What Not to do when You’re the New Guy
I must admit that I was surprised to receive this writing assignment. What do I know about being the new guy? I haven’t been “new” at my church in over twenty-six years.
Then again, maybe I can gather a few morsels from personal experience and observation, some of which falls into the category of what I wish I’d done differently. There is no priority of order here, except perhaps the first one.
So what shouldn’t you do when you’re the new guy? Here are seven things to watch out for.
1. Don’t forget the needs of your wife and family.
You’re establishing a job, but you are also helping your wife establish a home. Help her in every way you possibly can with her God-given “nesting” desires. Certainly, make sure she is content with the order of the house before you attend to your home office.
Be sensitive to the needs of your children, especially their need to be with dad. But, you say, there is so much to be done to get started at the church. Stop! Start at home. Actually, new pastors ought to think of moving into their new home at least a couple of weeks before assuming any duties at the church, just to be able to help their family transition.
2. Don’t abuse the honeymoon.
Consider the marriage analogy. The honeymoon is for the purpose of taking a quantum leap forward in the intimacy of the relationship and for setting the course of the marriage. So also in the church, the new pastor’s honeymoon period is not for getting a free pass to do whatever you want.
Use this time to get to know them as much as you let them get to know you. Establish your relationship with the congregation. Set the tone for your ministry. Read Richard Baxter’s The Reformed Pastor. You will be challenged by his intimate care for God’s flock.
3. Don’t disparage your predecessor, publicly or privately.
The title of this article presupposes that you are not the planting pastor of the church. Therefore, unlike the Apostle Paul, you are building on another’s (often many others’) foundation. More often than not your predecessor was a man just like you who was doing the best he could in spite of his own shortcomings. So be gracious to him in your own mind and make a hero of him before the church. Look for ways to compliment him publicly.
In the rare cases where the previous pastor was ousted for moral failure and you need to address this publicly, try to find something to commend him for prior to his sin. And communicate your sadness that his ministry ended the way it did, both for his sake and the sake of the church.
4. Don’t make big changes too quickly.
If you were to ask me how quickly you should make major changes, I would say that it depends on whether you would like a long honeymoon or a short one.
Take the long view. See yourself as a shepherd who gives his life for the sheep rather than as a corporate turn-around specialist—here today, gone tomorrow. Changing things immediately suggests to your church that they’ve been doing it all wrong.
We need to constantly remind ourselves throughout our ministries, but especially at the beginning of a new one, that we’re leading a church, a family of God’s people, not a corporation.
5. Don’t project the problems of your previous ministry onto your new church.
If you must focus on things that shouldn’t happen again, let them be your mistakes, not others’. Too often a pastor who is transitioning to a new place remembers all of his former church’s issues and sets his face like flint, saying, “I’m never going to let that happen again.”
Your ministry should not be ego-centric, but Christo-centric. Let it be driven by the Lord’s desires for your present church, not by the problems of your former church.
6. Don’t share intimate details about members of your former church in your preaching.
Any pastor who leaves a church brings a storehouse of potential sermon illustrations with him. Be very careful how you use them. The way you talk about your last church will tell your new congregation how you might talk about them to your next church. Too much talk will prompt them, perhaps subconsciously, to hold you at arm’s length.
7. Don’t think of yourself more highly than you ought to think (Rom. 12:3).
As human beings who like to be loved and appreciated as much as the next person, we pastors can get swept up in the glow of the congregation’s excitement over their new pastor. There is nothing wrong with their feeling this way. Reality will set in soon enough. But it is extremely dangerous for you to join them in their unrealistic estimation of how wonderful you are.
Keep in mind that they have had pastors before you and that they will have pastors after you. The relay race of shepherding this church is long; this is simply your leg. Receive and carry the baton carefully. You will pass it to another new guy.
Finally, be steadfastly faithful. Preach the Word. Love the flock (1 Cor. 15:58).