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Night With Pastor:
An Orientation Program For Beginning A New Pastorate

Rev. Wayne Dobratz, Pastor
Trinity Lutheran Church
Hampton, Iowa
Number 43

The moving van has been unloaded, you are once again able to find the books you need, and you're in the middle of grieving over the friends and the ministry you've left behind.

Now what?  You ask yourself.   I have so much to do, I don't know where to start.   I am surrounded by this sea of unfamiliar faces, a church which has power pockets and undercurrents that I will probably learn only the hard way. 

What to do?  I decided some years ago to begin a new ministry in a way different than I have begun others.   

The Grief Process

I moved from a 1500 member church with a School and its multiple staff to a one-Pastor Church with  a Secretary, three Preschool Teachers and a part-time Janitor for staff.  Clearly, this would be a different kind of ministry.  I soon realized that the best way to stop missing my friends and Pastoral contacts was to begin making new ones.

That's where the concept of  "Night With Pastor" began to take shape. It's borrowed from the Individual or Group Interviews which some programs use for Stewardship.   Borrow, adapt and use proven ideas--that's what I was advised to do years before.   Why not?

How To Begin Your "Night With Pastor"

I asked my Secretary to give me a list of Church Council members, a group of about 35 in our church. I asked her to contact Council members to participate in our "Night With Pastor" program. A Council Member and his wife would prepare coffee and bars, cake, etc. and would host these weekly meetings. Then I asked my Secretary to follow a format: 3 couples of mixed age and 2 or 3 singles, also of mixed age. With the host couple, that gives you a small group of about 10-11 people. It's not a good idea to have any more than 12 or 13, including the Pastor, or you will lose the Small Group Dynamic that you will need.

How To Structure The Discussion Session:

1) I begin by asking what they thought of the idea of "A Night With The Pastor" when they had first heard of it.  Most respond very positively.  I then ask them to calculate how long it would take the Pastor to visit every home in a Congregation with about 200 households.

2) Then we discuss the importance of communication. I ask them to guess what is the most common problem that marriage counselors encounter. You guessed it!  Lack of communication. Then I ask them to consider the similarities between a marriage and the Pastor's relationship to the people of the congregation.  

3) Then I try to get them to relax by injecting a little humor into the process. See the Addendum (below) for illustrations of communication gone amok. I remind them of how important it is for me to understand their needs and for them to tell me of their needs, much as one must see a Physician with a health problem.

4) I then share with the group the outline for this 90-minute conversation. It takes the form of PAST, PRESENT and FUTURE.

5) I then begin the process of getting acquainted with each participant. I ask them to tell the group where they were baptized and by whom. I thus learn a little of their personal spiritual history. It's helpful to know who has been a lifelong member of the congregation, who is a back-door Lutheran, etc. It also helps them to reflect upon how they came to be in God's Kingdom.

6) The next step is to ask them to calculate how many different Pastors they have had in their lives. This lays the foundation for the next question.

7) Each individual is asked to pick out one Pastor from the average of 5-10  they have had in their lives and to tell the group why they feel this Shepherd had the most influence upon them. This tells me a little of what they expect of me as their new Pastor. This also injects a positive feeling  toward the church when some may not be feeling very positive at the moment.

8) After that is completed, I ask the group to think of their spiritual lives as chapters in a book. I ask them to detail for the group how the Lord was there for them in some special or painful times I also ask them how their Christian "walk" is doing now. That's the "Present." part of the outline.  This tells me if some are still living in the past and to what degree they have accepted me as their Pastor.

The questions must be structured in an open-ended way. You don't want to program people to tell you what they think you want to hear.  If they have had problems with the last pastor or with other members of the church (such as cliques), they are invited to share that briefly. The object is to begin the healing process. This also helps me to know with whom I should schedule follow-up visits.  

This process will hopefully also remind them of how much they need the local church and you as its Pastor. You'd be surprised how many non-attending members show up for these group sessions.  You will be  amazed at how some "open up" and how much they enjoy the intimacy this small group offers them.

9) Then it's break time and our hosts serve coffee and bars. The break lasts about 5-7 minutes.

10) The final part of the interview is about the future: I use a page taken from Don Abdon's Evangelism Saturation book. It reminds us that EVANGELISM IS THE MISSION OF THE CHURCH. That gives me an opportunity to teach them the Biblical meaning of the term "Evangelism". It's not cold-turkey calls but using the relationships God has given them as bridges to the lost.  

I ask them to recall the official name of the Congregation: "Trinity Evangelical Lutheran Church."  I ask what the term "evangelical" adds to the name.  Then we discuss the seven ways that the church does its gospel ministry, in the forms of "Out-Reach" and "In-Reach".  The seven ways are: 1-Education, 2-Preaching, 3-Worship, 4-Counseling, 5-Fellowship, 6-Witness, and 7-Service.

11) We discuss each of the seven ways briefly. Then I ask them to read a few Scriptures together to see how God's Word supplies the power we need for this Gospel ministry. I remind them that a church which doesn't reach out to the lost will often tear itself apart inwardly. This searching of the Scriptures reminds non-attending members of how much they need God's Word. The Scriptures also confirm and strengthen the faith of those who have been attending regularly. See the Addendum (below) for the Scripture sheet.

12) Finally, I tell them of plans to establish a small group ministry and of plans to expand Bible Study offerings. I ask them to complete a "Bible Study Survey."  I ask them to think and pray about their Bible study plans and to return the form when they next attend worship. See the Addendum (below) for this survey form.

13) I close with Paul's heartfelt words in the Book of Philemon: I always thank God as I remember you in my prayers, because I hear about your faith in the Lord Jesus and your love for all the saints. I pray that you may be active in sharing your faith, so that you will have a full understanding of every good thing we have in Christ. Your love has given me great joy and encouragement, because you, brother, have refreshed the hearts of the saints.

Let us pray:  

We thank you, dear Lord, for this time we have spent together this evening.   We thank you for the evidence of the Holy Spirit working in our midst and we thank you for the hope that we have in Christ.   Give us, we pray, a vision that we may work toward the goal of edifying your people and finding the lost sheep that are around us, so that more and more may have a heavenly hope and may at last be gathered around your throne to sing your praises.   We pray in Jesus' name, Amen.

Reflection And Comment

In the space of one year, I have visited with 251 of the adult members of my church. I couldn't be more pleased with the results. I have developed relationships with my people that would not have taken place if I had tried to visit homes one at a time.

It worked for me; it can work for you, too. It takes a little planning, a little skill at groups dynamics and discussion leading, but it's well worth thte time and effort you put into it.

Please write, email or call me if I can be of help to you in beginning a "Night With Pastor" program in your Parish.

Jesus ... had compassion on them, because they were like sheep without a shepherd. So he began teaching them many things. Mark 6:34 (NIV)

 Wayne Dobratz

Copyright 1997--All Rights Reserved
Permission freely granted for non-profit congregational use.
Please acknowledge the author on all duplicated materials.

"Night With Pastor" Program

Part I: Humorous examples of communication gone amok:

Some Actual Signs Seen In The Good Ol' USA!! !!

Part II: Scripture Verses Describing Spiritual Growth and Power

Part III: Bible Study Survey

Bible Study Survey

If I were to attend a Bible study during the next year or so, I would be interested in studying:



Previous Books of the Bible I have studied:

Questions I would really like to get answered about the Bible, about God, about my future, etc.

I will attempt to attend at least one Bible Study during the next year.

Signed _____________________________________________



Previous Books of the Bible I have studied:

Questions I would really like to get answered about the Bible, about God, about my future, etc.

I will attempt to attend at least one Bible Study during the next year.

Signed _____________________________________________

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This page was revised on: Tuesday, October 05, 2004 11:03:15 PM