Set Yourself Up for Success in Your New Church

Starting a new ministry assignment is always a challenge. Here are a few tips which might help set you up for success.

1. Listen for the history

One of the biggest errors pastors commit when they arrive at a new church is that they fail to listen. Every church, like every person, has a history. Regardless of whether that history is painful or joyous, it is important to the people of your church family and they want to share it with you, their new pastor.

The people of your church family will not be interested in where you want to lead them if you are not interested in where they have been and how they got to where they are.

2. Invest in your leaders

Spend time getting to know the key leaders of the congregation. If 20 percent of the people do 80 percent of the work, then invest a significant amount of your time in that 20 percent. In every church, there are decision makers. These are individuals to whom others look for direction. This may not necessarily be you, the pastor. As pastor, you must find these people, gain their confidence, and earn the right to influence them.

Investing time in these people in the early days of your ministry will pay off in the years that follow.

3. Love your people

When I was younger I had an older pastor tell me to just "love my people and preach the Word and everything would be fine." The longer I live the more I see the wisdom in that advice. People will forgive your mistakes and follow you if they know you love them. If they do not know this they will be less forgiving and more cautious about following you.

Love is something you demonstrate. Visiting hospitals, writing notes, returning phone calls, and taking time with people, demonstrates your love. During the first few months at your church it is essential that you spend as much time with individuals as possible. This is how you communicate your love.

4. Provide good leadership

Leadership can be good or bad. Allow me to suggest a few ways in which your leadership style can enhance, rather than inhibit, your ability to be effective in your new setting.

A. Personal humility

This is an essential leadership trait for all pastors who would enjoy success. Church people are not fools. They can spot pride a mile away and will resist it even as God resists the proud. Humility means being able to admit you don't know it all, to ask advice, to walk in without any assumptions and to be unconcerned about getting recognition.

B. Practical preaching

Solid preaching is an essential part of good leadership. While you should limit the number of changes you make in the first few months of your tenure, the pulpit gives you a wonderful platform to share your heart and prepare the hearts of your people for the changes that could come in the future. You can never go wrong when you preach God's word.

C. Patience

Another common mistake with new pastors is that they enact too many changes too soon. Quickly made uninformed decisions can lead to relational nightmares. Most pastors are more eager to get their church to the next level than are their members. Don't be impatient. Rome was not built in a day but it was built.

Remember, you will have to earn the right to be heard and lead. It is not position which will earn you this right but character and relationship. God wants to bless you in your new place of service. Walk in wisdom and He will.

Dr. Calvin Wittman is pastor of Applewood Baptist Church, Wheat Ridge, Colorado. He serves as a trustee at Criswell College, and regularly contributes to Open Windows, a monthly LifeWay devotional publication.

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