As a result of some recent conversations, I have been burdened by the amount of pastors whose “honeymoons” are short-lived their first few months as the new pastor of a church. This can be the result of that pastor entering a very unhealthy, dysfunctional situation where there was no way to avoid the difficulties right away. However, I often observe it also comes from a new pastor’s arch-enemy his first year at a certain church…impatience. Because of this, I want to exhort every pastor in his first year at his new church with some of the best counsel I have every received going into a new church situation. Your tasks as a pastor in your first year can be summed up into 3 instructions:
Preach the Word. This is our calling. This is how a biblical church is built. This is how the people of your church will grow in Christ most fruitfully. This is how you want your ministry defined from the start. Preach expositionally through books of the Bible and establish this foundation as what will be the steady diet of the church. If we really believe that God is faithful to build His church upon the proclamation of His Word, then make that your primary and centralized focus, not new programs, leadership adjustments, or changes in music style.
Love the people. I continue to be amazed at the amount of pastors who think just because a church has hired them, agreed to pay their salary, and has given them an important title, doesn’t mean you have immediately earned the right for them to look to you as “their shepherd.” You earn that trust over time. You establish that clout with the intense pastoral efforts you make in your first years with them. Thus, if you are not found in your office studying to preach and teach God’s Word, then make sure you are found in the homes of your people, the local hospitals and nursing homes, the local coffee shops and restaurants, and funeral homes around town loving and caring for your people and earning the title of pastor and shepherd they have pre-maturely, but graciously given you.
Don’t Change Anything. In case I wasn’t clear let me say again…DON’T CHANGE ANYTHING!! Obviously, there are immediate needs and decisions that require change as staff come and go, leadership positions become vacant, and members move while others come into the church. The point is many pastors come into a church and the first thing they do is work to “set the church up” the way they want it and do so without any regard to how that affects the people. Remember, the most significant change has already taken place upon your arrival and that is what is preached from that pulpit. If we really believe the Word builds the church, then focus on preaching and teaching the Word and loving your people. There are plenty of “sacred cows” waiting for you to slaughter once you have laid a biblical foundation and shown these people you are there to love and shepherd them, not build your own kingdom…then bolt.
I am aware that life happens during this first year. Some matters of sin and dysfunction must be addressed early on and each pastor must choose those battles wisely. Yet, we become convinced on so many issues (music, service order, polity, membership roles, staff, etc.) that they must be dealt with now, or we are being unfaithful. I would argue faithfulness comes when we dedicate our time to tirelessly preach God’s Word, love His people, and tolerate those things we wish were different until God puts us in a better, healthier, and more influential position to bring needed change.