1. Before starting your call, read at least 10 years' worth of minutes from council and congregational meetings. Look for things they promised themselves and never finished. Look for conflict and how they resolved it. If you are a glutton for punishment, do the same for the committees.
2. Read and become familiar with the congregation's constitution. If it needs updating, that is a great way to introduce your servant style to the congregation. For example: "I will guide you but it is your constitution." But you can also speak with authority when needed. No decision is made outside of the process set forth in the constitution.
3. Get a list of the 20 to 30 oldest members and visit them. Have them tell their faith stories and the congregation's as well. Oh, how you will learn.
4. Look at a year's worth of bulletins. What is the congregational "hymnbook"? This is a great way to gauge their piety.
5. Preach your faith story. Share stories about yourself and also about people who informed you as a person of faith. The most important story is how you came to the ministry. When you have dried this up, preach on the catechism and your favorite Bible stories.
6. Attend committee meetings once or twice. Find out which ones need your presence and which do not. Let the healthy ones meet and do their work without you. Tell them that if they need you they should just ask. For the struggling committees, make the idea of functioning without you a goal. It's a great way to set the timbre of your ministry. It's a healthy way of saying, "I am here to serve you, not tell you what to do. I will train leaders, teach the faith and guide you along the way."
7. Make sure your office is set up in an inviting way. When the door is open (all the time unless needed) it should feel like a place people would like to come to sit and talk with the pastor. Let them know that you encourage and value people coming in and talking, especially for no particular reason.
8. Take time for vacation and continuing education. Get members used to you taking care of yourself. When you come back from a continuing education event, make sure you share some insights in your sermons, and name drop while you teach.
9. Be yourself.
10. Do nothing drastic for the first year. I know others will tell you different, but just your presence is change enough. The only major projects that the congregation should take on are those things that you discovered in those meeting minutes. Pick two to three items they pledged to do and encourage them to fulfill these promises. This is a great line: "I am not going to suggest any changes here until you fulfill these promises you made to yourselves."
© 2014 Augsburg Fortress, Publishers