One of the mixed blessings of being a Seventh-day Adventist pastor is moving to a new district every four to seven years.[i] It’s often difficult to leave behind church family, friends and familiar surroundings. But it is a great time to also leave behind the mistakes of the previous district and take with you the lessons learned as you enjoy a start fresh in a new place.
Here is advice I would give a newer pastor taking up responsibilities in a new district.
Welcome to the next few years of your life!
Your new district will, of course, present both blessings and challenges. Since you have nicknamed me “Dan Landers” because I’m always giving advice, here is some unsolicited counsel that is worth every dollar you have paid for it! I leave it up to you to sort the “Duh, How dumb does he think I am” from the “Wow, I wish I would have known that years ago.”
As a brand new pastor in your brand new district you have the opportunity to plant the right kinds of seeds at the first that will give you a wonderful harvest during your ministry and long after you leave.
Top 10 Seeds to Plant in your First 100 Days[ii]
1. An Outreach Team Can Transform (Luke 10:1-3[iii]). During your first month begin an outreach advisory committee (suggested new name for personal ministries). Staff it with people who are outgoing, gatherer-type personalities. Include your First Elder, Treasurer and Clerk on the committee. Inaugurate the committee with a consecration service centered around the baptistry, dedicating it as a birthing chamber for new citizens of God’s Kingdom. Warn the resident spiders that their days are numbered because the baptistery will be in regular use, at least once a month. As a group, lay plans for seeding, cultivating, and reaping your new territory. Include training events for lay Bible Instructors and Intercessory Prayer Warriors. Have the outreach committee share the plans with the Church Board for input and approval. Then share the plans with the church at large as a strategy to reach their neighborhoods and community. As the members respond, have a card for them to record their commitment. A public commissioning service (laying on of hands) will acknowledge the need of the Holy Spirit to empower them as soul winners. Have weekly testimonies in church of what God is doing in people’s lives. Have regular outreach committee meetings to keep the vision going forward. We need more churches that are focused on the mission and mobilized for ministry.
2. Seeking the Lost Strengthens the Saved (Matthew 28:18-20[iv]). Show that God sent you to this district “to seek and save the lost” in cooperation with Jesus. When more and more members are personally involved in sharing their faith, praying for the salvation of others and winning souls there is a growing strength in the entire congregation. Your Outreach Advisory Committee can be a great ally in this. Try one (or more) of these steps during your first few months—
- At the end of your first sermon make an appeal – for baptism, transfer of membership to the church, and/or rededication to Jesus and the mission of the church.
- Schedule a baptism and potluck in three months and then each month afterward. During the potluck the new believer and his friendship triad are the guests of honor.
- Identify those closest to uniting with the church and ask an elder to help you team teach a Sabbath School class to help them prepare for baptism.
- Schedule your own evangelistic series or Revelation Seminar to take place 6-8 months after your arrival. By striking while the iron is hot your members will still come to hear you preach and might bring friends. Better yet, involve one or two lay leaders as partners in presenting the series. They’ll love you forever as everyone sees that soul winning is not just the job of professionals.
- Preach one of your first sermon series on the Gospel Commission, the lost sheep, coin and son of Luke 15, the Book of Acts, etc.
- Invite the entire congregation to begin praying for specific people they would like to see accept Jesus and embrace the Adventist message within the next six months.
- Study the mission of the church with your elders and/or Church Board, looking particularly at the Book of Acts in the Bible plus Evangelism, Gospel Workers, Christian Service, Pastoral Ministry and Acts of the Apostles.[v]
We need many more lay soul winners in our churches and you can invite them to join you in the greatest mission on earth![vi]
3. Community Contacts Count (Matthew 5:13-14[vii]). You are a child of the King of kings and a Representative of the Remnant to the counties and communities you will be serving! Instead of seeing moving chores (finding a house, updating your driver’s license, etc. etc.) as hassles, look at them as opportunities to get out into the community to meet people. As you rub shoulders with the realtor, the grocery store clerk, the employees at City Hall, silently pray that each one will come to know, love, serve and share Jesus. If possible, introduce yourself as the new Seventh-day Adventist pastor and ask if they have any prayer requests. Invite them to church activities. Sometimes you will even be able to pray with them right then and there and leave them something inspiring to read. We need more Adventist believers who let their light shine and you can model it in your new community!
4. Preaching Schedules Can Empower (2 Timothy 4:1-5[viii]). Set up a preaching schedule for the next 6 to 12 months in consultation with your elders. This is much simpler than trying to figure out late Friday night what to preach about the next morning! In the schedule include a Sabbath every month for an elder, church board member, young person or guest speaker to speak whether you are there or not. Those who have never preached before can tell their personal conversion story and share several texts that made a difference in their lives. Ask your elder(s) what pressing needs the congregation has and schedule sermon series that last 3-8 weeks. You can almost be guaranteed to need a series on Home and Family, Christian Stewardship and Life Management, and Using Your Spiritual Gifts in Ministry. I think there’s value in preaching a series each year on the benefits of Adventist distinctives (e.g. The Blessings of the … Sabbath, Sanctuary, Salvation, Spiritual Gifts, Stewardship, Scriptures, State of the Dead, Second Coming, Sin’s Annihilation). In your schedule remember to include Sabbaths for Communion Services, Special Events (graduations, Mothers’ & Fathers’ Day, Christmas, etc.) and Baptism Sabbaths. Your early sermons will probably be remembered better than your later ones. So make sure the church is a safe place, where truth is preached from a heart of love, and Jesus is always lifted up. We need more lay preachers of all ages who can share God’s word powerfully, clearly and in a Christ-centered way, and you can empower some in your district![ix]
5. Home Visitation Helps Everything Else (Acts 2:44-47[x]). Set aside 1-3 nights and one afternoon per week for home, hospital and jail visitation, but never make visits alone! By taking a male elder, deacon, church board member, young person, or new believer with you on a rotating basis you are developing them for stronger leadership when the day comes for you to move on. One of the highest priorities is to visit any in-town visitors to church by Monday evening. With member visitation (ask your clerk for a current list), consider getting into the homes of all attending members first, encouraging them in daily personal Bible study, family worship, and finding a ministry they enjoy. Visits can be brief – 20-40 minutes – but should give you an opportunity to learn about their family, borrow one of their Bibles to read a verse from, pray for any prayer requests they have and leave literature. They will tell relatives, friends and inactive members about your visit and maybe later go with you or others to see them. We need more in-home interaction among the body of Christ for it to function well, and you can help get it started through home visitation!
6. Board Members Don’t Have to be Bored Members (1 Corinthians 1:9-10[xi]). Without making a big deal about it, set aside the first thirty minutes of your Church Board meetings for Bible reading, prayer time and ministry and faith sharing experiences. Then, as your first agenda item always talk about soul winning activities and plans. When you do this the rest of the meeting tends to go better. Other agenda items can be handled more effectively or postponed till next time. And board members are happier when they are more focused on who is being saved than on how much is being saved. I like to designate every third board meeting a quarterly Church Business Meeting to cast vision, hear reports, share spiritual victories and vote necessary financial and membership items. Your church will grow spiritually if your leaders are growing spiritually. At the first board meeting, challenge each person to spend an extra ten minutes a day in personal communion with God for the next month and be ready to talk about their experience at the next board meeting. We need more church board members and leaders who are best known for Bible study, prayer and sharing their faith, and starting Church Board meetings well can make a major difference in this!
7. Connect with the kids (Titus 2:6-8[xii]). Find something, anything, to help you connect with the kids in the church and school and community, especially during your first couple of months. You can open the door for kids at the school, or play with them during PE. You can tell a story and share a Bible verse as a devotional at the Pathfinder Club meeting, or go camping with them. You can help with transportation for a youth or school field trip, or make a fool out of yourself at a youth social or gym night. You can surprise them by remembering their names. You can bring pizza to public school students during their lunchtime. You can involve children and youth on Sabbath morning individually (Scripture reading, special music, greeting, collecting the offering, prayer, preaching as a team or individually, etc.) or as a group (school choir, Pathfinder or Youth Sabbath, Greeting and ushering team one Sabbath a month, etc.) We need the next generation to be equipped by caring and loving adults to become church leaders and soul winners, and you can model it to the congregation![xiii]
8. Encouraging Small Groups Energizes the Church Body (Hebrews 10:23-25[xiv]). Encourage lay-led short term (2-3 month) small groups of all kinds where members can enjoy fellowship and Bible study and learn to minister to each other rather than be dependent entirely on the pastor or elders. Each group needs a leader, an assistant and a host to get started. Groups can meet an hour a week any time of the day in homes, during lunch break, after school. Forget the fancy or coordinated curriculum. Just use chapters in the Bible or existing Bible study guides. Start an eight week small group as a follow-up to Weddings, Baby Dedications, Funerals, Anointing services, Baptisms, etc. etc. Small groups need to become a lifestyle, not just a program, of the church. We need the members of the church body to be better connected, and short-term small groups provide life and vitality.[xv]
9. Family and Fitness are Fundamental (Hebrews 11:6-7; 12:1[xvi]). Schedule and protect family time each week. Find what works for you at this stage in your family and life. For us this includes a family activity each week that we take turns picking and planning, family worship each day, and supper together as often as possible. We need more families in our churches that are strong, healthy and committed, and you can model it for others.[xvii] Schedule and protect fitness time each week as well. I have found that a thirty minute walk by myself, or better yet, with my wife, can clear my mind, strengthen my energy and invigorate my soul. Every so often I do a self-check on which item of “NEW START” (Nutrition, Exercise, Water, Sunshine, Temperance, Air, Rest, and Trust in God’s Power) needs the most attention in my life, and ask God for help to improve. God wants to help us prolong our life and ministry. We need more church members who are healthy and happy, and you can model this as well.[xviii]
10. Personal Fellowship with God is the Foundation (Jeremiah 29:11-13[xix]). I’ve shared with you before one of my favorite quotations in all the world— “It is the first and highest duty of every rational being to learn from the Scriptures what is truth, and then to walk in the light and encourage others to follow his example. We should day by day study the Bible diligently, weighing every thought and comparing scripture with scripture. With divine help we are to form our opinions for ourselves as we are to answer for ourselves before God.”[xx] We all need personal communion with God every day whether we pastor or not. This is not time for sermon preparation, though lots of verses in the Bible will start yelling “Preach me! Preach me!” I encourage you, in spite of (or maybe because of), all the new pressures of a new challenge, to carve out a regular time, place and plan to meet each day with your Creator, Savior, Lord and Soon-Coming King. During this treasured time He will rewire your brain and priorities for that day, give you ideas that will save you hundreds of hours of mistakes, and remind you of His love and care for you and your family. He is the real Leader. This is His work you are doing, and He will show you what part He wants you to play in it for that day.
Hopefully this is helpful rather than overwhelming. As you carefully and consistently plant a seed here and a seed there, you will see God water them and bring about a bountiful harvest over the next few years of your life and on into eternity.
Blessings to you,
This article was published in abbreviated form in Ministry Magazine April 2009
[i] This time frame may vary more widely, of course. The danger of staying too short a time is not developing the relationships needed to have a lasting impact for God’s work in a given area. The danger of staying too long a time is having the church become messenger-centered rather than Christ-centered and message-centered.
[ii] I’m indebted to the following for great input and editorial advice— Bruce Koch, Washington Conference Ministerial/Evangelism Director; Dave Livermore, Upper Columbia Conference Personal Evangelism & Discipleship Director; Charles Burkeen, Oregon Conference Associate Ministerial Director; David Prest, Montana Conference Ministerial Director; Marilee Dalton, Los Banos, CA Adventist School Principal, and Marianne Serns Carty, My Advisor since birth!
[iii] NIV Luke 10:1 After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them two by two ahead of him to every town and place where he was about to go. 2 He told them, “The harvest is plentiful, but the workers are few. Ask the Lord of the harvest, therefore, to send out workers into his harvest field. 3 Go! I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.
[iv] NIV Matthew 28:18 Then Jesus came to them and said, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. 19 Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, 20 and teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And surely I am with you always, to the very end of the age.”
[v] These books can be purchased at http://www.adventistbookcenter.com/Browse.tpl?category=EWCL&language=ENG%20SPN%20FRN
[vi] There is a collection of short articles on soul winning at http://npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/category/soul-winning/
[vii] NIV Matthew 5:13 “You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. 14 “You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden.
[viii] NIV 2 Timothy 4:1 In the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who will judge the living and the dead, and in view of his appearing and his kingdom, I give you this charge: 2 Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage– with great patience and careful instruction. 3 For the time will come when men will not put up with sound doctrine. Instead, to suit their own desires, they will gather around them a great number of teachers to say what their itching ears want to hear. 4 They will turn their ears away from the truth and turn aside to myths. 5 But you, keep your head in all situations, endure hardship, do the work of an evangelist, discharge all the duties of your ministry.
[ix] There is a collection of short articles on preaching at http://npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/category/preaching/
[x] NIV Acts 2:44 All the believers were together and had everything in common. 45 Selling their possessions and goods, they gave to anyone as he had need. 46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
[xi] NIV 1 Corinthians 1:9 God, who has called you into fellowship with his Son Jesus Christ our Lord, is faithful. 10 I appeal to you, brothers, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree with one another so that there may be no divisions among you and that you may be perfectly united in mind and thought.
[xii] NIV Titus 2:6 Similarly, encourage the young men to be self-controlled. 7 In everything set them an example by doing what is good. In your teaching show integrity, seriousness 8 and soundness of speech that cannot be condemned, so that those who oppose you may be ashamed because they have nothing bad to say about us.
[xiii] There is a collection of short articles on youth ministry at http://npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/category/youth-ministry/
[xiv] NIV Hebrews 10:23 Let us hold unswervingly to the hope we profess, for he who promised is faithful. 24 And let us consider how we may spur one another on toward love and good deeds. 25 Let us not give up meeting together, as some are in the habit of doing, but let us encourage one another– and all the more as you see the Day approaching.
[xv] There is a collection of short articles on small groups at http://npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/category/small-groups/
[xvi] NIV Hebrews 11:6 And without faith it is impossible to please God, because anyone who comes to him must believe that he exists and that he rewards those who earnestly seek him. 7 By faith Noah, when warned about things not yet seen, in holy fear built an ark to save his family. By his faith he condemned the world and became heir of the righteousness that comes by faith.
NIV Hebrews 12:1 Therefore, since we are surrounded by such a great cloud of witnesses, let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us.
[xvii] There is a collection of short articles on family life for church leaders at http://npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/category/family/
[xviii] There is a collection of short articles on health and fitness for church leaders at http://npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/category/health-temperance/
[xix] NIV Jeremiah 29:11 For I know the plans I have for you,” declares the LORD, “plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future. 12 Then you will call upon me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you. 13 You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.
[xx] White, Ellen. The Great Controversy, p. 598.2