New ministry do-over

Tom Arthur, writing in Duke Divinity’s Call and Response blog, had a chance to serve his first parish twice…a kind of mulligan for ministry. He wonders if that might not be useful for others just starting out in ordained ministries.

All pastors-in-training look forward to the first church they are called to serve. I was privileged to serve a “first church” twice.

It’s not that I hadn’t tried to prepare for the transition to the local church, but no matter how much I tried, the jolt still came. For example, I focused a little too heavily on traditions taught in school and a little too lightly on the traditions of this church. My sermons interpreted the life of my seminary-trained peers more than the life of an average layperson. I put some big sturdy boundaries around my “work life” and my “home life” that weren’t very porous. I made some relational and leadership mistakes with my staff members. All of these were rough edges that wore off over time, but had I stayed in that church, its members would have had to carry that baggage with me over the length of my tenure. What I got was a deep immersion experience that quickly taught me and then let me move on with a clean slate.

This seems like an excellent program for someone to fund (any takers?). It hits both ends of the spectrum: developing future leaders and sustaining and renewing current leaders. Surely there are a lot of pastors out there who could use a good sabbatical, and there are a lot of seminary students who could use a good mulligan. What if every seminary student had the same chance to cover a pastor’s sabbatical and receive a do-over? I’m sure there would be a lot of grace, as there was with my situation. A friend of mine likes to say, “We can all endure anything if we know when it will end.”

I still made mistakes when I went to my first (non do-over) church, but I like to think I didn’t make as many. The really rough edges had been worn away, courtesy of my mulligan.

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