When God Calls, Pastors Haul

pastor moving new congregation community transition future

Summertime in ministry often means moving time, particularly for pastors in the Methodist tribe who criss-cross the country just before July 1. If you’re passing a moving van on the highway any time between June 15 and the Fourth of July, there’s a pretty good chance a set of John Wesley’s journals is somewhere inside. But it isn’t only Methodists who continue to ride the circuit. Clergy of every denomination are preparing to move or have moved to a new church by call or appointment, and they’re experiencing all the logistical, spiritual and emotional challenges that go along with it. 

In the midst of setting up house, perhaps getting kids settled in new schools, finding a place for all your books in a new office (where did they all come from?), meeting with staff and trying to learn the names and faces of 500+ new people, it’s easy to forget one of the most important tasks when transitioning as a preacher. Leadership, pastoral care and administration are all essential parts of the job, but a pastor’s first few sermons will set the tone for the relationship going forward. Ask people about their biggest anxiety as they sit in the pew on that first Sunday before worship, and they’ll most likely tell you it has to do with sermons. Can the new pastor really preach? 

From the pastor’s perspective, it’s tempting to root back through your archives to reheat some of your “best of” sermons and serve them to your new congregation as a means of impressing people those first couple of Sundays. Then again, maybe you plan to tell the dramatic story of your call to ministry, complete with a tear or two. Or you might use the time to bust out your own theological manifesto right off the bat. Some preachers might even ignore the transition altogether and stick to the lectionary as though it were just another Sunday. 

God Is Already at Work

This time around, though, try using your first Sunday to tell some stories about where you see God already at work in the church and community. Walk around the new neighborhood, stop in the local coffee shop, buy groceries, register kids for school — these are all ways of exegeting the community while we exegete the text for the week. Entering a congregation is really entering into a new story and discovering where it connects with your own story and, even more importantly, with God’s story. 

The biblical story, after all, is a story in which people are constantly changing their addresses at the call of God. As a “stranger in a strange land,” it’s important to know that God was at work in this new place way before you showed up. Bless your new congregation with the idea that you’re there to discover where God has been at work and assure them you’re ready to join in. You’ll probably find that they’ll bless you in return by wanting you to lead them forward into a new future and a new chapter in their story and God’s story. 

And if you’re not transitioning this year, pray for those who are. After all, you never know when God’s going to call and you’ll have to haul! 

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