When you move to a new district

When you move to a new district: Pointers to a positive ministry

An experienced minister shares solid counsel on some of the first steps to take in assuming a pastoral assignment.

Dan Serns, B.A., is ministerial secretary of the North Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Vancouver, Washington, United States.

Moving to a new district every so often is not a strange phenomenon to Adventist pastors. Such moves involve both challenges and blessings. While pastors find it difficult to leave behind church family, friends, and familiar surroundings, the move also provides an opportunity to leave behind mistakes and enjoy a fresh start in a new place. As one who has gone that route many a time, I have discovered that the first one hundred days in the new district are important to set the direction and the vision of your ministry for your new congregation.

Let that vision and direction include at least the following ten pointers.

1. Begin with a transforming touch (Luke 10:1–3). During your first month, establish an outreach advisory committee. The church may already have such a committee or a personal ministries committee, but set out with transforming objectives. Staff it with members who are outgoing. Include your first elder, treasurer, and clerk. 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”—whose “cobwebs” fill the seldom-used baptistry—that their days are numbered because the baptistry 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 present 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 the church of what God is doing in people’s lives. Have regular outreach committee meetings to keep the vision moving forward. We need more churches focused on the mission and mobilized for ministry.

2. Seek the lost to strengthen the saved (Matt. 28:18–20). Show that God sent you to this district “to seek and save the lost” in cooperation with Jesus. When more and more members become 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:

• Early in your ministry, end your sermon with an appeal for baptism, transfer of membership, and rededication to Jesus and the mission of the church.

• Schedule a baptism and potluck in three months and each month afterward. During the potluck, the new believer and their friendship triad are the guests of honor.

• Identify those closest to uniting with the church and arrange for a special Sabbath School class, preparing them for baptism.

Involving an elder can help you team teach.

• Schedule your own evangelistic series or a prophecy seminar to take place six to eight months after your arrival. By scheduling it early, 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.

• 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 Ellen White’s classics on soul winning, such as Evangelism, Gospel Workers, Christian Service, Pastoral Ministry, and The Acts of the Apostles.

3. Get involved with the community (Matt. 5:13, 14). You are a child of the King of kings and an ambassador to the communities you will be serving. Instead of seeing moving chores (finding a house, updating your driver’s license) as hassles, look at them as opportunities to get out into the community to meet people. As you rub shoulders with the real estate agent, the grocery store clerk, other clergy, government employees, and others, 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 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. Follow a preaching schedule (2 Tim. 4:1–5). Preaching schedules can empower. In consultation with your elders, set up one for the next six to twelve months. In the schedule, include a Sabbath every month for an elder, church board member, young person, or guest speaker to speak whether you are out of town 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 elders for their take on the pressing needs of the congregation, and accommodate these in the schedule. 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. 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) becomes very affirming and valuable. In your schedule, remember to include Sabbaths for Communion, special events (graduations, Mother’s and Father’s Days, and Christmas, for example) and baptisms. Your early sermons will probably be remembered better than your later ones. So make sure the church is a safe place with truth preached from a heart of love, and where Jesus is always lifted up.

5. Visit your members at home (Acts 2:44–47). Set aside one to three days/nights and one afternoon per week for home, hospital, and jail visitation. Take an elder, deacon, church board member, young person, or new believer with you on a rotating basis. Thus you are developing future leaders for the church. One of the highest priorities is to visit any in-town visitors to your 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 to 40 minutes—but should give you an opportunity to learn about their family and pray for any prayer requests they have. 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. Plan your board meetings (1 Cor. 1:9, 10). Church board meetings need not be boring; they can be instruments of leadership training and church development and growth. Begin your church board meetings with Bible reading, prayer, and faith-sharing experiences. Let your first agenda item address soulwinning 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 until next time. 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 one board meeting a quarter as a 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 grow spiritually. At your first board meeting in the new district, 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.

7. Connect with the kids (Titus 2:6–8). Find something to help you connect with the kids in the church, 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 recess or physical education time. 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. You can surprise them by remembering their names. You can involve children and youth on Sabbath morning individually (Scripture reading, special music, greeting, collecting offering, prayer, or preaching, for example) or as a group (school choir, Pathfinder or youth Sabbath, or greeting and ushering team one Sabbath a month, for instance) We need the next generation to be equipped by caring and loving adults to become church leaders and soul winners, and you can model this to the congregation.1

8. Energize the church through small groups (Heb. 10:23–25). Encourage lay-led, short-term (two to three months) 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, or after school. Focus these group sessions on Bible studies—characters of the Bible, books of the Bible, parables and miracles of the Bible, and others. Stay biblical. Make them contextual, and link them with weddings, baby dedications, funerals, or anointing services, for example. Small groups need to become a lifestyle, not just a program, of the church.2

9. Care for family and wellness (Heb. 11:6, 7; 12:1). 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 this for others.3 Schedule and protect fitness time each week, as well. I have found that a 30-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 NEWSTART (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.4

10. Above all, retain personal fellowship with God as your Foundation (Jer. 29:11–13). One of my favorite quotations comes from Ellen White’s The Great Controversy: “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.”5 We all need personal communion with God every day. This is not time for sermon preparation, though lots of verses in the Bible will start crying out, “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 and Savior. 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 and He will show you what part He wants you to play in it for that day.

Begin your new district move with these positive pointers, and you will find your ministry a blessing to the one who gives and to the one that receives.

1 For a collection of short articles on youth ministry, visit
http://npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/category/youth-ministry/.

2 For a collection of short articles on small groups, visit http://
npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/category/small-groups/
.

3 For collection of short articles on family life for church
leaders, visit http://npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/
category/family/
.

4 For a collection of short articles on health and fi tness for
church leaders, visit http://npucnewsletter.wordpress.com/
category/health-temperance/
.

5 Ellen G. White, The Great Controversy Between Christ and
Satan
(Mountain View, CA: Pacifi c Press Pub. Assn., 1950),
598.

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Dan Serns, B.A., is ministerial secretary of the North Pacific Union Conference of Seventh-day Adventists, Vancouver, Washington, United States.

April 2009

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