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Beginning a Ministry Well: Part 1

Once, in the process of accepting a call to a very expensive part of the country, we were told that the church would help us with a down payment on a home. But by the time we arrived, the committee members remembered the conversation differently.

How do you begin a new ministry so as to maintain integrity and to give yourself the best possible chance to succeed? Take at least three preliminary steps before you ever set foot on the field.<?xml:namespace prefix = o ns = “urn:schemas-microsoft-com:office:office” />
First, work to understand yourself and your reasons for wanting to accept the call. The old joke runs that no Baptist ever gets called to a smaller church or a smaller salary. Those of us in the ministry know ministers who spend their entire careers climbing the ministerial ladder.
But money and prestige can’t be the bases for the call of God. Nor can getting out of a bad situation. The question has to be, “Why is God calling me at this time in my life to attempt this particular ministry?” If you don’t have at least some idea of that, you shouldn’t go.
Second, work to understand the setting. Most of us want to do this, of course. We have extensive conversations with the search committee. We call friends who know the church. We collect the church’s documentation. We get information from the chamber of commerce. All of that is helpful.
But I’ve never had any search committee tell me the complete truth, even though it thought it was. So call the previous person who served in the position. Ask her why she left. Ask the search committee for the names of two people who have left the church in the past year. Call them and ask why.
Do your best to discover if the ministry they actually need is the one they think they need. And then ask yourself if the ministry they actually need is the ministry for which God has prepared you. If your answers to these questions are satisfactory, take the next step.
Third, negotiate your contract. Often we shy away from this. Ministers tend to think there’s something less than pious about good business sense. That, of course, is hogwash.  
Talk about pay. Talk about health-care benefits. Talk about who’s responsible for Social Security payments. (This differs widely!) Talk about moving expenses. Talk about vacation, retirement, days off. If there’s a parsonage, talk about who controls decoration and upkeep.  
Once, in the process of accepting a call to a very expensive part of the country, we were told that the church would help us with a down payment on a home. But by the time we arrived, the committee members remembered the conversation differently. So talk about every issue that concerns you, and then get any agreements in writing!  
Only when the above are in place can you and your family make a fully informed, personal decision whether God is indeed calling you to this place of ministry. You may well decide to go forward, even with less than ideal conditions. Even so, you need to know.
Ron Sisk is professor of homiletics and Christian ministry at North American Baptist Seminary in Sioux Falls, S.D.
Read Part 2 tomorrow at EthicsDaily.com!