I have served on United Methodist church staffs and specialized-extension ministry for almost all of my career.* The only time I did not was pastoring a rural church in North Carolina while a student in divinity school. I was unprepared and mostly unaware of my lack of readiness. My only experience of church had been my home church, a multi-staff, suburban parish in northeast Ohio, where I also served during my college summers.
I was a first time pastor, newly married, living in a defunct mill town, while commuting about 18 hours a week and taking a full load of classes at divinity school (my choice, to graduate on time). Once I was ticketed for having out of state plates. The trouper threatened to impound my car. Early on, a concerned lay leader and mill manager asked if I was going to start a labor union. The DS just asked me to focus on caring for and shepherding the people.
However, this was also a time when I gained a rare and hard-won wisdom about myself and my true calling. The experience was irreplaceable. The interaction between the classroom and the parish absolutely accelerated my learning. There were some accomplishments amidst the sojourn- interracial and interchurch gatherings, resource people provided leadership for marriage enrichment and stress management. A retired pastor and his wife became wonderful, supportive friends to us.
Here's a list of considerations that have proven helpful to me:
- Have I made an effort to truly know and make known my gifts and talents? Now, Discover Your Gifts is an excellent guide.** This assessment has assisted me in developing God-given gifts further, and in making weaknesses less glaring.
- Clarity about my gifts is my best guide. Is there a chance for a good fit between the church under consideration, its mission and gifts, and my proven abilities?
- Does my path include a specialization or a particular area of expertise, such as serving on a church staff? What are the benefits and shortcomings of specialized ministry? Do the advantages outweigh the limitations?
- Have I considered my family an asset, a gift? What are their thoughts? They are the people who are most affected and will be there long after any others have moved on.
- In addition to family, who comprises my support system? A mentor, a friend, a spiritual director?
- Under what conditions do I make a first-refusal? What are the consequences? An unwritten rule is that a first refusal will net less compensation in a future move to another church.
- I may need more than a 15 minute hard sell and 24 hours to think and pray. Is my decision sustainable? Does it make for peace within?
- It's my responsibility to do an accurate inventory of the prospective position. This is becomes more important if I am restricted from discussions with a prospective church.
- Gift-based appointments are often heralded in word, but, in reality, this is the ideal. Many in-time factors are at work among scores of clergy and churches in a wide geographical area. These factors are not my responsibility.