Last week I was preparing for Sunday’s service at church. We wanted to include communion as part of the service. I have only been at this church for a few weeks now, and I assumed things.
I assumed that their traditions around the celebration of communion would be similar to my experience. Here are my assumptions. I assumed that I could insert communion into the service where I felt it fit best. I was planning for a two-part sermon and decided communion would work really well as a practical expression of the first part. Next, I assumed that communion would be set up with cups of juice in trays and bread on plates. I assumed that would mean we needed a table at the front for the elements to sit until we were ready to move into the ceremony of communion. Then, I assumed that we would be serving everyone. That lead to a few more assumptions. I assumed we then needed to have 4 people prepared to pass the trays down the rows to cover the two sections of chairs we had set up, so I asked four of the elders if they could help serve. Along with the serving, I then assumed that since we were serving the bread and then the juice, we could use someone to play some music while everyone was being served, so I asked my wife to be prepared to play a few songs on the piano. Since I assumed we were serving everyone, I thought my sermon would be longer because we had to give time to serve everyone which would draw things out a bit.
My assumptions were not correct. First, in talking to my wife, she mentioned that she had seen a supply of cups and wafers that were one sealed unit. So then I assumed we will only be serving them once, so that shortens up the time a bit. Then, in conversation with one of the Elders, he mentioned that they had just been handing the elements to people as they entered the sanctuary.
So we will not be serving them at all, okay. They will already have the bread and juice with them for when they were needed. And that meant that we didn’t need anyone to actually serve the congregation.
Well, someone still had to hand them out as people came in for the service. Another assumption was that the piano could be used and I was informed it desperately needed tuning and was not ready to play. I had to tell my wife that her playing was not needed.
We often make assumptions, especially when we are in a new situation. I am new to this church and had not bothered to ask anyone about how they practiced communion. I could have saved myself some trouble by just asking a few appropriate questions.
So, how can we deal with assumptions in new situations?
- Realize we don’t know what we don’t know.
When we are in a new situation, we assume that we can approach it the same way we have approached similar situations in the past. We need to realize that every new situation requires new information for us to know how to proceed in a meaningful way.
- Watch and listen
We can learn a lot in a new situation if we slow down and carefully observe what is going on. Before jumping into action, watch what others around you are doing, even how they are doing things. Listen to the conversation. What do they talk about? What can you learn from what they are saying that will help you know how to move ahead?
- Ask questions
I am serving as a Transition Pastor. That means I go into a church for a period of a year or so before I move on to a new assignment. Every new church I serve is a new experience for me. Yes, I have years of experience being a pastor, but I have not been a pastor for this church at this time. Even in the last church I served, I had been a pastor there years ago, but people and practices had changed. I did not know how things were done now.
So, I ask a lot of questions. I want to know what their traditions are and how they would like to see things done. I try to figure out who they are talking about when they mention a name.
I try to get a sense of the inter-personal dynamics in the relationships of the people I am working with. I want to know the history so I can get a true sense of the present.
- Admit you are a newbie
It’s okay to remind people that you are new here, acknowledge that this is a new situation and you may mess up. As I greet people on Sundays, I admit I am new there and don’t know if they are long-term members or guests. As we talk about programs or practices, I remind people I am new and don’t know all the history. I regularly ask people to give me some background and detail on programs or practices so I can get a sense of what they are talking about.
- Ask for a guide
Sometimes it is helpful to ask for someone to be your guide. It’s good to find who is familiar with the situation so they can help you navigate around potential missteps. If you can find someone like this, make use of their knowledge.
Assumptions can lead to problems, but you may avoid those problems by trying some of the tips above.
I would love to hear how you have handled new situations. Leave a comment about how something went really well or really bad.
Keep looking up,