7 Essential Guidelines for Pastors Entering a New Pastorate

As sure as there is a right way to leave your pastorate, there is an excellent way for you to enter a new pastorate. Dare I tread into this highly opinionated subject? Somebody needs to go there. Right?

The proper way to enter a new pastorate begins with leaving your former pastorate correctly. Read about “the right way to leave” here. If you did not exit with the right motives, you are destined for a rough landing.

Deal with any unresolved issues before you move forward (read “How Not to Leave Your Pastorate” here). If you left the last church because you were running away from problems, they will catch up with you. You will find another set of similar issues in your near future. Difficulties in ministry cannot be avoided. Therefore, deal with them as they arise and learn all you can from them. This will help you and the congregation maintain spiritual health.

Assuming now that you left the last place with the proper motives and according to God’s timing, you are ready to move forward. You are spiritually healthy and prepared for the next assignment. Right?

What is your modus operandi? 

Is this your second, third, or fourth pastorate? Have you learned anything about proper transitions?

Every church is different. Every pastor is different. 

Some churches want no change, regardless of what they told you during the candidating process. Some new pastors wish to change everything as soon as they arrive. Both extremes should be avoided to the uttermost.

Here’s my reality. No one can provide a proven strategy, guaranteed to work with every pastor and church match-up (tweet this). Each process needs to be customized by how the Spirit of God is leading that particular transition.

Nevertheless, I can share some thoughts to serve as guidelines. Use these to develop your entering strategy and the rate at which you facilitate change.

  1. You are not the only player in this drama.

     There are lay leaders and staff members for which this transition is tricky too. Give them some Christ-like tender loving care.
  2. You will have an immediate request for a brief meeting from a handful of folks in your first few weeks.

     Be careful with this interaction. Some want to tell you that they campaigned for you to be their pastor. Some are not mature and seek to manipulate you. Some are power players that want to set you straight. Proceed with caution. Love the people and pray for them but do not cave into premature pressure for unclear agendas.
  3. You should not make any promises that would bind your future.

     For example, upon entering the pastorate, you could say, “I won’t be making any changes for six months.” That’s a vow you shouldn’t make. Change is a part of this transitional process. There is no need to smother what could be God’s will.
  4. You should know that both assumptions and presumptions can be dangerous.

     Some congregations assume their new pastor has taken the time to research their history and knows the obstacles that tripped former pastors. Some new pastors like to presume this adage; “it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than ask for permission.” Both can lead to early troubles.
  5. Your beginning title is, pastor, but you are not really in charge.

     This means you are not the church’s chief decision-maker. Most congregations of less than one hundred will not trust you to be that person for a few years. In the eyes of the most influential in the congregation, you are the preacher and the family chaplain. That’s not ideal, but your role can evolve and improve with tenure.
  6. You need to build relationships with the key people of your congregation.

     Who makes up this group will vary depending on the congregational size. Board members and staff members are where you should begin. Listen, learn, and befriend them. You will find it much easier to lead your congregation and reach your community with a group of friends than with a group of adversaries.
  7. You should get to know the outgoing pastor, if possible.

     You might not become best friends, but it could be a beneficial relationship. Don’t assume your predecessor was a know-nothing hireling. There was likely some sound reasoning behind most of what you’re walking into. Don’t feel threatened by your predecessor’s insights.

On the way to getting established, I would advise you to ask questions. Ask lots of them.

Therefore, I must ask you, what have I left out of this list? What else would you add to these guidelines? Join the conversation, leave a comment, and let’s pray for pastors and churches in transition.

Written by William Strickland. Pastor of Harvest Christian Center in Cantonment, FL. Husband to Lisa and father to three kids. To read more of Williams’s work, take a look at his blog and be sure to follow him on social media

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