Relating to the people both within the church body and within the community outside the church requires, for me, an ability to multitask.
Cultivating a Relationship with a New Congregation
There are two different relationship that must be cultivated. The connections that are made within the church are a bit more naturally made. The church calls their pastor and thus are waiting with open arms to receive him or her. I have however learned that not every assignment can be approached with the same perspectives. While they are waiting to receive the pastor, they do still wait on their terms and in their own dialect, if you will. Words do not always mean the same thing from one area of the country to another.
I am not a contractor but I have volunteered on enough work projects that I consider myself versed enough to be productive. I recall one of my fist such ventures serving in Modesto, CA. I was told the men of the church were going to be remodeling the bathrooms and I was eager to help and build some relationships. I offered to be the runner – the go-fer! Everything was going well until someone pointed at me and asked me to go outside and grab a piece of sheetrock. I must have stood outside for ten minutes before someone came to find me. I explained I had never heard of sheetrock and had no clue what I was looking for. I was leaning against a large pile of drywall while speaking. The guy that came for me bust up laughing at me while explaining that I was leaning on the sheetrock. Who knew that sheetrock and drywall (what we called in in PA) was the same? Suffice it to say, I did make a connection with the men of the church that day but certainly not how I intended.
Cultivating a Relationship with the Community
Every church, and the community in which it thrives, has its own culture. I have learned and practice very hard to not just bring myself into their environment, but instead to ask how I can submerge myself into theirs. I am still, after thirteen months in Minot, ND, attempting to learn more about the Norwegian influence of this area. In one area of the country, California for instance, folks sign up and commit themselves to an activity or ministry in advance. Here in North Dakota, six people may sign up to volunteer to an event, but on the day of said event there will be twenty people who show up to serve. It is important to understand what and why of how people participate they way they do than it is to sometimes know their how.
As for community, I have found it important in all my pastoral assignments to simply be in it. I often volunteer at the little league activities, show up for community days, shop at the farmers markets, and shop local as often as the budget allows. I am a firm believer in Kingdom work being the end goal and that goal cannot be obtained unless partnering with others in like-minded ministry. I gather and pray with other pastors in the community on a regular basis. It is important to support one another emotionally and spiritually so that we may all stand firm and be good shepherds to those we have been called to lead.
Start by Listening Well
I guess the best piece of advice I can give anyone wanting to relate to the specific needs of a congregation/community would be this: listen patiently, respond intentionally, and love graciously. The gift of relating does not always come quickly. Too many times we are so focused on connecting that we overlook listening, genuinely hearing from the heart of others. Someone once told me that no one truly cares how much I know, until they truly know how much I care. That has stayed with me forever. The heart of the matter really is the matter of the heart. Listen and the heart will speak.
Relationship takes time to build so be patient. I have been in Minot for going on fourteen months, and I am just now beginning to see the rewards of being patient and letting others speak so that I can sincerely connect with them where they are. They know I am listening.
Pastor Dana Crocker has served the church for over twenty-five years in many different areas of pastoral ministry. Dana and his wife, Mandy, have loved serving the Lord from the small towns in western Pennsylvania, the central valley of California, and Minot, North Dakota, where they currently serve.