Have you ever noticed how ideas seem to flow when you don’t need them? Throughout the year, you might have a dozen great ideas for a weekend getaway; but when a weekend is finally available for a trip, you can’t think of anything to do. Or maybe you’ve had a million “when I get around to it” moments only to find that on a rare day off, you can’t remember any of them!
Being a pastor is much the same way. For years you may have thought, “If I was a pastor, the first thing I would do is….” And then, when that moment finally comes –a church calls you to pastor- you can’t figure out where to start. Being chosen to pastor a church is a great honor. Much like the first moment holding your newborn, you are overcome with one thought –“I want to do this right!”
So, here are a few thoughts for new pastors to get started off on the right foot. Some of the ideas may not work in your context. In fact, your church may think some of the suggestions are down-right ridiculous. However, somewhere within this list, I hope there are some ideas that might help you get started.
1) Let the church know what’s important to you. You don’t want your people having conversations such as “I wish he would have told us that he likes to preach three hour sermons,” or “I had no idea he would take off every Sunday his NFL team is playing.”
You especially need to tell them what kind of boundaries you expect for spending time with your family, studying for sermons, and spending outside of the office. These are the kind of issues that everyone respects when you explain it upfront. But if people see you out of the office or hanging out with your children during normal business hours –unless you have explained your priorities and practices up front- you are setting yourself up for criticism.
2) Identify the leaders in your church. If you are expected to lead, you must know who else is leading. Ask people in your congregation to help you identify the other leaders. Ask them who makes decisions, who people listen to for advice, and who has influence.
3) Spend time with your leaders. After you have identified the leaders in your church, you must spend time with them. Take them to lunch or have them over to your house for dinner. Ask them what they love about the church. Ask them their concerns. Then, ask them how you can work together to tackle those issues.
Don’t worry about sharing your vision at this time. Right now its more important to understand the current vision of the church and what God has laid on the heart of the current leadership. If you will invest in them now, they will buy into your vision later.
4) Visit every member of your church. That’s right –every member (even the ones that never attend). I know this sounds daunting –maybe even impossible. But you can’t imagine the benefits.
Because this will take a massive amount of time, I suggest asking the church to allow you to do this before starting office hours or preaching. This may sound crazy to them at first, but ask them to consider spending a few more weeks operating as they have during the pastor search (at this point they’ve probably gotten used to the routine). Tell them that you really want to get to know everyone and begin building relationships (You never know until you ask).
Then, ask your deacons, Sunday School teachers, Small Group leaders or other leaders to join you. Let them set up the meetings and introduce you to the people they care for. This will build strong relationships with those leaders as well.
Make every visit in the members’ homes. This lets them know you want to have a relationship with them -plus it’s always nice to know where they live in case of emergencies. Take them a card with your name and number and encourage them to put it on the refrigerator. If they haven’t attended for a while, let them know that you would love for them to start fresh with your arrival. Be sure to pray with each family and then, if they’ll let you, take a picture of them and post it in your phone with their contact information. That way, when they call you, you will have their picture pop up beside their number to help you remember who they are.
5) Spend time learning the church. If the church will allow you to postpone preaching until you have visited every member, then take advantage of Sundays to visit every Bible study class, children’s program, and other ministry group possible. Just pop in to say “hi” and introduce yourself. It will build relationships and also help you understand what goes on each week.
If you can, spend the first few Sundays in the crowd during the worship service to familiarize yourself with the church’s unique practices (every church has them). Try to understand why they do things the way they do them. Ask lots of questions to members after the services such as, “Do you always take the offering after the third song?” “Is that something we should keep doing?” “Why does that man on the front row always get up and walk out ten minutes into the service? Does he have a special need I should be aware of?” “What is that song that everyone sings during the welcome time? Why aren’t the words posted anywhere?”
If done in a loving way, these kind of questions will not only help you understand the culture, but also let the members know how much you care about them. Most members will embrace change in the future if they know that you have a deep respect for the past.
This is by no means an exhaustive to-do list. But its a great place to get started. So go ahead -don’t procrastinate. You have a church to pastor!