Today (June 12, to be exact), clergy across South Georgia are moving to their new appointments (churches). I am blessed to be reappointed to Wesley United Methodist Church at Frederica for my fifth year! I am looking forward to many more years together with the great people in this wonderful church, but alas, the purpose of this post is not to praise Wesley. This post is to help those who may be moving to a new appointment. While I haven’t moved as often as others, I have moved to two churches that were in difficult transition periods. In each of those, we experienced success. The most important thing I learned is get started well and manage expectations. Hopefully, these two lessons will be helpful for you.
First, be careful what you change. I do not subscribe to the school of thought that you don’t change anything the first year. I do not believe that is a good strategy or shows good leadership. The better course is to find the things that need to be changed that produce small wins for you and the congregation. These changes should be needed changes that help you gain support among the stakeholders. You may see some things YOU want to change, but they may strike at the identity of the congregation (whether healthy or not). You need time and trust to deal with larger, more complex changes. How do you know which is which? Conduct a series of home meetings and invite every member of your church (active and inactive). Set the groups up by neighborhoods or based on convenient time slots. Break up the advocacy groups (a Sunday school class, or interest group). Let them meet with those outside their regular group. If you serve a small congregation, you can do this one on one. Ask them the following: “What are the strengths of this church?” “What are the areas of growth?” (Notice I didn’t say weakness). And, “If money were no object and we could not fail, what one thing would you like to see our church do?” Collect all the answers, pray, listen, discern, read context…only then target areas where change is needed. The complex stuff can wait until you show you are one of them and not just some outsider or hired hand. One piece of advice I always heeded…don’t let worship be one of the first things you change. The worship service is a key formative part of their identity…to change that before you understand the meaning of why they do what they do is…well, not very smart.
Second, let the leadership of the church assist you in determining your priorities as pastor. News flash…you can’t do everything. And you certainly can’t do everything well (even though some of us think we can). You need to determine your priorities each year and you need input from the church leadership as you determine them. I was given this list by my mentor Dr. Jim Jackson, Senior Minister of Chapelwood UMC in Houston, Texas. I have used it regularly and found it very helpful. There are 12 categories. Produce a sheet with the 12 and hand out to your Staff Parish Committee, or other leadership groups, and ask them to rank them 1 to 12 according to the way they think their pastor should use their time – 1 is most important, 12 least important. The list is (in no particular order).
- Worship Planning and Preaching – planning and leading worship, sermons, etc.
- Teaching and Discipling – teaching bible studies, confirmation, new member classes, study courses, Sunday school, etc.
- Counseling – provide guidance for individuals, couples, families, be involved in their lives, decisions, and crises
- Visiting and Care Giving – visiting from house to house, calling on members, hospital visitation, shut in visitation
- Evangelizing/Church Growth – reaching new people in community for Christ, bring them into church, introduce them to discipleship,
- Consensus Building/Fundraising – resolve conflict in church, build harmony, focus on stewardship and raising budget, paying off debt
- Administration & Communication – working with staff and key laity to develop plans and programs that reach members and the community, programming of church
- Staff Supervision & Mentoring – serving as “head of staff”, being point person in developing staff responsibilities, select, supervise, and develop staff
- Family Leader – cultivate a model family life, inspire church and community
- Personal Spiritual Development – engage in spiritual disciplines, prayer, bible study, spiritual leadership
- Community Leader – serve as church’s representative in the community, face of church, civic involvement
- Denominational Leader – participate in United Methodism beyond local church, district, conference, jurisdictional and general level
After your leadership ranks the categories, determine the top five. After a time of prayer and discernment, try your best to make the top five your top priorities for time and energy during the first year. The others areas should not be neglected, but you need to remember that what you like to do and what the people of the church feel you need to do should be balanced together. All of these things are worthy and good. This is all about managing expectations.
Remember, if you want to conduct deeper change in any congregation, you have to earn trust and that takes time…along with making good decisions. These things simply help you get started well. My prayer is that all the new pastors will be blessed in their new appointments and that God will work in wonderful ways through you and through the church!