Pastor, you have just been called to serve a new church as their senior leader. During the search process you did your due diligence so you have a decent idea about the church’s past successes and failures. You have spent a great deal of time with the pastor search team. You have also spent time with the church staff and a few key leaders. But outside of those relationships and the members you met at the churchwide reception on the weekend you preached your “trial sermon,” you don’t really know your new church family. You know you have a limited honeymoon period to set the direction of the church. What do you do?
Over the past thirty years, I have faced that question six times. In each new setting the answer was a little different. Each church has been unique. That uniqueness is just one of the beautiful things about the body of Christ. I recently had some time to reflect on each of those transitions.
Here are some First Steps that emerged from those reflections that you may want to follow.
- Implement a Prayer Plan – Sure, a lot of prayer goes into the entire process of accepting a call to pastor a church. The committee has been praying. You have been praying. The church has been praying. Take advantage of the prayer momentum and activate a churchwide prayer strategy. It could be started during the transition period between the Sunday of your call and the day you start your ministry at the church. Get your people praying!
- Start a Bible Reading Plan – I really believe that the Word of God is alive. As Paul wrote to Timothy, “All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work” (2 Timothy 3:16-17). Get people reading the word and praying, and watch the Holy Spirit do His work!
- Invest in Relationships – The adage is true. People don’t care how much you know until they know how much you care. Invest in people. Hear their stories. Explore their faith. Learn their names. Since I am terrible with names I tell the church up front, “Every time you see me tell me who you are and keep introducing yourself to me until I call you by name.” Let your people know that you value them as a part of the body of Christ!
- Establish the Importance of Evangelism – It’s good to establish this as a priority from the very beginning. For a variety of reasons many of our churches have become inwardly focused. This has been a process that has emerged over a long period of time. It will not change over night. Start with your own commitment to make Jesus known in your relationships. Over time your people will catch on!
- Let Vision Emerge – I have been asked during the search process, “What is your vision for our church?” Or, “If God leads you to our church, what will be your vision?” The answer is, “I don’t know.” Yes, I have some convictions about what the church should be, but there is no way to have vision without practicing the first three of these first steps over a period of time. It takes prayer, spending time in God’s Word, and getting to know each other before you and the church can discern what God is doing in and through his body.
I haven’t always followed these first steps. It’s really easy to pull out my bag of tricks and get to work. It’s much more difficult to take the time to discover who God has called the church to be. What first steps would you add? Let me hear from you.