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Guest Blogger: Jason Helopoulos

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.

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13 thoughts on “New Pastor Advice”

  1. Brian says:

    I’ve had a good run in my first 3 years and definitely broke a couple of those. I chose Mark to preach through (it took from June to Easter) and started a Mission Trip for the youth, a major change in the ethos of our community.

    The best part here in my humble opinion is spending lots of time getting to know people. That is by far the most important thing. Love covers up a multitude of sins and maybe that’s what happened to me.

    Thanks for the good advice! It could be used even for any new pastorate.

  2. Gordon Loop says:

    Thanks for the article. I was given similar advice from Dr Danny Akin. I have been the pastor of a little baptist church that has great potential for almost a year. No big changes, check. Preach on short books at first, almost check. I had the vision of clarifying the message that we believe, and then clarifying our mission. So in light of that I preached through Galatians, which took me 8 months. I did take a short break and preach through Ruth. Then I just began teaching through Acts. I believe this is what the Lord has given me.

  3. Deryk Hayes says:

    This is a dynamic post. At this time I am currently in prayer and seeking a lead pastor responsibility with a very strong church in which the last pastor served faithfully for over forty years, right up until the time of his death. I’ve been praying for this church for the last year (not praying that they would call me during that time), that God would hold this church together. In my cover letter I asked that they would not consider me if they weren’t willing to care for the last pastor’s widow and if they weren’t willing to set aside time on a annual basis to celebrate God for the long and fruitful work that God did through the last pastor. (Please mention me, my wife and two daughters who are ages 8 and 1 in your prayers if you read this. As it relates to sermon series and teaching, I prayerfully anticipate being able to preach and teach through Christian Beliefs by Wayne Grudem. I believe that my ultimate and initial call as a pastor is to love, learn from, lead, partner with and equip God’s people.

  4. A good addendum to this article are Glen Damon’s two books. Leading the Small Church and Shepherding the Small Church. The aren’t only good for small churches, but for the first time pastors of any church.

  5. LWesterlund says:

    Good practical advice and responses, but how can this be discussed without talking about the Holy Spirit who calls, equips, empowers, rebukes, encourages, enlightens, and Who alone does the eternal work in hearts?

  6. I am 6 weeks into my first pastorate with a small church in Arlington, Texas and where the average age of most of the congregants is older than 75, with 3 families under 50 years of age. I’m 43 and my wife is a few years younger than me, so we could be considered as grandchildren to many of those who belong to this church and we’re thankful to God, for bringing us here too.

    I started preaching through James since September 1st and this Sunday we’re at James 2:8-13 and on we’ve also just completed a study in Ruth on Wednesday nights and I’d tomorrow we’ll begin a study in Jonah.

    I had considered starting a study on Wednesday nights in Ecclesiastes, but decided not to move ahead with this, since 4 chapters in Jonah would be good for both myself and the congregation.

    The church here is eager to see a younger generation of people become part of this church, yet our disadvantage is that we don’t have very many able bodied people to participate in outreach events for several hours at a time. I have stated to them that while we are limited in what physically can be done, we’re not incapable of doing something. But it is my prayer that God will send more younger laborers to this church, since we need them and that many new people in this city would be won to Christ.

    I’m eager to see what God will do through us in the next 6-12 months and would greatly appreciate your prayers for Central Assembly of God, in Arlington, Texas.

    @Morris Brooks, thanks for posting those book titles. I’m going to look them up for my Kindle shortly.

  7. Alexander Thomas says:

    Great advice! Very enlightening, I apace preached one week at an out reach church in a mobile home park. I am 16, and need prayers, we average around 12 people and hope to grow and reach more. Thank you for this article, and if you read this please pray for Dogwood Community church

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