In my career in public education, I remember the “fear” I felt with each new job I took.
When I entered the school’s parking lot, fear wanted me to turn around and drive back home. I never turned around. But, there were many days during those thirty one years when I thought to myself—“What in the world am I doing here?”
My guess is new preachers, or when a preacher starts a new appointment, he/she has “fear” as a companion. Additionally, preachers probably have the same days as educators when they ask a similar question—“God, why in the world did you send me here?”
This morning, July 3, was our first Sunday with our newly appointed preacher. If he was nervous, the preacher hid it well.
For many different reasons, churches are interesting places. Sitting in the top spot as to why churches are interesting comes down to this—people.
Preachers have the daunting task of trying to figure out their congregations. While congregations have the same challenge trying to figure out their new preacher.
Today, a congregation can go check out a new preacher by clicking the archive of sermons on a church’s website. Yes, that will give you a sample from the pulpit, but today a preacher must be more than a Bible toting, word hurler on Sunday mornings.
In our post-pandemic atmosphere, preachers must possess an assortment of skills to inspire a congregation. Congregations must also realize that a new preacher can’t be looked upon as the much needed hero who in a quick snap of his/her fingers is going to turn a church around.
Gastroenterologists, heart doctors, psychiatrist, and even God probably see an uptick in their appointments when a new preacher tries to settle into an established church.
Lots of potential collisions are on the preacher’s transitional path.
First, there is saying goodbye to the previous church and coordinating the move to the new assignment.
This is rapidly followed by greeting key leadership in the new congregation, meeting staff, learning as much as is humanly and humanely possible about the church in nanoseconds. And maybe most important, quickly determining who can help the preacher navigate the hidden cow pies in the church’s complicated internal and external landscape.
So, how does a new preacher survive?
As a person who has worked in a church for the last ten years, I believe new preachers in established churches need to consider the following:
Manage your pace. Don’t over commit your calendar.
But as you manage your pace, be sure to make time for visibility. Visibility is an opportunity to learn.
Make sure you understand in detail the pulse of the communication options that are accessible to you. Use those communication tools without abusing them. Know when you can effectively apply them with your own voice and words.
Don’t make promises. Promises can promote failure and create distrust. Neither is helpful for churches.
However, there is one promise that a new preacher should make. Make the promise to listen. This is absolutely critical in churches where listening to the congregation has been a closed loop.
Opportunities to listen to the congregation must be constructed so that all voices can be heard—the timid, the elderly, the young, and everyone in between.
Learn names. Even though your brain will resist, preachers sooner, rather than later must learn the names of their congregations. Knowing names makes a difference in building relationships.
Do not be afraid of the “c”word—change. When talking about change, help a congregation to understand that change has always been a part of their church. Ask them to reflect where their church would be now if change had not been embraced?
Planning—failure is guaranteed if collaborative, long term planning isn’t initiated. Plan boldly, but with a pinch of reality.
Show the congregation your heart. Convey your heart as a we heart, not a me heart.
Now for the congregational tips, I’m sorry, but I don’t have enough paper.
But, I do believe a congregation during a period of preacher transition needs to embrace the word patience in their hearts.
We live in a very impatient world.
At times, I’m a very impatient human being in our world.
Yet, to move, to nudge, to slightly turn a church requires patience.
And there is no better reminder of this than the words found in Colossians 3:12: “Therefore, as God’s chosen people, holy and dearly loved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, gentleness, and patience.”