Robert Gifford offers great advice for those joining a new ministry:
In this post I’m going to assume that you have found a new place to serve and now change is coming. If you haven’t found a new place to serve yet you should check out fellow Worship Ministry Catalyst contributor Josh Ferris’ series on Getting Hired as a Worship Pastor.
So imagine with me, you have left your last church or job. Hopefully you have left on the best of terms, and everyone is sad to see you go. You pack up your office, load up all of your possessions, and prepare to move your family to the next place God has called you. Perhaps your story is a bit different and this is your first ministry position and instead you have just finished College or Seminary and this is the first place of service for you. Maybe neither of those fit you. It could be that you are a layperson, with no ministry training or experience that has been asked to take over a ministry of your church or a sister church in the area. No matter your situation, it isn’t easy. It isn’t easy for you and isn’t easy for the church. Most people don’t usually like change, and in some cases you are coming in as the new guy after a person who has been there for decades. So before you cause a riot, fight the law, or rock the Casbah. Yes, the Clash puns are intentional. Here are a few tips for transitioning to a new ministry and church.
1. Learn as much as you can about the Church.
It is important to take time to assess the situation and find out what is going on. What are you walking in to? Hopefully you have asked lots of questions and got lots of information during the interview processes, but nothing prepares you for the actual reality of the situation. Learn the history of the church. Get to know the people, where they have been, where they are now, and where they are going. Get to know the lay leaders of the church. If there is one, call the city/county/regional association or diocese and ask them about the church. Even call sister churches around the area to find out information. If you are taking over a ministry of a church you are a member at, you might think you know what all is going on but you would be surprised how much information there is about the church’s operations that you might not know about. Don’t be afraid to ask questions. Like the old GI Joe cartoon PSAs say, “knowing is half the battle.”
2. Be patient and be prepared give a lot of grace.
Be patient and assume that you will inherit some unresolved baggage. You will need to pay particular attention if you walk in to a situation where a long time minister has left the church, if the church has forced their minister to leave, or if the minister left because of impropriety. All of these situations require healing on the part of the congregation for different reasons. Just because there was an interim minister it doesn’t mean that the healing is complete. Be patient and assume that there will still be lots of baggage. This can be difficult since it requires a lot of effort and time, which are two things that can be in short supply when going to a new church. Even though you are busy, taking some time to do this and fix these holes in the beginning can do wonders in the long run.