with Dr. Bruce Hartung
Q: We are joyfully looking forward to welcoming and working with our new pastor, who just graduated from the seminary. I will be meeting him for the first time. Is there anything that you think we should consider doing to make it easier for him and his family? We want them to be happy here, and have a good, long ministry with our congregation.
A: This is a great question, posed in a spirit of wonderful hospitality. It suggests you are thinking ahead proactively and intentionally. Such thinking is almost always healthy when it involves intentions of support, nurture, and care.
Helping individuals and families adapt to a new place and circumstances is best done when it is not passively left to chance.
Thinking ahead to develop a thoughtful plan of helping the new pastor and his family adapt to your community is just plain good thinking.
I offer you six suggestions for what you and your fellow members and leaders might do to help your new pastor and his family. Our readers will, I hope, add additional ones.
1. Since they are going to be new to your community, they will need help finding their way around in it. Why not plan orientation trips for them, in the community and the area where most of your members live? On this trip, point out sites to help you tell the history of the community, show them places to shop, and take them by places offering public services that are close to the church and their new home — city hall, the post office, police and fire departments, the hospital or emergency clinic, the library. Try to introduce them to community leaders. Help them get acquainted with those who can help with community resources, such as educational institutions.
2. Your pastor and his family will be new to your congregation (obviously). An intentional orientation process involving as many members as possible could help them know and understand the parish’s history and culture. Why not arrange for members of different backgrounds and traditions to host the pastor’s family for meals and other social activities?
Perhaps you could have a congregational get-together where movies and videos of your church’s past significant events are shown, and where people share stories about various congregation-related experiences. I hope your new pastor will want to learn as much as he can about the congregation, so that he can better understand it and serve it. Help him and his family learn about you.
3. Encourage your new pastor’s participation in community leadership and with other clergy, both LCMS and beyond. Such participation will help him establish a support network with colleagues. Just as it helps him develop his own presence in the community, it will do the same for your congregation.
4. As soon as possible, conduct a review of compensation. At least determine if your pastor’s salary is on a comparable level with other clergy in your community. Who knows, perhaps this will help you lead the way in helping everyone in your community pay fair, just, and generous wages. Make sure your congregation funds your pastor’s continuing education, as well as participation in the LCMS Commission on Ministerial Growth and Support’s Post-Seminary Applied Learning and Support (PALS) initiative, and that it offers the best and most supportive of the available alternatives in the Synod’s health plan. Please do not skimp on health-care coverage.
5. Develop a support group in the congregation for the pastor, his wife, and their family that will intentionally look after them, both as they move into the community and as your pastor’s ministry continues. This is especially important early on, when the support group provides a consistent point of contact during the transition, as well as afterward. This group’s primary responsibility is to look out for the ongoing welfare of the pastor and his family. Choose members who have a heart for developing supportive and encouraging relationships.
6. Understand that everyone might be a bit nervous about all these new beginnings. New relationships need to be formed, new patterns established, and new opportunities taken. Give everyone enough room to work out all of this. And don’t expect everything to go perfectly as planned. It’s important to give relationships time to build and ease into more comfort.
Interestingly, I have received from two pastors questions that are similar to the one addressed here, from their viewpoint as new graduates about to move to their first calling congregations. I will respond to those questions in the next column.
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 June 30, 2006