5 Pieces of Advice for New Pastors

For the last year, I have served as Dean of my local conference. For those not in the ELCA, a conference is a small geographically defined division of the church. Among my responsibilities is the installation of pastors who are new to the area as they begin a new calls.

So I deal with pastors who are are starting in a new position in a congregation and community. I also deal with new pastors - pastors who are newly ordained and learning what it means to be a pastor in the parish. I get to think about what would be helpful for new pastors and people in new calls. Whether I am preaching an installation sermon or sitting down for coffee, I often get to ponder: What is the best advice for new pastors? As it happens, today as I sat down after noon midweek worship, I am watching the most widely publicized pastoral transition in the world -- there is white smoke, a new Pope has been elected.

So whether you are newly ordained, starting a new call, or just found out that the conclave elected you as Pope, here is my advice for a new pastor.

1) Love the people.
Welcome to your new call. First, love the people in your church on Sunday morning. They are strangers to you, you don't know their names yet. Sit and learn at their feet. Who are they? What matters to them? What are their values? What are their needs? Listen, listen, listen, and love your new people.

2) Love the people.
There are people who will peek around the church, checking you out. Will you be different from your predecessor? Will you be the same? Often they are hurt. Scarred. Damaged. Looking to see if you are a threat or a comfort. Love the hurting people.

3) Love the people.
Outside the doors of your church, there are lots of people. Some of them are potential members of your church. Many of them will never be members of your church. But they are your community. Get involved in the life of your community outside the sanctuary doors. Know how the community celebrates and how it hurts. Learn what the needs are in the community and where the broken people are. Get out in the the community, and love the people.

4) Love the people.
Soon. Maybe not your first Sunday, maybe not your second, but soon, there will be conflict. The honeymoon will end. Someone or a group will criticize your decisions and the way you do things. They may insult you and hurt your feelings. Your instinct will be to defend yourself, or even to fight back. Don't. Bite your tongue. Sit back and wait. Listen to the criticism, with grace and humility. Love the people, especially when they are hard to love.

5) Love the people.
Take care of yourself. As you jump into your new position, the tendency will be to try to do everything. If you are exhausted and spiritually drained, you are no help to anyone. Pay special attention to your prayer life. Pray for your congregation. Pray for your leaders. Pray for your community. And do not be afraid to ask them to pray for you! Do not be afraid to let them love you and take care of you. Love the people, and let them love you.

What advice would you add?


  1. I think you covered it all. I'll be starting a new appointment this July, and this is excellent advice to remember. Thanks, Pastor David :)

  2. 17 years ago when I was newly married to my clergy husband in his first call I was so full of arrogance. I thought the way he ought to lead them was to shake them up and make them see what could or should be for them and their church.

    He didn't do it that way though. He wisely followed the advice to "love the people" that was given to him by the bishop who ordained him.

    In each of our congregations, changes have happened slowly, over time. When the changes happened though they were natural outgrowths from the hearts of people that had been nurtured by a loving shepherd.

    I guess if I were to add anything to your already excellent 5 points, it would be to love the people over the long haul and be patient for the Holy Spirit to work in them whatever change God sees fit to bring about in them.

  3. My ordination is this Sunday, after which my husband and I will be headed to a small two-point parish in rural North Dakota. I am so, so excited for this call, but it is my first call, and anxiety sometimes wars with my excitement and enthusiasm. When a Facebook friend posted a link to this post, I clicked it immediately, expecting a checklist or a "how to handle your first week in a new state with installation, synod assembly, and your first baptism" kind of manual. Instead, I found a blessing in the form of a gentle reminder of what it truly means to be a pastor. Thank you for this bit of grace at the exact moment I needed it.

    1. Thank you, Val, for reading. I am glad that this spoke to you, and wish you many blessings as you begin your call!

  4. Pr. David, thank you for this. As I begin a new job in a week and a half, this will apply every bit to my position as to one in the clergy! Blessings to you; you have certainly blessed me.

  5. Read this via a share on fb. I am not newly ordained but am new in my Episcopal parish after spending the first 4 years of my ordained ministry as a hospital chaplain, where I realized the most important thing was to live people... When I was still in the discernment process toward postulancy I asked an experienced priest mentor what was the most important thing he thought I should know that I wouldn't learn in seminary... He said, love the people you serve. That was six years ago - I've always remembered. He was right. Thank you for the reminder! Peace.

  6. Hi! Great post! I would add 6) Love the People. Your family. It is easy to think your call is your call alone but God calls your family to grow in faith and love as well. Walk with gentleness and love alongside your family as they struggle and rejoice in belonging to a faith community. Remind them they are precious to God, they are precious to you. Remind them that their own faith life - their own love of God is precious and is prayed for and care about - by you and God.
    Thanks again for the post - had a challenging day the other day and came across this - great reminders!!!In Peace...