Advent and Beginning Ministry

From the Gettysburg PO by
President Michael L. Cooper-White

Advent means that something new is about to begin. John the Baptist signaled the significance of the One who was to follow: “He will baptize with the Holy Spirit and power!” The Way-Preparer’s very demeanor and dress code foretold the Coming Greater Other’s way of humility and service.
In the first session of our senior M. Div. course entitled “Integrative Seminar III” here at LTSG, some readings are offered on the topic of beginning in ministry. As course instructor, I seek to emphasize that the early days of a new ministry often set its tone and chart a trajectory. Of course, a fast start in a marathon is no guarantor of a strong finish. But too many missteps early on often doom the potential for enduring positive pastor-people relationships.
There are a variety of ways to send signals about how one intends to be and to act. While serving as a bishop’s assistant in California, I remember being impressed with a colleague whose first sermon upon beginning a new call was entitled, “What you got when you got me.” He transparently tried to describe who he was, his core convictions, and how he would strive to be a faithful pastor in that community of God’s people. Following faithful congregational service, David Mullen was elected bishop of the Sierra Pacific Synod, where his transparent pastoral ways were appreciated by a much bigger “parish.”
A close friend and colleague during my years in Chicago recently reminded me of another straightforward tone-setting approach by our new “boss” when H. George Anderson became the ELCA’s second presiding bishop. At the first meeting of the churchwide Cabinet of Executives following his election, Bishop Anderson laid out a half-dozen simple and succinct hopes for how we would interact with him and each other. 
Competence – We will assume each other's competence.
Honesty – We will be honest with one another.
Humor – We will treat each other with humor.
Advance Warning (no surprises) - We will keep each other well informed.
Support – We will assume responsibility for each other and the church (no whining, no blaming).
Advocacy – We will speak up for each other and our work, and will assume the criticism is false until we check it out.
Paper self-presentations, commonly called resumes or “rostered leader profiles” introduce ministerial candidates, but only to a few members who serve on a search or call committee. Repeating in early newsletter articles some key themes from the printed “This is who I am” document that constitutes a resume, can be another way of sending signals. As with most things, of course, one should seek to “read” the context and determine how such a self-revelatory article might be received. Testing the concepts with a couple of key parish leaders may be wise, and in itself will signal one’s intentions to engage in a consultative approach to leadership.
As always, I’m eager to learn from others’ experiences. If readers have suggestions of other helpful tips for making a strong start in a new ministry, please share them so that I in turn can pass along to those who share the journey of learning here at the Seminary.
Whether you’re in your first or fifteenth or fiftieth year of ministry, Advent once again is a time of new beginnings. Blessings here at the outset of another Church year!
Posted: 12/1/2011 7:05:55 AM by John Spangler | with 0 comments

From the Gettysburg Seminary President's Office

by Michael L. Cooper-White

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