Five things you should know about your young, new pastor (And why you should be grateful to have him):
- He just spent the last four years sitting at the feet of learned theologians and receiving pastoral education. He is now eager to share what he has learned with others. You get to benefit from that eagerness to teach. It is to your advantage that you joyfully receive the instruction that he desires to give.
- He has taken a solemn oath at his ordination to be faithful in his teaching and in the carrying out of pastoral care. This means that he is ultimately responsible to Jesus for the souls that are entrusted to his care. He does not take this lightly, and you should expect him to act accordingly. So, for example, you should expect him to confront openly manifest sinners in the congregation with their sins to bring them to repentance. And, you should support him in this. You should expect your new pastor to address false belief in the congregation and/or poor practices. This is what he has been trained to do. This task is made the more difficult if his predecessor did not address these issues. You will be tempted to get angry at him for calling “foul” when he sees something that is amiss. You should resist this temptation and instead, ask him to instruct you in these matters so you will be stronger.
- He just spent the last four years sitting at the feet of learned theologians and receiving pastoral education. It will take time for him to learn about you, what makes you tick, to get to know the wool of his sheep. It will take time for him to grow comfortable in the shoes of being a pastor. Be patient with him as he learns to take what he has learned and communicate it to you in terms that you can understand. Be patient with him as he learns from mistakes. This is the most loving thing you can do for him is to be patient. As men are preparing for the holy ministry, they are constantly told, “Be patient with your congregations. Do not do everything at once that you wish to do.” But this can go both ways. St. Paul says that love is above all “patient and kind.”
- He likely misses his friends and family. You are surrounded by yours. He and his family (if he has one) have just left good friends and possibly family and moved to a completely new place with totally new people. It is easier in our day to connect with those friends and colleagues through social media and email, but this is no substitute for real, face to face interaction. It’s okay—he’s been preparing for this and so has his wife and family. He’s been taught to view his new parish as a paradise, even with all of its flaws and faults. But be understanding of his need to interact socially, to go to conferences and other events where he will be able to see classmates and acquaintances. Invite him and his family over for dinner or if not dinner then a beer. Take some time to get to know him and his background. This will show him that he does not need to be apprehensive or guarded around you. It will show him that you care about him, that you see him as a person and not just someone who baptizes, confirms, marries, and buries people for a living.
- He believes that you actually want to hear and learn the Word and that you care about doctrine. Try not to disappoint him! He’ll learn soon enough that this is not always the case. But you don’t want him to be jaded too soon or become burned out. That would be of no advantage to you. When a pastor is unable to conduct his ministry with joy because he constantly encounters resistance or lack of interest on the part of the people, it is the congregation that suffers. Let me repeat—it is the congregation that suffers. On the other hand, the congregation that encourages its pastor to do what he has been called to do and does not hinder his work will reap great rewards.
Saint Paul reminded Timothy, “Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity” (1 Timothy 4:12). All too often, congregations do just that—despise their pastor because of his youth. They don’t think they are doing that. They think it is their job to teach him, to make him a better pastor. And pastors do learn a lot from their members. But remember that no matter what age your pastor is, he has a Divine Call. With that Call comes authority to preach God’s Word publicly and to exercise the Office of the Keys. He will learn many things by sheer experience. Like you in your jobs, he will learn many things by trial and error. This is normal and this is natural. All will benefit, pastor and congregation, when just a little bit of understanding, patience, forgiveness, and long-suffering is shown toward the new pastor. You expect no less from him.