This post is a partial book review and also a look towards the future. We each have unique paths and journeys that we take as we listen to where God may be calling us in life, that is if we choose to listen. Beginning a new call brings many questions as one starts to get acquainted with his/her surroundings. I recently finished the book, Ten Commandments for Pastors New To A Congregation by Lawerence W. Farris. Like the previous book I read regarding new calls, this has some great points and ones that may be off the mark slightly. My thought is that I would review the Ten Commandments as Farris lays them out.
- Thou Shalt Be a Cultural Historian. Get to know the history of the congregation that you are serving. From its very beginnings to the present day. What areas of conflict have occurred within the church and what are some of the ministries that people are passionate about. I am still in the midst of this, as I believe this can take months, possibly even years to fully understand the workings of each individual congregation.
- Thou Shalt Spend Thy Blue-Chips for Change on Changes that Matter. Do not fight those fights that are not worth it. Ones that are only going to hurt people in the long run or cause a rift within the congregation. We all make mistakes at times and I am sure I have done my fair share of breaking this commandment. You can find out where to spend those blue-chips simply by listening.
- Thou Shalt Attend to Thy Preaching. This is the ministry that I am called to, Word and Sacrament. If I do not spend the proper amount of time in study and preparing to bring the word to my congregation then I am failing in living up to my call.
- Thou Shalt be Certain the Church’s Financial House Is in Order. Most churches do not have professional accounting services preparing their books. This falls to the hands of members of the congregation who may or may not be trained to handle such responsibilities. My business acumen helps me in this regard and I believe that all pastors should have a basic knowledge of accounting and finances. You also need to be forward in asking for information when seeking a new call so that you know the situation you are stepping into.
- Thou Shalt Not Create Expectations Which Cannot Be Met in the Long Term. This can be tough, as being a pastor is a vocation which involves being with people and at times we receive very little feedback as to how our ministry is progressing. We must be careful and set realistic boundaries so that we do not set ourselves up for failure in the future. Self care is very important.
- Thou shalt take care of Thyself from Day One. A pastor can only successfully pastor to her congregation as long as she is healthy. It is imperative that self-care is a part of the call and the congregation realizes the need for this as well. One such way I have found is to join a local gym in which I pay a monthly fee and it is enough motivation for me to go at least three times a week so that I do not waste that money that I spend for the membership. Taking care of oneself also included caring for one’s family.
- Thou Shalt Be Aware of the Chronics. There are members within each congregation that are constantly coming to the leaders needing something; it may even just be acknowledgement of what they are doing. These members require a lot of time and therefore take away from other possible ministerial tasks. We must not avoid the chronics, because they do need love as well, we just need to be self-conscious of the time spent with them and learn when to direct them to other appropriate forms of help if needed.
- Thou Shalt Limit Thy Activities beyond the Congregation that has Called You. I don’t believe this is a commandment that needs to be followed throughout the entire ministry at one congregation. I have learned though that one can easily get involved in too many things and other things begin to suffer, often times at the expense of personal self-care or time with family. I truly believe it is essential to be involved in the community in which you pastor. First and foremost, it is important to get to know your people.
- Thou Shalt Remember What Thy Job Is. We are called to a ministry of Word and Sacrament and within these there are other responsibilities in which we take part. However, you are not the only person in the congregation capable of doing things. I have learned that you must at times stand back and let the people of God do God’s work.
- Thou Shalt Not Commit Adultery. This seems like an obvious commandment to follow. Of course there is the sexual kind of adultery and unfortunately to many pastors fall to this. However, we can also over commit and let go of our commitments that matter most, our spouse and children. Are you also keeping committed to your beliefs and not wavering?
Farris leads the reader through his book in a quick and fulfilling way. I pray that as a pastor I am able to stick to these commandments and also continually self-check so that I can ensure that I am on the right path. This is a must-read for new pastors and would not hurt call committees to read as well.