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First Things

I'm much more relaxed starting this second appointment than starting my first appointment, when I really had no clue. I'm thinking a lot now about what I want to do differently than I did as I started at St. Paul's. What are the first things you want to do in a new ministry?

I was talking with a colleague on the phone yesterday and we were talking about the opportunity of a fresh start, a clean slate. If you were starting over in a new ministry setting, what would you do? What would be your priorities in the first weeks, months, and year? What would you not do that you had done in other settings?

Of course, some things - many things, are context-specific. And many are the things you just have to do, no matter where you are and what else you might accomplish. (Think: Paperwork. Pension and health insurance forms. Looking at files. Figuring out the schedule and rhythm of the church.)

Do you make changes? I know some people recommend not making any real changes in the first year. I don't think I stuck to that rule in Oneida. But I also remember as a youth resenting even small changes made by new pastors. One pastor changed Children's Time to Young People's Time. No big deal, right? I hated it! Ah, how your perspective can change when your role in the life of the church is different.

Questions: What are the first things you want to do in a new appointment? Are you of the "sit-back and see how things are working" mindset? Or are you a "jump in and make waves" approach? Or somewhere in the middle?

Comments

i don't know about the appointment start, but new job start i like to sit and listen. go out with the staff & active members & non-active members of the church, find out what the pulse of the church is. then dream up some stuff that the congregation might not be able to dream for themselves.
gmw said…
Hmm. Good question. A couple of things come to mind.

1. Reassess how I spend my time and try to set a good, healthy rhythm for that at the beginning. This includes reassessing my priorities and how those are or aren't lived out well in my routines. In Willimon's book Pastor, he quotes Henri Nouwen to this effect: "If you do not know what is absolutely essential in ministry, you will do the merely important." I try to think about this at periodic intervals throughout the year. Beginning an appointment is a natural time.

2. Like Gavin, intentionally getting in situations where I can listen. In a previous appointment, I got a breakfast with the lay leader within the first couple of weeks. We visited, I mostly listened. In the last few minutes, I asked him what I needed to know to get off to the right start. I was fortunate to have someone trustworthy with that question, but it was really helpful to get a healthy and well-respected person's input up front. I likewise arranged for lunches with all the chairs of the administrative committees, just to get some one-on-one time to get to know each other.

On the change nothing vs. change lots question, I tend to pick the one or two things I really want to change early and not touch anything else. I've left stuff I really wanted to change alone b/c I wanted those one or two things more and thought they would make the better big picture impact on the congregation. Even for those, I eased into them after a couple of months or so. Finding the intersection of the changes I want and the changes that will be quick and easy "wins" is the best.

I think that two things can help fill the bank for change efforts--good preaching and attentive pastoral care. Both of those take time to do well. Neither requires poor self-care and poor boundaries, though they're challenging. But the return on that time adds leadership collateral to good sermons and well cared-for people.

Probably nothing you hadn't already thought of, but that's me. If I was really on top of things, I would review this sort of thing once a year in the same appointment and deliberately re-center my approach.
Beloved Spear said…
I've tended to take things slowly. Getting a sense of the gestalt of the congregation and building a base of trust are essential to implementing change successfully.
John said…
I tried hard to not make any new changes right away, but discovered that I was making some by engaging in what I thought of as normal church procedure.
Andy B. said…
Just do your thing. Be true.
Anonymous said…
Hoping it goes well :)

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