No one in Seventh-day Adventist churches, besides the pastor, has more influence than an elder. Who better, then, to provide insight into the best ways to support our pastors? With that in mind, OUTLOOK editor Martin Weber asked each president of Mid-America’s six local conferences to select two elders—one from a larger church and another from a smaller church—who represent the excellence and spirituality of their calling. Eleven responded to our request for an interview. In this nine-part series, these elders share their wisdom on how to make pastoral appreciation a practical, year-round experience in our churches.
OUTLOOK: As pastors come and go within a congregation, elders can provide long-term leadership continuity. They can be the bridge between the pastor and the community, particularly in the pastor’s first year in a church. How do you help a new pastor connect with people in your church and the community?
Nigel Abrahams (Lifesource Adventist Fellowship, Denver, CO): Having recently gone through a pastoral transition, this question hits really close to home. I’ve come to realize that, while pastors are indeed men and women of God, they’re people first. As such friendship and support are top on their list of needs. A congregation or community is much more likely to accept the friend of a friend; so, make a friend of the new pastor and share with him/her the existing relationships you’ve cultivated over the years.
JoAnn Arnold (Bismarck, ND): Before the pastor and his wife arrive, I call them and try to find out what their needs are and accommodate those needs, which also means a home cooked meal once they arrive. One of the first things that I like to do is host a social meeting for all the elders and their wives along with our new pastor and wife to get acquainted and to start to feel comfortable with each other. It is also helpful to introduce the pastor to as many of the members as possible at church or potluck. It is also important that they know how to connect with the local hospitals so they can begin their ministry there as well. We have a CHIP chapter at our church and invite our pastor to have a part in the CHIP programs and monthly alumni meetings getting him better acquainted with church family and a number of CHIP participants who are from the community. Fortunately many of our elders also assist is helping our pastor meet new people in the community as they all come from a variety of different backgrounds.
Steve Bascom (Gutherie Center, IA): I have not done very well in this area. We are in a five-church district and the time our pastor has is limited for our community. We try to involve our pastor with our friendship activities.
Joe Bates (Aitkin, MN): Keeping a positive attitude, by focusing on the new perspective and possibilities.
Alan Brass (Colorado Springs Central, CO): Wow!! That’s an easy question. When our wonderful pastor (Mike Maldonado) came to interview we had a member of our church who was in the process of losing her 21 year old daughter to cancer. Even before giving us his decision to come here his urgent request was to visit this heartbroken mother and her daughter. He moved here in early December and knowing that they would know only a handful of people, we invited him and his wife to have Christmas dinner with our family. But before they even moved here, his wife had already made arrangements for the two of them to serve dinner at a homeless shelter in our community. He doesn’t need me to help him, he is leading me in this respect.
Bobby Franklin (Claremont, Pueblo, CO): Visitation.
Jenni Glass (New Haven, Kansas City, KS): A few years back New Haven had two new pastors start in a relatively short time period. It was important to me to show support by introducing them to people, offering assistance and being available to support them. Since my professional career involves community relations, I tried (and continue) to serve as a resource to them as they learn to navigate a new community or need to identify various community resources. When Pastor Chanda Nunes joined the staff it was important to me to support her and help introduce her to other young adults so she could connect with people outside the youth program. Not only does this help the pastors, but it is also an opportunity to make new friends.
Michael Kelsey (St. Louis Central, MO): One of the best ways I’ve seen is to encourage the pastor to visit the members. A visiting pastor can develop such a rapport with the church. Anything to help that along gives him a quick advantage. I avoid saying, “This is the way we do things around here.” Maybe the new pastor changes a dynamic and opens a door for growth and change.
Gina Olberg (Andover, MN): I try to introduce people to the pastor, and help in making community connections.
Merlin Wehling (Kearney, NE): Supporting a new pastor comes in many forms. In the past I’ve helped pastors find a home, a car, move in, get connected with the congregational needs, etc. By far the greatest challenge with pastoral change is learning a new pastor’s leadership style and facilitating this talent into the church.
Kathy Widicker (Bowdon Country Church, ND): It is important for the pastor to know people in the community, not only his parishioners.
For more questions and comments from local church elders click here.