The First Year at a New Church…
Recently a new pastor emailed me and asked, “What do you know now that you wish you knew when you arrived at EBC?” That’s a challenging question to answer briefly. I’m a beginner. God knows what He’s doing, but I don’t. This year, I got some things right and a lot of things wrong.
In a quick nutshell—here are the biggest blessings and challenges of our first year at Emmanuel Baptist Church, followed by some challenges for those about to answer God’s call:
- Seeing God turn a church around
- Seeing God bring new souls to the Saviour
- Seeing God revive and renew discouraged Christians
- Seeing the church family fall back in love with Jesus
- Seeing the church family reach others
- Seeing God provide miraculously
- Seeing God lead us forward in grace
- Seeing God call discouraged Christians back to Himself
- Seeing God forge a healthy church spirit by His Spirit
- Seeing God knit our hearts to new friends and family
- Feeling like the wrong guy for the job
- Feeling overwhelmed by the need and the work to be done
- Feeling displaced and disoriented in a “new life.”
- Feeling anxious, waiting to see how God was going to come through
- Feeling discouraged for no explainable reason
- Feeling distant from friends and family
- Feeling the family stress of the transition
- Feeling the urgency of immediate ministry needs
- Feeling limited by time, energy, and personal ability
- Feed the flock—give them the Word
- Fellowship with the flock—get to know people
- Follow up on guests—get involved in reaching people personally and bringing them into the church. Let the church family see your fruit.
- Fix the facilities—find simple, affordable ways to improve the church experience and show a heart to steward
- Fuel the family—lead you family patiently through transition and be available to them on tough days.
- Focus on a few things—the little you can do over the much you can’t. To drink the ocean you must fill and focus on one glass at a time.
Biggest Challenges to Others:
1. Keep reaffirming God’s clear call. God’s clear hand of providence, His clear voice in scripture, and His undeniable leading within will strengthen you through every doubt or low day. Remember what He has done.
2. Find your identity in Christ alone. We all tend to define ourselves by “what we do” or “what we’ve accomplished.” When God asks us to step away from that “identity” it forces us, to the depths of soul, to find identity in Jesus alone. It’s a humbling, disorienting, redefining journey, but the outcome is greater dependence upon Christ—and that’s a GREAT place to be.
3. Stay connected with encouraging people. God will give you positive encouragers—vision-sharers. In our lives, God has used these people to give grace and strength in a multitude of ways. Many friends have shared the vision of a revived church! Every text message, kind note, warm smile, and faithful prayer partner mattered in BIG ways.
4. Don’t get discouraged with detractors. There was a bit of conjecture about our transition. When those questions came back to me, they stung a bit, but that was just distraction. In time, imagined story-lines are always trumped by God’s story-line. Stay on course.
5. Stay close to and nurture your marriage and family. It takes months and maybe years to navigate big family transitions. Not days. Not weeks. Looking back, I’m grateful for a trusting family—their faith has been remarkable.
6. Refuse to let go of core priorities. Keep the priorities on feeding the flock, fellowship with the church family, and following-up on new believers. (More on this in another post.) Those three things… incessantly. Every week God has blessed that focus.
7. Build relationships before (or as) you bring change. In some ways, change may need to happen fast—if survival is in question. But in other ways, you have to build loving relationships and trust so you can lead people the right direction. More than any change, I want our church family to know, “I LOVE THEM!” If that foundation is laid, then they will trust that the change is in their interest, not my own.
I’m sure I’ve failed more than succeeded in discerning how to lead in appropriate change. But that’s where the words, “I’m sorry, I hope you will forgive me and be patient with me” come in pretty handy. I’ve pretty much worn those words out this year.
8. Communicate clearly and constantly. This is where I have failed the most. I assumed people spoke my “ministry language”, when they didn’t. I should have communicated more clearly and often on ministry direction. Fortunately, I’m serving with patient and forgiving people. They believed in my heart when they wondered what I was doing.
9. Ask every pastor you know every question you can. Over this year I have asked a million questions of godly pastors. Their insight and counsel has encouraged and given me great perspective. I owe a lot of godly men a huge “THANK YOU!”
10. Be willing to wait. This is another area of personal failure. My heart wants to see rapid transformation. Many times God has convicted my heart with this question, “Are you trying to do this, or are you going to let ME do this?” Above all, I want Him to do it! Mainly because I CAN’T! Every time I have listened to His Holy Spirit in “waiting”—He has always provided a better solution.
11. Be prepared for some spiritual oppression. I’ve written about this. Satan specializes in trying to accuse, discourage, or isolate spiritual leaders. Renew your soul with Jesus regularly, and don’t believe the lies.
12. Follow God’s leading not men’s opinions. I wrote about this here. Don’t worry about pleasing outside observers. Get on mission and stay on mission. You need to follow God and not try to carbon copy someone else’s style or model.
Seeing a struggling church become strong again is a wonderfully challenging call. Jesus is the Saviour, I’m just the pastor. It’s all up to HIM.
God desires and deserves all the glory in His church. He refuses to share it. Over all, this has been a year of very real weakness. Thankfully, He loves to be strong in our weakness, because then He receives all the glory!
2 Corinthians 12:9 “And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness…”
God bless you as you lead others to magnify Jesus through His church!