There are very few things more important and impactful than a pastor’s first year in a new place of ministry. It’s an exciting and challenging time for both the pastor, his family and the church.
I never will forget, not long after moving to South Carolina and our church there, standing in the front foyer talking with one of the sweet senior adult ladies. I was sharing my vision and some of the challenges I was experiencing, and I lamented, “It’s hard being the new pastor.” She replied,
“It’s hard having a new pastor, too.”
So, you’ve just received a call to a new pastorate. What should you do to make sure you have a successful, enjoyable and lasting ministry?
1. Spend time with God
Prayer is indispensable and too often ignored in pastoral ministry. We get busy with the daily pressure and pleasure of planning services, preaching sermons and spending time with the people. In the midst of the ministry never forget: your ministry will never be any stronger than your personal prayer life.
2. Spend time with your people
You’ve been called to be the pastor – the shepherd – of a congregation. Walk among them. Get to know them. Never underestimate the power of a pastor’s personal touch.
I remember a mentoring group I had the privilege of being part of several years ago. One day we were blessed to spend the day with Jim Henry, longtime pastor of First Baptist Church, Orlando, FL. One of the other young pastors in the group shared how he and his mom had been members of Dr. Henry’s previous church in Tennessee. He told how he and his mom sat on the back row near the door every Sunday. Then he made this statement to Dr. Henry. “I’ll never forget how you would come in and pat me on the head every single service. As the son of a single mom that made a huge impact on my life!”
3. Preach your best stuff
You’ve heard it before. “You never get a second chance to make a first impression.” If you become known as a “good preacher” and one Sunday blow it in the pulpit they’ll just think you had a bad day. But, if you become known as a “poor preacher” you could preach the stars down, and they’ll likely think you “just got lucky.”
4. Discover your influencers
You are the pastor, but there are influencers in every church that can significantly help or hinder your ministry. Look for the people that others look to during times of decision. Seek to develop relationships with them. Their influence, and wisdom, will greatly help you as you seek to lead the church.
5. Learn the facilities
It’s imperative for you to get to know your church building. Walk through it thoroughly, weekly and intentionally. Make notes of what needs to be cleaned, fixed or updated. This is where a large part of your ministry will take place, so give it your personal attention. You don’t have to have a lot of financial resources to make changes people will appreciate. Neat and clean is always a good thing – just be careful not to throw away something important.
6. Get to know your community
Learn the roads and major areas. Spend time just driving around. Walk around downtown or wherever people gather. Go to the ball games, eat in the local restaurants, find out who the elected officials are, and introduce yourself to local pastors and leaders. This is where you get to put into personal practice the principle of “incarnational ministry.”
7. Don’t change things that matter
I learned this principle from Wayne Herring, a member of the church plant we led in Ohio. Wayne was, at the time, the midwest CEO for UPS. He’s a great leader and gave me valuable counsel as I was transitioning to our new ministry in South Carolina. “You’re the new pastor. They expect for there to be some change. Just be careful of changing those things that personally affect your people.” (I now refer to this as “changing the face” of a church.) As you go along and develop more trust with your congregation you’ll be able to change things of more significance if needed.
8. Set goals that are ambitious, but achievable
If you don’t make goals you’ll never meet goals. Consider the demographics and population trends of your ministry field as well as how many people your building and property can reasonably accommodate. Get accurate numbers to use as a baseline and set a reasonable number to aim for during the course of the year.
9. Build your team
Whether you have a small staff, a large staff, or no staff at all, you will have to build a team in order to have an effective ministry. Identify, enlist, and train people to help you accomplish the ministry and vision God has given you. Involve them. Invest in them. Listen to them. Then empower them to do the work of the ministry.
10. Don’t do anything stupid
I’ve always said to the churches I’ve been called to serve, “Am I going to make a few mistakes? No. I’m going to make a bunch of mistakes.” Your church knows you’re not Jesus. They know that you’re going to make mistakes, just don’t make stupid ones. What are stupid mistakes? Stupid mistakes are those that are moral, ethical or scriptural in nature. Stupid mistakes are those that may be forgiven but are such that your ministry there is effectively over.
The first year can be frightening.
Being the new pastor can feel like trying to keep your head above water in a fast rising tide, but it doesn’t have to be that way. I pray that these simple, practical tips will help you to be more comfortable and confident as you settle into your new pastorate.