“Don’t change anything for a year!”
That has been an adage forever for a pastor who is new to a church. I wish I had a quarter for every time I’ve heard it. (That is a nickel indexed for inflation.)
The concept includes some truth. It can be expressed in several ways. First, “Seek first to understand, then be understood.” We should listen with both ears when we begin a new ministry. Second, “Learn the history. Its important.” Yup. No one wants to step on a landmine needlessly! Finally, “If you change too much, people will get upset.” There is some truth to that, but here is where I push back.
Here are three reasons to consider change when you first arrive in a ministry.
The “Honeymoon” doesn’t last forever, and it is an opportunity for change.
The honeymoon in a church is real, and it affords an opportunity. There is always an amount of goodwill in the early days of a ministry. It’s like a first date: people are putting their best foot forward. It doesn’t always last as long as a year, depending on context. Did you follow a beloved pastor? That can shorten the honeymoon. Did you come after a difficult season or pastorate? That can extend it.
However long the honeymoon, it offers you goodwill to make some changes. Major or controversial ones should be avoided, unless there is already tremendous momentum for a previously considered change. Resentments can linger beyond the honeymoon if the change is drastic. People may not push back during the honeymoon, but they may have long memories. Continue reading for counsel on the types of changes to consider.
You are handed a “stack of chips” when you start a ministry.
Figuratively, you have chips you can cash in when you start a ministry. While this is similar to a honeymoon, this metaphor reminds you that once the chips are cashed in, they are gone. You can earn more, but you lose chips when a change (or mistake) is made. The stack of chips you have when you arrive may not be there after a year has past. It is wise to use them before you squander them.
Changes that are made early on can afford great momentum and benefit.
A new start affords the chance to start critical ministries. For example, new small groups, missional emphases in the community, worship services, staff additions or building projects may be possible. In one church I served, a new part-time staff member was promised. I immediately followed through on that promise, and God blessed us with a good hire and fruitful area of ministry. A second change was a small building project. The nursery was completely overwhelmed, and the finances to expand that portion of the building were raised on a single Sunday! People were excited to see a tangible symbol that a “new day had begun.”
The power of symbol is critical. Change should be considered carefully. Remember, once chips are gone, it may be awhile before more have been accrued.
Knowing who you are as a pastor and your priorities is important. People are watching. Your choices communicate your values and vision. Here are questions to ask as you consider what to change.
- Prayerfully, what do you believe God is calling you to do?
- Are there “low hanging fruit” that constitute a “win-win” for most members of the church?
- What biblical priorities or purposes do you think need to be emphasized at this point in the church?
- Is the change too big? For example, the nursery expansion referenced above was a good move, but a huge building expansion was not needed. The need was clear and the goal was achievable.
- Are you creating vision whiplash? Major changes of direction or competing visions are seldom wise. Make sure you know why you are initiating a change and that it fits you and this ministry. Grasping at “trendy” ideas is likely to hurt -- and cost a large number of chips!
Pastor, what changes should you consider that will encourage the church and move its ministry forward?