The new pastor is changing things quickly. Someone do something!

The new pastor  announced they were changing the name of the church.

The new pastor decided the worship music of  the last umpteen years needed updating and has brought in another director and more musicians.  The organist and pianist who have served so faithfully for many years are still being included but they never know what’s going on and wonder if they are unwanted.

The new pastor decided they should go to two morning services.

The new pastor decided they should go to one morning service.

The new pastor decided.

Anyone see a problem here?  The new pastor comes in and starts rearranging the furniture.  Restructuring God’s church.  Moving people around like chess pieceds.

The new pastor is ruling. Or so it seems to many.

Ever been there?  You should read my mail.  It’s happening all around you.

Questions for the new pastor:

  1. What is your hurry?  Why did you feel you had to rush into this?  If the answer is the church is on life-support and something must be done before nightfall, that’s a good answer.  But if not, what is your hurry?
  2. Are you intending to run off about half your membership? If so, you’re going about it in the right way.  Is it that important to get your way? If your answer is “I’m God’s man and what I say goes,” then I’m sorry, but I thought you were a Christian pastor; obviously you are getting your orders from somewhere else.
  3. This is also a good way to find yourself suddenly out of a job.  I’ve seen that happen when the new pastor thought he had been given a mandate (by God? by a committee? by someone!) to take over abruptly and “get this show on the road!” I can assure you that even if the lay leadership told you that, once the congregation gets in an uproar, you will be left to hang all alone. Take your time, and do this right.
  4. Did you get counsel from veteran ministers on how to go about this?  Surely, they told you to slow down. Or do you resist all counsel?  If you do, then see No. 2 above.
  5. Did you work with the lay leadership to make sure everyone was in agreement and that they were supportive?  And, are you really sure they’re on board, or did you take their silence for consent? Never a good thing to do.
  6. Did you look for ways and take steps to bring the congregation on board? Or are you giving them no alternatives to your plan?
  7. If you are offended by these questions, that also tells a lot about you.  A time on your knees of quiet and listening to the Lord–instead of hammering God with your prayer-barrage, be quiet and listen–is in order.

Questions for the church members:

  1. How is your heart?  Are your motives pure in this?
  2. What should the pastor have done differently?
  3. Would you have been opposed to any change, no matter how slight?
  4. Are you directing your questions to the  leadership of the church–and listening to them–or just murmuring among other disgruntled members like a lynch mob outside the sheriff’s office?  The first is healthy and the second destructive.
  5. If the unhappiness is widespread, a sizeable group should go together to see the pastor.  If dissidents go  one at a time, the pastor never has the full sense of the impact his decisions are having. I’ve known a visitor to say, “Pastor, a lot of people are concerned,” when it eventually came out that it was him and his wife.  So, to make the pastor aware of the full impact of his decisions, a group should go together.
  6. If the pastor is stubborn and refuses to even hear your concerns, that is a red flag and should be brought to the attention of the lay leadership.  The pastor who will not listen to his people is asking for major trouble.  (Show me where Moses refused to listen to the cry-babies.  He may have disagreed with them, but he heard them out.)
  7. Lay leaders are required to be courageous. Timid souls should never accept positions of leadership. At times they have to speak truth to the membership; sometimes to the pastor and staff. This is no fun, and only the humbly strong can do it well.  Don’t miss that: Humble. Strong.
  8. Are you praying? Seeking God’s will in this?  Are you willing to wait upon the Lord?  And maybe most importantly, are you willing to accept His will even when it’s not what you wanted?
  9. Do you have the sense that “this is our church and who does that new preacher think he is?”  That’s a bad sign.  The answer to the first question is that it’s Jesus’ church (Matthew 16:18).  Once you settle that, most things fall into place.

Questions for the lay leaders who feel caught between the determined pastor and the unhappy membership:

  1. If you are supporting the pastor because you were part of the team that brought him to the church and now you feel obligated, get over it.  It’s not about you.  Be strong.  Show some courage.
  2. The single question is What Is The Will of God?  It is not “what does the preacher want?” or “what will make the congregation happy?”  What does God want?  If you ask that, you must wait for it.
  3. Anyone digging their heels in and insisting that the naysayers should hit the road is part of the problem, not the answer.  Humility and love are needed in huge supply.
  4. Anyone who thinks running off half the membership will make the church a lean, mean fighting machine may be smearing the name of the Lord Jesus Christ in the community in order to build himself a reputation.  Show some love, guys.
  5. What is the rush?  Why the impatience?  Why not have prayer meetings after which nothing is done for a time while you wait for the Lord to answer?
  6. If the new pastor is totally out of step with the congregational leadership, they need to stand together and tell him.  It’s not the worst thing in the world to decide they made a mistake in bringing him there.  If the decision is made to terminate him, seek outside counsel on how best to go about this.
  7. I’m never in favor of firing a pastor unless your desire is to put him completely out of business.  An abrupt termination will forever taint his ministry and scare future churches away from considering him.  Seek the counsel of experienced and godly ministers and denominational leadership.

God bless you.  This is a tough time in any church’s life.

1 thought on “The new pastor is changing things quickly. Someone do something!

  1. Great advice! As Caesar Augustus was reportedly fond of saying, “Make haste slowly.” I am in year 11 of my current pastorate, but we didn’t start making huge, dramatic changes until around year 7. However, the overall trajectory should have been clear to anyone paying attention to the first sermon I preached here as pastor. I spent the first several years getting to know the pulse of our congregation, earning the trust of the people, building consensus, and making smaller, strategic changes that prepared us for the really big stuff. It was slow, hard work, but it is paying off now. This is a marathon, not a sprint. Thankful for advice like this from Dr. Joe, as well as something I picked up from the late Joe Cothen, who taught our pastoral ministry class about the importance of identifying and winning over the “opinion leaders” in a congregation before presenting major changes to the congregation as a whole.

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