It’s been a while since I was faced with saying a general “hello” to a new group of people. I did it 15 years ago when I assumed a new pastoral ministry role with a congregation. I’ve done it since, of course, in meeting new people or small groups. But how do you go about saying “hello” to a group of congregations, pastors and congregants as their regional ministry partner – what we call in our American Baptist tradition – their Executive Minister? That’s the question I’ve been pondering over the past six weeks as I transitioned from the pastorate into a regional judicatory role once again.
Of course I do know some of the “how”. There will be phone calls, zoom calls, emails, texts and messages – maybe even a hand written letter or two. This blog is also a medium I plan to utilize in my hello. But experience tells me that nothing will take the place of, nor be as effective as, a face to face hello. Investing in getting to know someone, or a group/congregation, face to face and person to person(s) is invaluable in the work of ministry. Such encounters teach and show us so much more than the other “stand-ins” can possibly offer. For example, some of the most important ways we communicate are through our facial expression, body language, tone of voice and other non-verbal presentations. You cannot possibly cover all of that by email, text or phone. Even video has its limitations. Some things are simply old school – “hello” is one of those things, in my opinion.
Which means “hello” if done well, requires an investment of time and attention, effort and participation much of today’s culture has found inconvenient and too time consuming. In a day and age when communication is counted in tweets (limited to just so many characters), posts, likes and links; a quality interpersonal “hello” is endangered. Yet the old adage holds, doesn’t it? “You only get one opportunity to make a first impression.”
I spent the past six weeks of “good-byes” in order to be on a good footing for the coming “hellos”. Yet it occurs to me that many (maybe most?) of the people I’m anxious to say hello to, may not feel anywhere nearly as excited about the introduction. That’s the hurdle, sometimes, in regional judicatory ministry. I represent a regional denominational partner, in an interdependent system of congregational polity that is variously valued in today’s world. Some value the connections greatly, and I know I will be warmly welcomed by them as a representative of the greater church, and partner in ministry. Others may be indifferent, lacking understanding of the history, or otherwise occupied with busy lives. I get it. But I’m also praying for the opportunities to make some meaningful initial contacts and introductions that will lead to significant ministry relationships.
I would be remiss to say that these “hellos” are from ground zero. I do already know some of the partners and faces I hope to deepen connection with. The members of the Executive Minister search committee and other staff have already been welcoming from a distance. Now that distance has been bridged and it’s time to roll up our sleeves and serve side by side. What a great opportunity awaits.
I’m sure my “hello” will be different from others. I’ll perhaps not do it quite like the last person, or the one before that. I’m just going to be me and not try to be someone I’m not. So, “hello” ABC of the Dakotas, this Midwestern Indiana grandson of a farmer and small business owner, son of a self-employed hard working dad, husband to a dedicated elementary teacher, father of three and grandad of the three more, looks forward to making your acquaintance. I’m eager to learn what God is up to in your lives, your congregation or ministry, and your community. And I’m hopeful as I learn more about our Dakota Mission, including how we can serve together to advance the Kingdom of God throughout this region and beyond.