3 things a new vicar should ask God for
Ben Sargent shares some advice to those who are starting in a new church. However, his suggestions could equally apply to those who are serving already.
Like almost everyone else on the South Coast of England (where I’ve been a vicar for the last ten years), I took up cold water swimming a few years’ ago. My first swim was in April and, after ten minutes in the freezing water, I staggered up the beach in a dizzy haze. “I think you’ve overdone it!” said an experienced swimmer nearby as I embarked on two hours of uncontrollable shivering. I knew instantly what I needed to ask for for my birthday: a DryRobe (other products are available). Now I come out of the sea in the depths of winter to the warm embrace of a perfectly engineered drying system. Looking back to the beginning of my ten years as vicar, as I embarked on the similarly daunting new venture of moving from curacy to incumbency, here are three things I should have asked God for then, as I do today.
Pray for bravery. When you start a new post, there will be uncomfortable issues that need to be dealt with. Before the induction service sausage rolls are cool enough to eat, most new vicars are accosted by those who fell out with the previous vicar. During the parish visit, you might realise that there’s something which happens in the parish which you’ll not be able to continue for reasons of theological conviction – perhaps the wearing of eucharistic vestments, raffles or the singing of ‘Kum ba ya’. It’s much better to address something like this in the interview to find out if it is a deal-breaker, than surprise people when you arrive in post. All conflict, even when approached with wisdom, requires bravery. I love the words of David in Psalm 11:1, ‘In the Lord I take refuge; how can you say to my soul, “Flee like a bird to your mountain”’ (ESV). Pray that your refuge would be in the Lord to such an extent that you won’t fly away when conflict comes.
Pray that you’ll love the people. As a new vicar you’ll get a great deal wrong: after ten years here, I still am. You’ll misread situations, you’ll make silly decisions, you’ll invest time in the wrong things, you’ll say stupid things and make appallingly misjudged attempts at humour in your preaching. Wonderfully, ‘love covers a multitude of sins’ (1 Peter 4:8). This is true not simply for how the people entrusted to your care have patience with you, but also for how you have patience with them. The most painful trials you’re likely to face will be from the people of God in the local Church. Your new Church family will have within it people who are needy, discouraging, grumbling: people who want more from you than you can give. Only divine love for the people of God will get you through.
Pray for perseverance. The local Church is not your project or a step on your career ladder: it doesn’t exist to make you look good or feel important. The local Church is the focus of what God is doing where you are and needs to be treasured. One of the best things you can do for your new parish is to commit to it for a significant period of time. Of course, there are times when a short period of interim ministry is needed and a vicar may need to leave due to abuse or ill-health, but for the most part, local Churches need leaders who care enough to stay. This may mean persevering through things which seem repetitive and unglamorous, but the nature of Christian leadership is to lay aside personal gain and glory (1 Peter 5:2-3), following the one who came not to be served, but to serve, who gave his life as a ransom for many (Mark 10:45).