Off a young man goes to his first pastorate. All those years of study and preparation are finally being realized. He has sent out resumes, endured interviews, experienced ordination exams, and waited anxiously for some church to call and say, “We want you to be our pastor.” He packs up the U-haul with all his family’s belonging, his books are sealed in boxes, he heads across the country, arrives in the field, and he is ready to begin pastoring. Where to start? What to do?
There are so many wonderful things that call for his attention: he wants to institute a more helpful Sunday school curriculum for children, launch a systematic overhaul of the diaconate, engage the community in a new way, equip the elders to shepherd, implement a new order of worship, encourage the congregation to embrace church planting, and the list goes on. He believes the Lord has given him a vision for the church—he knows where it needs to go. This is great—vision is a gift the Lord has given to Him. This is one of the reasons the congregation extended a call to him. But a wise visionary will put the “breaks on.” He cannot and should not be the proverbial “bull in a china shop.”
Start slow. Exercise self-control. Get to know your people. Get to know the church. Take your time. Don’t launch new initiatives in the first six months. The Lord has given you a honeymoon and use it to be a student rather than a teacher. It will pay dividends in the long-run. Invite families over for dinner. Ask penetrating questions about their lives and the life of the church. Make pastoral visits. Explore their struggles, recognize their sins, identify their gifts, and discover their passions.
Give them time to get to know you. The church needs time to trust your leadership. Invest added time in the elders and deacons. Discover the next generation of leadership waiting in the wings. Identify the church matriarch or patriarch. There is usually at least one. You will want to know who they are for discussions and initiatives down the road.
Begin by preaching through a small book of the Bible (Ruth, Jonah, Philippians, Colossians). Don’t launch into a three year campaign wading through Isaiah. Diving into a long book can be hard for even the most seasoned congregations, who know and trust their pastor. They will appreciate hearing you preach from a few different books and even genres to start with. At the beginning, shy away from books with hard passages or difficult central messages. Pick a book like Philippians or Colossians that will allow you to encourage and easily set Christ before the congregation. There is something to be said for allowing the congregation to get to know you and you them, before warning them about false teachers (1 Timothy), addressing suffering (1 Peter), legalism (Galatians), and the justice of God (Judges). They will hear it better from a man they know loves them and someone they have grown to respect.
Start slow. This isn’t a lack of leadership, it is actually leadership in action. Get to know your people and give them the opportunity to get to know you. And then boldly lead them in the vision you and the elders of the church believe God has given.