You've never met the perfect pastor, but word has it that he was the previous pastor in your new district. He and his wife were wonderful people. Always friendly. The backbone of the youth group. His sermons—always gripping and innovative (never past 12 o'clock). And she—the voice of Del Delker. Both served on every church committee. In short, they were human dynamos. Somehow you have the feeling that they've moved but their shadow didn't follow them. It seems to lurk in every corner.
Add to this shadow your own role expectations gained from personal experience, attending seminary classes and worker's meetings, and images of Hercules or the Jolly Green Giant come to mind. Not at all the rather basic human being you see staring back at you in your mirror.
If you've ever sunk out of sight while trying to follow in the footprints of this mythical creature, you have already realized how frustrating and nonproductive it can be.
In Galatians the apostle Paul relieves some of the strain of trying to be like others. He says, "Let everyone be sure that he is doing His very best, for then he will have the personal satisfaction of work well done, and won't need to compare himself to someone else" (Gal. 6:4, TLB).
So how can you minister without comparing yourself to that lurking shadow of your predecessor?
Discovering your God-given uniqueness and strengths is a good starting point. Ask yourself, "What parts of ministry do I really like and enjoy doing? Of all the things I do as a pastor, where do I seem to function well?" Maybe working with young people is your forte. Or sermons and presentations. You might find that personal work among members and prospects gets your adrenalin flowing. We even knew one pastor who lived for Ingatheringl That's where he swung into action and enjoyed himself.
Once you've listed what you feel are your strengths and finer abilities, get some kind of feedback from your congregation. You need not feel like a moving duck at a shooting gallery. Make it clear that you want to know what part of your ministry is the best. Most people love to give their opinion. And if your members perceive that you really want to know what they think, they will open up. But not everyone may understand how to provide the information you're looking for. You could just ask a few people whose judgment you already respect. Or you might hand out an anonymous response form. But whatever method you choose, express your desire to discover the areas they see you handling with excellence and the areas that could be improved.
Another place for feedback might be talking with different Conference officers. If you feel you have the right level of trust and understanding, you might ask them. "In what ways is my pastorate helping this district?" Again, make it clear you want to know the positive strengths you are bringing.
One pastor discovered, quite by accident, that he had a spiritual gift for working in stressful districts. He was not aware of it, but the Conference leaders noticed this ability and asked him to serve in certain districts on the basis of his strengths in bringing a better spirit of harmony and unity.
Once you have studied your ministry, and have invited others to report on its strengths, begin to work toward those strengths. The New Testament presents the concept of spiritual gifts being given within the church. Sometimes we or the congregation think that all these gifts reside in the pastor. But just as the Holy Spirit gives different gifts to the members as He chooses, so we as ministers receive different gifts. When you have an idea of your areas of strength, start to put more of your time and energy in that direction. Emphasize your areas of effectiveness.
One friend of ours felt very uncomfortable visiting in people's homes. He actually questioned his call to the ministry because he knew the value of home visitation, yet he couldn't bring himself to do it. Finally, he began to spend more of his time working in the other aspects of ministry—things exhilarating to him. Then he encouraged his elders to visit the congregation. The church responded to his enthusiasm, and few noticed his reduced visitation schedule.
Desire of Ages provides this encouraging thought. "He (God) has appointed us our work, and has endowed us with faculties and means for that work. So long as we surrender the will to God, and trust in His strength and wisdom, we shall be guided in safe paths, to fulfill our appointed part in His great plan" (p. 209).
This doesn't mean that now you can relax and totally ignore those parish activities that don't fulfill you. There will still be fundraising to raise, committee to commit to, marriages to mend, and other activities that are less exciting to you. But by emphasizing your strengths, you can relax about that shadow in the corner. And who knows, by the time you leave your church, there will probably be a new shadow waiting to greet the next pastor.