You help your wife unpack the boxes and hang the pictures, then drive down to the church office and put your books on the shelves and say hello to the staff. The other ministers and office workers gather around and look expectantly in your direction, “hoping to receive something” (Acts 3:5).
What do you do now, pastor?
If you are really, really green or a veteran but stupid (sorry for the plain-spokenness!), you will do all the talking. You will act like a newly-elected-politician-with-a-landslide who thinks he has a mandate.
You don’t have a mandate. You have an opportunity.
What follows is merely my suggestion on what the new pastor should do in his first few days and weeks at the new church. Disagreements and additional insights are welcome in the comments section at the conclusion.
Get your staff together and listen to them.
The temptation is to isolate them and hear each one that way. There will be a time for this, but not yet. At first, you want to hear them as a group.
You’ll hear their burdens. You will notice what they all agree on. And you will pick up on the interplay between them–who rules the roost, who is hen-pecked, etc.
Listen to their stories, their testimonies. Hear their ministry histories. The fact that they are all in the same room and may have worked together for years does not mean they know each other’s stories backwards and forwards. For some, this may be the first time they’ve heard the others’ testimony.
Really, really listen. Make a mental note–or if you need to, an actual note–about significant aspects of each one’s narratives so you can later refer back to it when you are alone with that one. Nothing will impress that minister more than the fact that you listened and noted and remembered.
Give prominence to praying with them.
A suggestion or two on this. Find creative ways to pray together. At a later time, you might even schedule a longer prayer retreat with the staff, but today and for the next few meetings you will want brief prayer times, even if you have several in one meeting.
Someone mentions a situation or a family in need or a trouble-maker in the church. You say, “Thanks for that. Let’s pray. ‘Father, please show us what we should do about this. For Jesus’ sake. Amen.'”
Short, to the point.
Continue leading that way for the rest of your ministry. You run into a problem in the staff meeting–two ministers want the youth the same evening and there seems to be no solution to the conflict–so you say, “Let’s give this to the Father.” And you lead in prayer. Or ask, “Anyone who would like to, pray this prayer for us.”
One of the things the average church staff literally hungers for is for a spiritual atmosphere among the ministers. Nothing accomplishes this like frequent prayer.
Set the pattern for discussions and disagreements in the staff meeting.
Chances are if they have had little leadership from a pastor, the staff has developed some poor inter-relationship habits. They all talk at the same time, they interrupt one another, the one who talks loudest carries the conversation. As the new pastor, from the very first, you have the opportunity to change this forever.
As several begin talking at once or interrupting each other, you hold up your hand for silence. You say calmly, “Let’s hear from Bob since he was talking first, then Tom, we want to hear what you have to say.”
They will get the message if you will be consistent in this.
Have you ever seen this? A pastor or staffer is trying to quieten the congregation before a meal so he can offer thanks. He decides just to begin praying and hope that will silence the talkers. Not a good idea.
Better that the one about to pray would quietly ask for silence before we pray, and then stand there until he gets it. Children are talking or playing or two adults are having a conversation and haven’t noticed the minister? No problem. Stand there and look in their direction. The people around them will nudge them. You’ll get the silence, then you lead the prayer.
It’s about reverence. And it’s about training God’s people on how to behave at church.
You have the opportunity to set a new direction for the church through your sermons.
This is much too early in your ministry to be making grand pronouncements about “your vision” for the church. In fact, personally, I don’t think you should come in with a ready made vision. Let God give you His for that congregation.
What you will want to do is preach sermons that reveal who you are and what you believe, the directions you will be asking them to go. This is the time to preach the basic doctrines of the Christian faith, not exotic ramblins on rare texts. Inspire them with the leader God has sent to them. Build the trust.
A friend told me about the new pastor who on his first Sunday, had the pulpit taken out and a fishing boat installed. Then, he stood in the boat and preached his first sermon.
Do we need to say the obvious here? That this was a terrible beginning. What the pastor accomplished was offending about half his congregation on his first Sunday. It takes a real skill to pull that off, but he did it. My guess is he rationalized that they might as well learn up front that things were going to be different under his leadership. My response to that is any preacher that egotistical has no business tending the Lord’s sheep.
Pastor the flock. Feed them, visit them, love them. Build the trust first.
That’s your emphasis for the first few weeks, pastor. Doing the basic pastoral ministries.
And don’t forget to take care of your own family. Since your children are adjusting to new schools and the church and your wife is dealing with a world of new people, schools, stores, neighbors, etc., as well as the church, your family will be needing to see you more in those first few weeks than they will later on. Do not neglect them to minister to the church.
If you find yourself in a quandary–some church family needs you and your own family needs you at the same time–remember what the church did in the months when they were without a pastor. They survived. Lay people and staffers did the pastoral work. So, call on one of them to pinch-hit for you this one time. Your family needs you; don’t let them down.
I do wish–my soul, how I wish–someone had told me to do that forty years ago. The stories my wife could tell you about her husband leaving her to deal with issues while he visited church members in the hospital. I have repented often and deeply, but the hurt never leaves.
Have a great time, new pastor. Determine to enjoy the honeymoon. Pray it lasts for a while. The time may come when you will remember these days with intense longing.