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7 Areas to Focus On in Your First Year of a New Pastorate
By Nelson Fernandez, Jr.

Unlike most other jobs, the work of a pastor comes with no clear instruction manual. I remember my nervousness when I found out that I would be going straight from seminary into my first church district! If I could go back in time and do it all over again, these are the areas that I would focus on.

1 – Observation: Pastoral work is primarily relational more than administrative, and in a new environment, you are going to be working with people who you have never met before. So, start by getting comfortable. Sit in on board meetings and Sabbath school classrooms (children and adult) as a fly on the wall to gain a feel for your new church; mingle as much as possible.  

The benefit to you in doing this is twofold: It will give you a visitor’s perspective and visibility in your church.

2 – Visitation: Start with your key leaders in your church board and work down from there. Remember this acronym: FORT.
Family Life – Children, spouse, neighborhood, community interests.

Occupation – Work, education, hobbies
Religion – Church experience and recommendations for improvement (Don’t let this “improvement” point drag on since disgruntled members may vent – limit it to one or two points.)
Testimony – Their personal walk with Jesus, where do they feel called to serve?
Keep the visit brief, end with a prayer, thank them for their time, tell them you look forward to working with them, and move on.

3 – Preaching: Whatever your preaching style, bring your best sermons at the beginning and leave your notes at home! Remember, at this point you are still new and novel; people will be much more favorable and willing to hear what you say now than at any other time in your ministry at the church. Why not have a week long revival series or tap into your new position as an opportunity for evangelism?

4 – Visioning: Ask to see the last 3-5 years’ worth of board/business meeting minutes and study them. This will give you an idea of where your church has come from. Why not also have a visioning weekend with your leaders to get acquainted with them and lay the groundwork for a shared vision in your area?

5 – Planning and Delegating: Gather the elders from all of your churches together once a quarter for training, prayer and encouragement. Define what areas of ministry are your responsibility and which areas you will delegate. The idea here is to get ideas down on paper as far as your own personal schedule and direction with the church(es) and invite your leaders to be a part of the conversation.

6 – Community Networking: Stop by your local officials' offices (city mayor, hospitals, police department, etc.) and introduce yourself. Become familiar with any local ministerial associations and get a list of local community service agencies in case there are any visitors or members who need help with basic necessities like food, water, medical care, bills, etc. Get purposely lost to know your new home.

7 – Boundary Setting: I once had someone tell me that pastors should work seven days a week and to in-between take breaks “here and there.” As Seventh-day Adventists, one of the primary principles that we emphasize is a Sabbath in peoples' lives. It is contrary to our beliefs to expect any pastor to work nonstop and have no personal and family time for a Sabbath of his/her own.

Be clear with your church about what day you take off each week and appropriate times for phone calls. Also establish boundaries within your church for of how you expect communication and disagreements within the church to be handled.

In conclusion, remember that your responsibilities are (in this order): Your relationship with God and your health, your family, and then your duties as a pastor to your church. Keep these 7 basic pointers in mind, look out for the end of your “honeymoon period” with the church at around the 6 month mark, always be willing to admit your mistakes, stay humble, and learn all you can as you go along, and you will prosper.
Nelson Fernandez Jr. is the Lead Pastor for the Clemson Seventh-day Adventist Church in South Carolina.