Sunday, July 10, 2005

Transition no. 1: Relationships

Start your ministry by stacking your boxes of books by the door of your office. Now leave them there for the next two weeks.

It should be no surprise that, if I am convinced that the key to placement is relationships, I am also sure that relationships are the key to good transition. If one of the key questions for placement is, “Who do you love?” then surely one of the key questions for transition is, “How do you love?”

Forget the boxes of books, the adjustment to the new places, and the sermon you have to preach next Sunday. (No, not completely; but don't you have a few sermons you could re-work and save some prep time?) Begin your new ministry strong with a heavy focus on relationship-building. Let the logistics of the new position take care of themselves-- or at least wait a while.

In one of the positions I served, I went the other way: I jumped into the logistical details during the first weeks of ministry. I spent time setting up my office, unpacking books, organizing my schedule, and establishing mobile phone service. Looking back, it was a big mistake that hurt my ministry for the long-term.

After all, ministry is not about those things. Not about cell phones, bookshelves, or offices. Not about the contents of the books on the shelves or the appointments on the schedule. Not even about the sermons you preach-- not essentially. If no one is listening, it won't matter how good you preach, how many appointments you make, or how many books you read. And once they decide that you're interested in things other than relationships with them (whether that is the truth or not), they stop listening.

Jump into your new ministry with both feet by building relationships. That doesn't mean you can't do anything else; obviously you must have something to preach on Sunday, and you should take some time to prepare for that. But let the bulk of your time be spent with people. And make sure they can see that this is your priority; if you can, see to it that everyone in the church knows that they'll get time with you soon. Maybe not this week, but based on how much time you're spending with others...


Anonymous said...


Where do comments like this go? Maybe not right here, but I want to think out loud. I agree that looking for a ministry placement position is an active task, not passive. In that sense, isn't it like dating? Example: In college, at our servant-team meeting one night, I took the risk of asking the team to pray that the Lord would lead me to someone to date. I added, "I haven't had any dates in nearly three years." Eyebrows went up all around the room. I smiled sheepishly. Then the campus minister said, laughing, "_____, at least one girl a week asks me about you. You could easily have a date...if you wanted one." I guess I'd been sitting back waiting for something to happen.

The dating illustration doesn't stop there: after several years of working with you, I applied for a new youth position at a church in Alabama. During my lunch with the "Youth Guy" search committee, members got careless with their words. One of them said, "We've always wanted to do such-and-such, and when you come on, we can finally do that." Someone else said, "When it comes time for you> to move, let me know and I can help you find a place." This wasn't just dating: these members were proposing. So, I go home, pack my boxes and wait. Three weeks went by and I never heard back. I finally accepted another job elsewhere.

So while I want there to be prudence and perserverance on the part of guys looking for a job, I also want to warn them to "guard their hearts." Few things are more harmful to a family for some members of the search committee to make comments like, "You are my favoriate candidate," or, "I'm glad you are applying for this job. You'll be great at our church," etc., only then to find out that their kind sentiments were little more than kind sentiments; someone else gets the paycheck. This gets particularly sticky when multiple people (who know each other) are thinking about the same job.

So what do you do? Pray, perserver, pick up the phone and call. But never put "expectation" in a place until they are asking you to accept the terms of the call.

Tychicus said...

My friend, Learner, thought your comments here were right on target...and challenging. Learner's the type who likes to have his ducks in a row and make a good impression (at least until figure out the truth). He's made the same mistakes you've cautioned against (largely because it's easier for him to stack books than initiate with people), and he said he appreciated your words.

One last suggestion (and maybe you could devote a blog to this): desk placement in your office. How many pastors have their desks smack in the middle of the room almost as a bunker between them and those with whom they are meeting? What would it communicate if a parishoner walked into his or her pastor's office and didn't have that barrier to talk across? Learner thinks it would communicate a lot, perhaps not consciously, but certainly sub-consciously.

How about a post on that? Couldn't get much more practical.

Adam Tisdale said...


As one who has recently made the transition (to assistant pastor), I would agree whole heartedly with your comments on relationships. In our case, I feel like we were forced into it in some ways. There were three months between my accepting the call to my present church and the time in which we were able to move (tight housing market). As a result, I began working part-time commuting from 3 hours away to work on the week-end. Therefore, there were no boxes of books or even things to unpack at home. Thus, the majority of my time was spent with congregants. I wouldn't recommend my transition to anyone, but a year + later, I see a great value to those first couple of months that were focused on building relationships.
Thanks for your posts...Adam

Ed said...

The annonymous comments above make some good points. Thanks, blogosphere lurker, for your good input. Thanks especially for the dating illustration-- you've demonstrated my take on the "work ethic of placement" exactly.

Learner is not alone, I'm sure. Many of us (especially the introverted, thinking-judgment types like me) would rather be in the office a lot of the time. Good thoughts on how the office is arranged; maybe I'll tackle that one down the line...

Adam, thanks for sharing your experience, as usual. Providential circumstances often don't look so God-given in the moment, do they? Man, what if we all had to set aside entire months at the beginning of our ministries to build relationships? I'm thinking you're going to be a powerful force on the ministry team there, simply because of the strength developed in that start...

Thanks, all for your participation.