It is common, upon the election or appointment of a new leader, for people to keep a close eye on the “first 100 days”. These days are sometimes seen as a means of measuring the tone and policy of a new regime: the actions and decisions taken by an incumbent in these days giving a sense of what is to come.
Unfortunately, I have missed the opportunity to reflect on my first “100 days” of parish ministry. This is because, believe it or not, the first few months of full-time ministry are quite busy!! This is also reflected in that this is the first time in several months I’ve been able to share my reflections here.
I was ordained and inducted as Parish Minister of Clincarthill Parish Church on the 27th October 2016. As such, today marks my first 150 days of full-time parish ministry. Since I missed my first 100 days, I thought I would use this milestone as an opportunity to share some thoughts on my first few months as sole minister of a congregation.
Coming to a congregation as a new minister is quite daunting, especially when that congregation is your first charge! With the best will in the world, there is nothing that can prepare you for the unique task of ministry: and I say that having had a very helpful and thorough training experience!
The first few steps seem, at the time, the most difficult: following the procedures which are set out to allow you to discern and follow God’s call to a congregation, leading to your ordination and induction. This process can be very draining, and I certainly felt a sense of relief when the it was complete: I had finally made it!
This relief was, however, short lived. A realisation quickly set in: I’m now the minister to a congregation of 230 members. These people are now my responsibility. I have services to prepare, and visits to conduct, so as to feed their faith, and look after their spiritual well-being. Above all else, I need to get to know these people; for, how am I to lead these people, if I do not know them?
Before long, Christmas was upon us. This was a mixed blessing: on the one hand, the congregation have their traditions and expectations, and in a sense, can just get on with these. On the other hand: the congregation have their traditions and expectations, and some of these things required my input.
Now, don’t get me wrong: the Christmas period is a wonderful time, where people soften slightly to the message of Jesus. It was wonderful to so soon celebrate my first Christmas with my new congregation.
Unfortunately, the busy-ness of this period meant the rhythm and pattern of ministry, which I established over my first month, was disrupted. The shape of each week became increasingly unpredictable: I was not able to visit people as regularly as I would have like, and my time was increasingly taken up by events and preparation for various upcoming services.
I began to realise I was falling into one of the pitfalls of ministry: poor work-life balance. There are few jobs where you can get up at 8am, work continually throughout the day (especially when your office is in your home!) and only stop working because you think it’s about time you went to bed…!
Thankfully, I have a very wise wife, and she had the foresight to do 2 things:
- Book us a holiday!
- Remind me that I had friends to talk to.
Both these were wonderfully helpful.
The holiday was helpful, for I now had a target: I knew when my next break would come and I could push on through my work until then.
And, of course, catching up with friends is always helpful. I enjoyed being able to catch up with people socially, but I also appreciated the insight some friends were able to provide. Most helpful, I think was a quote one friend shared with me:
The best thing you can do for your congregation is look after your own spiritual life.
Would you believe that it that I, the new minister, had been neglecting his prayer and devotional life!? Scripture and prayer are at the centre of all I do and believe, and yet I had not been immersing myself in these things. As I was ministering to my people, I had been failing to minster to myself!
Sustaining and Persevering
This was a moment of clarity for me, and helped change my perspective on a few vital things.
First, although I have a unique role as parish minister, I am more aware of God’s role in these things. Yes, I have my tasks and duties, but ultimately, I am a servant, whose job it is to point people away from myself and toward God. I take seriously the words of John the Baptist: “He must become greater, I must become less”. (John 3:30 NIVUK).
Second, I have found greater joy and sustenance from my devotional life. I would be the first to confess I am yet to get the balance right: it is still sometimes too easy to set aside time for prayer and Bible study in order to do other things. But I now appreciate the discipline at a much deeper level: when I practice it, I am uplifted; when I neglect it, I am aware that something is missing.
I am amazed, as well, at how much has happened in my first 150 days of ministry: and this post doesn’t even cover half of it! What I’ve shared here are some specific moments, and all focused on my experience of God and faith: I haven’t even said anything about my work in the congregation or the parish!
What is clear, I think, from these 150 days is the way God works. He is (thankfully!) gracious enough to sustain me in ministry, even when I do give Him His rightful place. And (thankfully!) He is quick to show us where things are not right, and loving enough to give us His Spirit, who helps conform us to the likeness of Jesus.
I am excited what lies ahead of me in ministry: the joys, as well as the challenges. But, more than anything, I am excited to see what God can and will do through me, as I do what I can to devote my life to Him, and give my service as a shepherd of His people.