depth about the people and the parish and/or school and to form positive relationships in Christ based on service and love. In other words, while the worker brings excellence of training, he or she — a servant of Christ and His people — also brings an attitude that is basically that of a lifelong continual learner.
“I want to understand you and your life’s challenges, joys, and motivations as I work with you” is a very different approach from “This is the way things are to be done, and we will do them the way I say.” The first approach is one of learning; the second simply exhibits an attitude of arrogance.
A learning and loving attitude goes a very long way. Also, I am convinced that such an attitude is in the Spirit of Christ, who entered our world, experienced it in all its dimensions, and loves us with an everlasting love.
It is not so much specific things one might do at the beginning. Rather, it is the tone that is important.
What tone do you want to set?
I suggest that your tone makes it clear that the people among whom you work become your teachers, just as you teach them. This mutual and ongoing learning grows into viable continuous learning relationships.
I also suggest that your tone to your people makes it clear that you serve and love them. Such mutual and ongoing service and love grows into viable communities of support centered in Christ. His service and love bring us all together.
Finally, it is a most wonderful thing that both writers — and I suspect many of their colleagues — are thinking about this beforehand. Such thoughtfulness and intentionality make for excellent skill and attitude.
Rev. Bruce M. Hartung, Ph.D., is an associate professor of practical theology at Concordia Seminary, St. Louis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Posted July 28, 2006