Tips for RTS Students: Writing Notes and Letters

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My first attempt to become a candidate for ministry stalled in the early 80s. I was a member of a rural church in Middle Tennessee, and my session enthusiastically recommended me to Presbytery. We were an evangelical congregation in a theologically liberal Presbyterian denomination and that was a problem.

Far from home, studying at Princeton Theological Seminary, the Presbytery informed me that my candidacy would not move forward. I was so disappointed. Soon, notes and letters began arriving from members of my congregation telling me how proud they were of me, assuring me of their prayers, and urging me to persevere. Notes and letters from caring people were God’s gift to me – just at the right moment when I needed that encouragement to persevere.

Throughout my life people have taken time to write me. A grandparent and aunt, a father, and many, many members of my church families. Depending on the situation, they have buoyed my spirits, comforted me in sadness, and inspired me to achieve. Some were sent just to make me laugh – which, I’m told, is pretty good medicine.

I’ve been blessed by notes and letters, so it’s not surprising that I want to bless others through my own writing. And I want to encourage you to write as you serve the church while preparing for ministry.

Why write? After all, it’s so easy to call or email.

Several reasons:

  • Notes and letters take time and effort to compose, a fact not lost on me when I discover a letter in my mailbox. Someone has given of himself in my behalf.
  • Notes and letters are easily accessible. Put them on your desk or nightstand. Read and reread them. “Gracious words are like a honeycomb, sweetness to the soul and health to the body” (Proverbs 16:24).
  • Notes and letters endure. I have letters that I’ve kept for more than fifty years. One, a lengthy letter from my Dad, was written to answer questions I asked about military service. Though he’s no longer with me, his voice continues to speak through the written word.

When to write:

  • To say “thank you.” We should thank others for gifts of kindness. We owe it to those who’ve gone out of their way to be kind to us. And saying thank you is good for us. Isn’t thanksgiving the remedy for a complaining spirit? Writing thank you notes is one way to cultivate a lifestyle of gratitude.
  • To congratulate. Celebrate promotions, achievements, and recognitions. Rejoice with those who rejoice.
  • To express sympathy. Mourn with those who mourn. Take the time to think about someone who has gone to be with the Lord, and put your memories and gratitude for his life into words. Pass those words along to a grieving family.
  • To celebrate birthdays and anniversaries. On those occasions, I write about a virtue I see in a someone’s life. I want to lift the spirits of a dear believer by letting him know that I see the grace of God at work in his life.

Notes and letters strengthen the bonds of affection between pastors and their people. Keep your eyes open. Look for opportunities to write. Make writing one of the ways you enjoy the congregation God has entrusted to your pastoral care.

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