I love survival guides. Ever since I was little and read survival guides for camping – how to build a fire for warmth, for cooking, etc. – I fell in love with the entire idea. I remember getting a worst-case survival guide for golf when I picked up the game and the humor of it was insane. With the recent resurgence of apocalyptic and zombie survival guides, I felt it might be helpful to add my own little survival guide for Rookie Pastors.
Surviving your first year
The honeymoon period of your ministry is exciting and wonderful, and you’ll be tempted to imagine life in this manner for the long-haul. You fall into the expectation that everything will be this easy and everyone this cooperative. Unfortunately, that’s probably not going to happen.
Maybe you’re the exception, but I’m just cynical enough to recommend that you don’t count on that to be the case.
More than likely, that honeymoon period will fade away and you’ll find yourself in survival mode. And the question becomes, “how do I survive this first year?”
The answer is as simple and as difficult as this:
Don’t change anything. Only seek to understand.
Don’t change anything
During your first year at your new church, (as silly as it sounds to say this) you’re new. Your church is getting to know you. They’re learning your quirks (and make no mistake – you have quirks). They’re getting to know your personality. And they’re learning to respect and love you, which will enable them to look past your mistakes and shortcomings. Don’t burden them with getting used to change during this period unless it’s absolutely necessary.
Maybe there’s something that has to be changed. But get counsel on that from those that you respect inside and outside of the church before moving on it. Looking back at my first year in the pastorate, had I made a change that I thought I needed to make, it would’ve been the biggest mistake of my time there. By God’s grace, wise counsel prevailed and I avoided that pitfall. More than likely (unless it’s a heresy issue), it can wait.
Seek to understand
The reality is that whatever you want to change has been implemented for a reason. You may not know what reason and to be quite honest, it may not matter. But they do it the way they do it for a reason. If you try to make changes without understanding the background and back story that led them to the way they do things, you will set your church up for conflict.
My experience – however limited – it that people don’t mind change as much as things being changed by people who don’t know the history. If you learn why they do Sunday School that way, or why the choir does or doesn’t wear robes, or why nobody else minds when the head deacon’s wife dips snuff during church, you can begin to have conversations that will lead to change.
Now I write this survival guide as someone on the other side – who learned from the negative. My actions were exactly the opposite of my recommendations, and it’s only in retrospect that I would have ever considered this to be a valuable suggestion.
What one thing would you suggest to a Rookie Pastor in order to help them to survive their first year?
Image via flickr: mr.smashy