One of the largest mistakes pastors make when they come into a new church is to make too many changes too quickly and without adequate process. In doing so, the coinage they started out with due to high expectations of the congregation diminishes greatly and may even be fatal. It also reveals a deep lack of sensitivity to congregants who feel their church was hijacked by the vision of one at the expense of the vision of the whole.

In most cases, changes are needed when a congregation reinvisions itself with a new leader. That is not the issue. The issue is how it is done and at what expense and with what process.

Think of the message congregants hear when a new leader brings major change quickly. They hear that the past was of no value, that their efforts and energy over the years has been discounted and devalued and this is compounded when new pastors publicly say things like "I wouldn't want to come to church in a facility like this." Or "we need vision." All that and more might be true but the message it sends is that the past has not accounted for much of anything. 

Think of the feeling of congregants when services are suddenly changed, ABF's taken away or other major changes to staff and programming seemingly unilaterally made. Their church has been stolen! It is how it feels. And it is all the more painful when adequate discussion and process has not been run but it just happens. Note to new pastors: feelings and perceptions matter both because we are in the people business and because we will lose our followers and ability to lead if we unnecessarily disenfranchise our people.  Another note to new pastors: This is not your church, it is our church so can we have a conversation about this together?

Here are key principles that pastors should pay attention to when coming into a new ministry setting.
  • If you envision the future at the expense of the past you have just devalued those who were responsible for making the church what it is today.
  • It is not your church but our church so it is not just your vision that matters but a common vision that we can all buy into.
  • Wait at least a year to make major changes. You might learn a few things along the way and earn some relational credits that will allow you to manage change better. Why the huge hurry? It is not about you but about the church as a whole.
  • When you do make changes, ensure that you run process, process, process. This will include conversation, dialogue, and more conversation and dialogue. People in general are change adverse and need to be brought with you.
  • Be gracious. Understand the feelings of people, empathize with the pain of change, shepherd them through the change.
  • Just because something is not organized the way your would organize it does not mean it is not working. Find out what is working and how to make it better and pace the change so that people can keep up.
  • The people who are in the church when you come matter. One needs to be as concerned for them as for the "target audience" that many new pastors have in mind. Another way to devalue those who are there is to talk about the target audience to the exclusion of those already in the congregation.
To many new pastors think it is their job to fix all the broken things in the congregation they come to. First we need to love people and see what needs fixing. If we fix and change at the expense of loving and shepherding we go the sequence wrong. And likely what it means to pastor a church.

All of T.J. Addington's books including his latest, Deep Influence,  are available from the author for the lowest prices and a $2.00 per book discount on orders of ten or more.
  • Sep 24, 2014
  • Category: News
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