First Six Months

I am candidating for a church in a couple of weeks. Since I heard that I will be candidating, I have been thinking about and beginning to plan my first six months at the new church. I thought it might be good to get some input from the veterans those critical months at a new church. So I ask the question: Is there anything that you would liked to have done in the first six months of ministry at your new church that you didn't do? Or anything you did that would be helpful in getting the new pastorate off to a great start?

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Alex Guggenheim's picture

Having been involved in the process of evaluating and then introducing changes to more than one organization, I encourage you to take the first 6 months, at a minimum, to familiarize yourself with the people and process of the church if you end up going there. Any significant changes apart from those of a gross or egregious nature (and if you arrive and there is such a situation you may consider whether you did your homework or not as to the church's condition) should be after you have had an appropriate period to make a comprehensive evaluation. Obviously small changes will occur and sometimes even proprietary issues of style and preference will arise which still most often are relegated to personal boundaries and wishes and not comprehensive ones and those should be expect on both sides.

Exceptions aside, it normally will take that kind of minimum just to evaluate things and at a church, which does not have the same parameters and people interaction and acquiescence as does a job outside of the ministry, it may take longer, require greater wisdom and certainly will be met with unique challenges.

Feed the sheep sound doctrine. Study hard, provide good food so they may be properly fed. They are sheep, they need good food. Avoid gimmicks. Gimmicks might work to bring people in but they are the wrong people for the wrong reason and the only way to keep them is to spend all your energy chasing down people who really don't want to be there. Do not allow those who wish to suck you in or get on your good side get the impression they have some "in" with you. You will most likely eventually get closer to certain people personally, as all humans do, but do not let it prejudice your ministry, such relationships are for your private life. I, myself, am not a "minister" but I have several in my family and have quite a number of friends in the ministry and did earn my undergraduate degree in Biblical Studies at a seminary so I do have that familiarity, hence I share my thoughts somewhat from both sides of the pulpit.

rogercarlson's picture

Alex,
Excellent post!

I would add that I wouldn't make any major changes within the first year (unless, like Alex said there is a major problem). I think the biggest thing to do is getting aquainted with the ministry, the people, and the community. If it is a small church and you are the only employee, set your hours. Many guys who come to their first small church struggle with their schedule. You are the only one there. I don't have as regular hours here now because I work 4 jobs - the church being my full-time job. When I came, I got to my study between 7:30 and 8 and never left before 5 (except for lunch and Wednesday). I did have 3 or 4 major blocks for visiting as well. But I found that people in the church watch that first year carefully. Everyone has different engergy levels, so I think you need to know yours. I am one that has to work 50-60hours a week minimum at the ministry, but I am sure there are guys out there who don't have that energy level, but they can work smarter than me and do it in less hours. Take the time to build the roots for a long lasting ministry.

Roger Carlson, Pastor
Berean Baptist Church

Jay's picture

Alex's post was really good.

Since I'm in the first six months of my first pastorate, the biggest thing that I can tell you is to learn to hold your tongue, be patient with the new 'sheep' that are entrusted to you, steer clear of issues in the past history of the church that are problematic or that are something you would have handled differently, and preach the word. My first sermon series was on the person, nature and attributes of God, and I did that solely to help clarify who the God is that we serve. Now we're launching into Advent, with a series on Christmas [Annunciation to Mary, Annunciation to Joseph, the Census, et cetera ] that will culminate on Christmas Eve. Then, Lord Willing, I'm planning on laying out some church goal type things on that last Sunday of the year and hopefully getting into Baptist distinctives in January. What I'm doing, basically, is outlining the distinctives of the Christian Faith and who we [as Baptists ] are, in order to get the people healthier spiritually and to reassert the distinctiveness of the Baptists as opposed to the local Methodist, Episcopal, and Presbyterian churches. We'll see where the Lord leads from there.

Your mileage may vary, since there aren't many churches that are in the position I am in. Feel free to PM me if you'd like to chat some more or if you have some other questions. Lord bless you!

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Mike Mann's picture

When I came to this church as a much younger man I tried to do everything. I cheated the flock out of ministry opportunities by not enlisting them as often as possible. The same with Deacons. Ask for help frequently and give them ways to serve the Lord.
Not only will some be content to let you do everything without ever volunteering, they will then get bored and either leave or complain about how you do things.
I finally learned to depend on others and now 24 years later there are not many in our church who are not busy serving in some capacity.

TOO SOON OLD. TOO LATE SMART! Smile

Pastor Harold's picture

Take a year or more to make any changes. Love all the people and don't get wrapped up to any one group. Don't get all caught up in what the "Last Pastor" did or didn't do. Most importantly, pour your heart out to God and know without a doubt this is where he wants you, before you ever set foot in the place as the pastor. The time may come when you will wonder if you were ever ment to be there, settle this before you go.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

It depends a lot on how you're wired. You have to know yourself well to make the most of the first-year window. If you are inclined to be cautious and sensitive to the will of the congregation, you'll be in a better position to make changes the first year than afterwards and it may be wise to push a bit more than you're comfortable with the first year. If I had it to do over, I'd be more aggressive about several things that are much harder to fix after settling into a routine.
On the other hand, if you're more of a "git 'er done now and dash the consequences" type, wait two years before you change anything! Biggrin

On the whole, I'd have to agree with the guys who have said that more churches have been seriously messed up by changing too much too soon than by the alternative. Some things are easier to fix when you are not yet fully aware that they've been done a certain way for a hundred years, but failing to fix these kinds of things is not going to wreck the church... if it's been that way for forty years, a few more will not cave the ministry in. It's just that greater courage will be required to make the change later when the church's tradition has become your tradition as well, by force of habit.
(I'm a decade into the church I pastor and some of what was etched in stone when I arrived is now etched in my own stone, too!)

Rev Karl's picture

I have been a part of a couple of churches which totally changed (90%+ turnover within the congregation) with the change of the senior pastor. The new man came in, and completely changed things to his way of thinking. Eventually the congregation was comprised of one or two who had been there when the new pastor came, but the rest were new to the ministry. It was a totally different church.

If this is the result of dealing with sin, then it is appropriate. If, however, it is the result of members feeling they no longer have a place or a voice at the church, then there is a problem.

So be still, and know that God is in control. Do not fear the voice of the congregation. There are actually times when the Lord will use their voice to instruct you, instead of Him using your voice to instruct them.

Jay's picture

Rev Karl wrote:
So be still, and know that God is in control. Do not fear the voice of the congregation. There are actually times when the Lord will use their voice to instruct you, instead of Him using your voice to instruct them.

Good point - I presented an opportunity to the Board of my church, fully expecting a rejection, and they expanded the parameters, and got far more excited about it than I could have ever hoped! It was a good learning opportunity for me.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

Steverm4's picture

Thank you for the great posts! I was voted in (unanimous) and will begin preaching the first Sunday of the year.

Pastork's picture

Steve,

I hope your first three months have been going well. I second the many voices above that advised minimal change early on and that advised focusing on getting to know your people. If I had it to do over, I think I would have spent even more time getting to know those in leadership than I did. I spent a lot of time getting to know members of the congregation, especially those "squeaky wheels that always needed greasing," and took for granted my relationship with the leadership. This was a mistake that I would save you. A strong relationship of trust with the other leaders is absolutely essential for the pastor. It is also the way you will discover which men are in the wrong positions, which I have found to be one of the major problems in churches. Folks tend to want leaders who are seen to be very successful, say, in the business world. They very often do not really take seriously the Biblical qualifications for leaders. So very often these men are the wrong ones to be in leadership in the churches, and getting them out can be very difficult, even if necessary. So get to know them well. Get to know their strengths and weaknesses and be honest about your own.

I will say it one more time; in my own experience with Immanuel and with other churches I have helped in one way or another, most all the major issues had to do with men in leadership who had no business being there. These church bosses will typically be the people who cause you the most trouble in ministry and cause the most damage to the church. If, as you get to know the men in leadership, you find that God has given you an outstanding set of fellow-laborers, then praise His name for that! But be careful here.

I hope I haven't sounded too negative.

Keith

pastorwesh's picture

Men,

Thanks for your wise counsel. I am beginning a new ministry next week, and your words of wisdom spoke to me. I was already making up my mental lists of things that needed to be changed. I will instead focus on getting to know my people and leaders. Thanks again.

Serving the Savior, Pastor Wes Helfenbein 2 Cor. 5:17

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Encouraging to see your post!

pastorwesh's picture

Are there any things that fall into the category of things that must be changed (other than Doctrinal - which why would you accept a church that you don't agree with doctrinal)? I know for my congregation, they are very weak in the area of music (not the wrong kind - just the way it sounds and looks). I was considering trying to contact a local Christian College to see if they had any music majors that wanted experience in leading music/leading a choir. Do you believe that this is something that I should wait the 6-12 months before I try to address?

Just wondering about your thoughts.

Serving the Savior, Pastor Wes Helfenbein 2 Cor. 5:17

Rev Karl's picture

pastorwesh wrote:
Are there any things that fall into the category of things that must be changed (other than Doctrinal - which why would you accept a church that you don't agree with doctrinal)? I know for my congregation, they are very weak in the area of music (not the wrong kind - just the way it sounds and looks). I was considering trying to contact a local Christian College to see if they had any music majors that wanted experience in leading music/leading a choir. Do you believe that this is something that I should wait the 6-12 months before I try to address?

Just wondering about your thoughts.

Music is a touchy thing. I almost killed a church with music. Within the bounds of appropriateness and holiness, the music has to be the kind of music that the people know and enjoy. The music director has to know this, have a familiarity with the music, and an understanding of church music as a ministry (as opposed to performance or entertainment). The right kind of music, used properly, will be the beginning of worship in your services, preparing for the congregational worship that is the sermon.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

I'd say even on a small thing like that, get to know the local culture a while. A couple of things will happen: 1) your priorities will change as you see problems you didn't know about and discover that some you knew about are actually bigger or smaller than they seemed, 2) You'll have more credibility w/the body when you start to move them forward. They'll know that you know you're aware of their sensitivities. Less likely to be seen as "new kid outsider comes and thinks he knows better ways to do things than we've done them for a hundred years." It is entirely likely that you do know better ways in several areas, but my guess is that your opinion of which ways those are today will be different from your opinion in a year or two.

That said, you don't want to put everything off for later. I think I mentioned this earlier, but there is a kind of calcification (or ossification?) that sets in. And things become harder to change because they are no longer just the tradition of the congregation, but increasingly have become your own tradition as well!
(I'm stuck in a few ruts myself that I probably would have changed right away but now they are just so much easier to do "the way I've always done")