Over the last 3 years I have spent a lot of time in our churches. I have heard stories which have taught me what is working and what isn’t-as new pastors begin. Here are a couple quick thoughts (cause it’s a busy day) on the first day of a new appointment.
1. You were not sent there to fix them. Even if the church is in crisis and they know it (which most don’t) don’t start with fixing what is wrong. Attendance down? Money down? Building falling down? You will be tempted to jump in, but don’t. Why? Honestly, you don’t know enough to know what to do. If you jump in to fixing them you will build anxiety, do the wrong thing (see #2) and start your new appointment on shaky ground. Turn to key leaders to fix things that must be given attention in those first months, let their wisdom, not your history, guide you.
2. This is not your former church. Sure, it may be in a similar community and yes, it is a UMC but it is not the same church as your last appointment. You will need to learn who they are before you can do anything genuinely helpful. And, don’t say, “At my last church we…” -no one wants to hear it. This is not your last church and much of what you know won’t (sadly) work here. The upside is you will get to learn new skills and grow!
So what can you do?
3. Spend the summer getting to know them and letting them know you. Have opportunities to gather together. Have fun. Laugh. Ask them friendly questions. Share your story and show them you don’t take yourself too seriously. Build relationships and make a good first impression. Even if this move wasn’t your idea don’t let them know it. Be positive, loving and above all trust in God’s unfolding. Keep a list (you will use it in #5) of your learnings as you listen, listen, listen.
4. Pray and Focus on the Basics. Begin with a renewed focus on the basics, including prayer. For churches to become more vital they need to be places of spiritually growing people. Sadly, the reality is many of our churches are not grounded in the basics. Start here not only for them but for you – prayer will ground you as you begin in a new community. Use your own prayer and Bible study time this summer to process any grief, regrets and learnings from your previous church.
5. Schedule a Fall Staff and/or Key Leader Retreat: Some folks will ask about your vision for the church. Let them know that you are spending the summer listening but that once fall comes you will be gathering with key leaders to put together a plan for the following year (for this year that would be 2017). During your summer of listening you will figure out who needs to be at the retreat and what some of the issues are. New Ministries can help by sharing demographics and helping you assess the church, just email us at NReilley@calpacumc.org
It’s July 1! May God’s great love in Jesus Christ open hearts in the church and community for a long and successful ministry!