When a congregation welcomes a new pastor, it is an exciting time, a new beginning for both the congregation and the new minister. To maximize this new beginning, it is important to prepare spiritually, cognitively and emotionally for a new chapter.
Once a call to a new pastor is confirmed, there are a few things you can do to prepare personally and congregationally to follow a new spiritual leader:
1. Pray for your new pastor. In most of the churches I know, members pray for the pastor search team throughout the search process, and they pray for the pastor even before they know the identity of their new minister. And they pray for their new pastor in the pastor’s inaugural days of ministry. However, I suggest making a commitment to pray daily for your pastor throughout the duration of his or her ministry. Once the honeymoon period is over and the daily grind of ministry begins, praying for your pastor will strengthen your pastor’s ministry and will fortify your bond with your pastor.
2. Send your pastor a welcome note or email. Be careful not to make this correspondence a lengthy epistle, and certainly don’t make it a diatribe itemizing your personal expectations or agenda. Just offer a brief note, introducing yourself and/or family, and offering a heartfelt welcome. When I moved to my last pastorate, I received over 100 such notes, and these notes confirmed and intensified my excitement about my new place of service.
3. Mention your name on your first several encounters with your new pastor. Once your new pastor arrives, make sure to offer your name in each greeting for the first few weeks. Learning names is important for pastors. And be sure not to embarrass the pastor by quizzing, “Do you remember my name?” Give your pastor the opportunity to learn your name and, over time, to learn a part of your life story.
4. Embrace the uniqueness of your pastor. Your pastor has a distinct personality, a unique set of spiritual gifts and a diverse set of experiences. When the Spirit leads a church to a new pastor, the Spirit seldom leads a church or committee to a person just like the previous pastor or the beloved pastor from the church’s history. To compare your new pastor to any other is to disrespect the Spirit’s role in guiding you to your new pastor in the first place.
5. Be prepared to follow. A pastor who is worth his or her salt must lead in both optimal and challenging situations. And the kingdom of God is enriched when we as a congregation follow our pastor and embrace our mission with enthusiasm. As a veteran pastor, I am quite aware that there is a small minority of pastors who are “wolves in sheep’s clothing,” whose motives are deceptive and whose methods are manipulative, and they need to be held accountable. However, the vast majority of pastors I know provide proactive leadership that is Spirit-led and mission-focused. Don’t be a backseat driver. Serve with your best gifts.
6. Give your pastor permission to fail. The best pastors don’t succeed 100 percent of the time. A few weeks into one of my pastoral assignments, a sincere church member said to me, “I am glad you’re here. Every pastor I have had has disappointed me. I hope you never disappoint me.” I quickly countered, “Let me just disappoint you right now and get it out of the way. Like you, I am an imperfect human being who will make mistakes. But if we forgive one another as God has forgiven us, we will get along just fine.” I must admit, I think my response disappointed this well-intentioned member. Don’t hold your pastor to a standard of perfection that is impossible to maintain. Allow your minister room to make mistakes.
7. Speak positively about your pastor publicly and privately. One of the ways we bring out the best in our ministers is to speak well of them publicly and privately. With most pastors, it is easy to find something to criticize because every minister has weaknesses. “He is too loud.” “She is too soft-spoken.” “He uses big words I don’t understand.” “She is not a people person.” However, every pastor has more strengths than weaknesses. A healthy pastoral tenure is nurtured when we magnify around our pastor’s strengths, and then minimize and compensate for our pastor’s weaknesses.
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Keep your pastor in perspective
There are many other ways to welcome your new pastor and to launch your pastor into an effective and healthy tenure. If you compare them to your favorite football coach and expect them to “win every game,” not only will you be disappointed, you will make your minister miserable and ultimately ineffective.
But if you receive your new pastor as a spiritual leader sent to encourage your faithfulness, challenge your presuppositions and bring out God’s best in you, the relationship between your pastor and your congregation will be vibrant and effective.
A few years ago, one of my colleagues and mentors, Hardy Clemons, reminded a group of us of the peculiar role of serving as a pastor:
“Our goal is to minister: it is not to show a profit, amass a larger financial corpus or grow bigger for our own security. The ultimate goals are to accept God’s grace, share the good news, invite and equip disciples and foster liberty and justice for all.”
And as church members, we are privileged to co-labor with our pastor in this transformative work of demonstrating grace, sharing the good news and equipping disciples.