One of my favorite comments from my seminary training was, “You only get two new changes in the first year of your call, and you are the first change. So you only get one more; choose wisely.” I have found that advice to be Master Yoda-like wisdom, for all those Star Wars fans. As a new shepherd coming into a new setting too much change too soon sends a message to the congregation and not always a good message. It says to them, “Here are all things you have been doing wrong, and lucky you I am have been called by God to fix you.” Listen to the wisdom of Proverbs 14, “Patience leads to abundant understanding, but impatience leads to stupid mistakes.” The temptation will become overwhelming to walk into a new place and make an immediate impact, resist that temptation. Here are some important reasons why:
1. Your changes need to be built on the foundations of relationships.
To be clear, if there are issues of doctrine that is a different matter, but even there you need to take the time to instruct before correction. Here we are thinking about issues of practice and tradition. The things being done have usually developed over a long period of time and have become second nature to the congregation. When you decided to take on that sacred cow, you need to first understand how the sacred cow became sacred. Who instituted the practice and why? Are you unknowingly attacking the ideas of a beloved former pastor or charter member? You don’t often win those fights by the way. However, how you go about addressing the issue is spending time with God’s people in meaningful conversation as you are building lasting relationships, so you develop the assets of trust. When change backfires it is often because people question your motives and don’t know you well enough to trust your actions. In being patient enough to build on the foundation of strong lasting relationships, you earn the right to be trusted and make necessary changes but takes time.
2. Remember to minister to your family.
So often pastors are so excited and eager to get going in their new calling that they tend to forget the emotional changes that the family is going through. As a congregation here is where you can be a huge blessing. This is a great ministry opportunity for the lovely compassionate ladies of the congregation to take the time to build a relationship with the new pastor’s wife and family. Imagine the anxiety the new wife in that new community is experiencing. Wondering if people will like and receive her as a valued member of this long established community. She doesn’t have a history there. Usually no family connections. It is just her small family unit providing support and a sense of comfort. Wouldn’t be great for the people with the gift of hospitality to take time to intentionally plan ways to make this family feel a part of this community? This is one area I see that determines how long a pastor may stay. If the family never gets integrated into the church’s community, it makes for an unhappy congregation/pastoral marriage.
With all the talk of elections and transitions here are just some thoughts for pastors and congregations to consider. To God be the Glory!