Top Priorities When Starting a New Job at a Church

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The past few weeks have been crazy, but all of our belongings are at least in our rental home in the North Shore, I started my new job as Associate Pastor of Winnetka Presbyterian Church (WPC) on August 1, preached my first official sermon on August 4, and then promptly left for a week of vacation. I head back to Chicago tomorrow and will be putting together my office this weekend (my office is pictured above – this is how our deacons welcomed me, along with a 6-pack of Chicago beers and some wine and other treats in a gift basket). When I started in Ashland, I didn’t get my office together for a couple months, and it was stressful to not have a place that I wanted to sit and work, so that’s a priority for me as I start at Winnetka.

But this got me thinking about what my other priorities should be, as I start off this new season of ministry at WPC. Below are a few of the priorities I’ve been thinking about (in no particular order):

Intentionally Seeking out Folks

One thing that surprised me when I started at Ashland, is that I just assumed people would flock in to my office to talk, share stories and get to know me. And that didn’t happen. I think that had more to do with the fact that I started a week before Thanksgiving, and then we got into the busy-ness of Advent, Christmas, and all of the craziness that goes with those seasons. But as I start off here in Winnetka, I am going to be more proactive about seeking out folks to get to know them, listen to their stories, and start my work as a cultural historian of WPC. Visits to people’s homes, meeting people in my office, drinks with folks (over coffee, beer, etc.) or meals with students. I want to hear the stories of WPC folks; I want to know why they are connected to this community that I already sense is a pretty amazing place.

Start Self Care Soon

Our house is no longer in a hilly area, which was one of the annoying things about running in Ashland for me. Running really is an important (maybe the MOST important) piece of self care for me, and I know that I feel better when I get out an run a couple miles in the morning. While I imagine it will take me awhile to get used to the humidity, I know that there will be some good races in the Chicago area, and I want to be able to run in some of them…so, time to lace up those shoes. We are also a block from the Community Rec Center of Wilmette, and they have a pretty decent gym that we’re going to hopefully be signing up for, so that will help as well.

Block Out Time for Study & Reading from the Beginning

My wife may not believe me when I say this, but I really do love to read. I’ve been trying to figure out how to find time to read amidst everything else going on in my life, and the pastors who say they’re able to do it, say they have to have it scheduled into their day. So, once I get through this first next week in the office, I’m going to set aside time for study and reading at the beginning of one morning a week, and won’t turn on my computer, answer my phone or do anything else during that time. That’s the goal anyway. I think this will help me become a better preacher and help with my continuing education as a pastor.

Names, Names, Names!

I’m not the best with names. In fact, I’ve already messed up the name of our Director of Music more than once, and although he’s been good about it, it drives me crazy. The very first church I worked at, in southern Idaho, I was GREAT with names. I knew the names of our kids, their parents, and our senior members; it wasn’t a problem. But since then, there have always been a few folks who I see each Sunday and I think I know their name, but I’m not 100% sure, so I won’t say it, and then I feel bad. I think that this is still a church size where learning names is doable. Time to break out that church directory!

Work on My Own Spiritual Formation

We’ve all heard the “Hey, you have to put your oxygen mask on before helping someone else with theirs” metaphor for ministry, how we need to be cultivating our own spiritual lives if we’re going to help others with theirs…right? Well, it may be a cliche but I do think it’s important. I will be continuing with the same spiritual director I’ve had for a few years now, which is great. I find that very helpful on numerous levels. But I also want to find some ways to incorporate prayer and scripture reading into my week…which seems like it would be a good thing for pastor to do.

What would your priorities be if you were starting at a new church job soon? What things would you be sure and do…? What would you be sure to NOT DO?

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