Your Inheritance (Excepted from "The New Position Handbook")
This chapter is composed of some hints and insights that are designed to help you in your work in God's cause. It is an accumulation of nuggets of wisdom picked up along my journey. I've written with a beginning minister in mind, but the content will, hopefully, help anyone in Gospel work. These insights are mine and mine alone. If you find they are of benefit, then it has been worth my effort to pass them along to you.
First, although you may be new to your church, you're not starting in a vacuum. If the previous pastors have trained the members to call them by their first name, you're going to have to retrain them. First names were okay 2000 years ago, but now things have changed. If you're just Joe or Joyce to them, the congregants aren't going to be as easily persuaded to follow as they would be if Pastor, Rector, etc, were leading them. In my opinion, Pastor Joe/Joyce isn't much better. Perhaps, if you have an uncommon last name that is difficult for people to remember, you may consider becoming Pastor B. But the title and lack of familiarity will work for you. This, in no way, is a suggestion for you to be elitist or to hold yourself aloof from your members. In the Seminary one of our instructors stated that we were not to have friends in our churches. In reality, it was a nonsensical piece of advice. Jesus called his followers, friends.
The disciple, John, calls himself the disciple that Jesus loved. Some of the disciples were closer to the Lord than others. Some were privileged to experiences with the Lord that others missed. Although Jesus loved all of his followers the same, some responded more to Him. You will have a similar experience. Some of your members will respond to your ministry more than others. You will have a special relationship with some of your members, but not all. Hopefully, with God's help, you'll treat every member with equanimity. But you'll see that some just respond much more positively than others. When members show respect to the office you're holding, it shows they recognize God has called you, that you're not just someone who showed up to lord it over them.
The point here is that you are following someone. They have left an imprint of their ministry upon the congregation. The overall effect of your predecessor is staring you in the face upon your arrival. To a certain extent, at first, you are going to reap good or evil from the effects of the last person who served in position.
I moved to one church where the pastor had made a habit of going to community meetings and volunteering his congregation's help with projects. No problem? Yes, problem! He didn't inform the church of "their commitment" until shortly before they were scheduled to honor the pastor's promise. In order to avoid the humiliation of not performing, the church would go into near pandemonium to accomplish their task. This wasn't motivation coming from the spiritual leader, but manipulation. He also began a tradition known as "egging the pastor;" in which he ran a gauntlet of church members who threw raw eggs at him. This was a tradition that died with my arrival.
Following in the footsteps of someone who blew it can be tough for you. In a district where I had the misfortune of paying for the "sins" of my predecessor, I endured some interesting board meetings. During the first of those assemblies with the leadership, one of the church members placed a voice recorder on the table to see that I was held accountable for my statements. After discovering what the previous pastor had been pulling, recording my presentations didn't seem all that outlandish. A few months later I knew I'd made progress when the recorder was absent.
In another church I asked the outgoing pastor if there were any major problems or people that I should especially watch. "No," he told me. "No problems in this church." I later learned he had been the problem. I also discovered it was going to take a long time to gain the confidence of the church's leadership. After two and a half years of continually being thwarted in many ideas and never seeing much change in the attitudes of key people, I moved on. Recognizing when it just isn't going to work is very important.
On the other hand, my most successful ministerial experience was in a church where I was "Pastor" from the get go. The more respect for the office of the pastor, the more they'll listen and follow. After about a year of speaking in the pulpit at the church, one of the members thought I should be featured in a television program. Within just a few months, not only did we have our half hour program being aired twice a week, but my members had also built a sound proof studio complete with two fully furnished sets, three cameras, special effects board, and a control room. Monitors adorned the walls to the delight of the techno geeks. A very dedicated man, who wasn't yet a church member, dedicated himself to reading, learning, and implementing the use of an editing machine. I was so proud of the work the TV crew produced. We delivered a completely edited television program which included a host and hostess, a speaker (me), music, and built-in advertising of up-coming events.
Instead of having to answer my members' questions about what a televangelist had said the previous weekend, I imagined area ministers having to think hard to explain what I'd said on last week's program. Better them than....
Those things we accomplished were a result of a well-developed appreciation of the pastoral office. Again, if you discover you've inherited such a church, you should know that this means at least a couple of things to you. If respect for your position is already present, you are honor bound to preserve it. Someone before you held themselves to a high standard and you are reaping the benefits. If people of character have laid the foundation for your success, you owe it to your own successor to do the same.
Secondly, if the congregation is pliable and ready to follow, you'd better be on your knees long before you make suggestions or attempt to present a plan of action. They really are your responsibility - your flock. They look to you with trust in their eyes. They'll soon know if you have their interests at heart and if you have a spiritual connection with the real Leader. When they become convinced of your authenticity, hang on, because you're going for a great ride. You'll develop a closeness with some of the members that often transcends blood relations. Both you and your congregation will be in awe of what God will do through the minister/member team.
Remember; don't plan in too great detail. Leave some room for Providence to provide some unexpected, unplanned opportunities. One of my minister buddies admitted once to me that he loved planning. He'd sit for whole days in his office and map out great plans. But, he confessed, I never do anything about them. Often, it's best to have a general plan of action and act, rather than to develop finely tuned, brilliant strategies and to shelve them.
I was able to buy a sailboat once. It was quite an adventure just getting it launched and worthy of a Three Stooges episode. I had painted her, the teak was refurbished, and it looked beautiful. The problem was I wasn't sailing it. There were parts spread over the deck and in the small cabin. One afternoon, I was showing her to some members. A doctor asked, "Why don't we take it out for a cruise?"
While I was thinking of all the things that she needed before going out on the lake, he grabbed the tall mast and asked a few others to help him step it. Within an hour, my boat was on the lake capturing a good breeze and chugging through the water! It took someone to act. It took just one person to start the process. We were so close to accomplishing our mission, but a paralysis of indecision stymied me. It only took a small effort and we were sailing and enjoying a brand new life experience!
Look at what you'd like to accomplish. Are you closer than you think? What action will be necessary in order to launch the operation? If no one is willing to take that first, courageous step, check the mirror.
When movement begins, board meetings will resemble a family getting together to see what opportunities God has presented for them this month. Remember, a good shepherd leads with confidence while showing the church the way God wishes them to go. The only way to be certain of the plan is to have a good long talk beforehand with your Heavenly Dad.