Wednesday, September 08, 2010

Starting Well

Below are some thoughts I shared with the Pastoral Ministry class last night that I have gleaned through experience, education and godly counsel over 15 years of ministry about starting off well in a new place of service.

Starting Well

Every pastor is different, as is every church. There is no single “right way” to start, but there are many “wrong ways.” Following are some rules of thumb and guidelines.

“Beware the man who meets you at the train”
Mark Corts gave me this piece of advice following my ordination service. Often a person will want to become your best friend on the first day at the church. This can be a great help, but proceed with caution. The person may have ulterior motives.

“Don’t assume change is always necessary immediately”
Remember, they got along without you before you came along. You have not come to be the Savior. They aren’t perfect, and you aren’t either. Ease into things by changing as little as necessary immediately. You earn the right to make more major changes over time.

“First things first”
Determine what things need immediate attention, and leave lesser matters for later. For me, priority 1 has always been establishing a high view of Scripture through preaching, teaching, and example. Other things can and should wait.

“Don’t believe everything you hear”
People will want to tell you about themselves, other members, former pastors, etc. Be careful not to let these opinions taint you in any way. You always want to form your own opinions over time.

“Shepherd, know thy flock”
Immediately make an effort to get to know the people. It is often said that people don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. A church cannot pay someone to love them. You need to cultivate a love for the people through personal relationships beginning immediately.

“Put your roots down”
Commit to being at the church indefinitely. Let folks know that you are not there on temporary assignment or looking for a ladder to climb. Speak “long-term” with the people, and get involved in the community as you have opportunity.

“Learn their history”
You will want to be a scholar on this church’s history. You need to learn as much as you can about past successes and failures, important people and events. You want to lead into the future from a solid understanding of the past. Talk to former pastors and long-term members. Specifically, learn about pastors, key leaders and faithful servants. Learn about high points and low points. Discover important traditions and their origins. Learn the architectural history and plans of the church (they will expect you to be an expert on the facilities, and you don’t want to disappoint them). Use what you learn as sermon illustrations, talking points, and future planning. Speak often and speak well of the church’s history.

“Trust takes time”
In many cases, you are stepping into a situation where trust has been compromised if not shattered. In the best of cases, remember you are a complete stranger, while the members have been in fellowship for many years. It will take time to earn their trust. Don’t try to force it or rush it.

“Show them yourself, warts and all”
Be transparent about your strengths and weaknesses. They will discover them for themselves; don’t let them be surprised by them.

“Plan together”
Involve others (deacons, committees, church council, staff, etc.) in formulating plans. This sets the tone for moving forward together as a team, rather than the pastor dragging the church in a direction they don’t want to go in.

You are their shepherd, not their hireling. Be firm about convictions of doctrine, schedule, and mutual expectations. Bend where you can, but identify areas where you can’t, and make them known in a loving way.

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