Last week, and young pastor who is about to transition to New England wrote to me asking for advice. This post is simply the first random fifteen thoughts that came to mind when looking back on my own transition.
I’m admittedly NO expert! I’m still limping my way along, trying to be faithful in all the areas I need to grow. But, perhaps, if you are a young pastor (or older) pastor facing a transition, these thoughts will encourage you.
Fifteen random thoughts about transition into a new pastorate:
1. Every state or region is a very different culture, so take plenty of time to learn yours. I tripped into New England culture, but by God’s grace and the gracious patience of our church family, I’m learning every day.
2. Your first 18 months will be “foggy” so just hold on to God one day at a time. Emotions and walking an unfamiliar road simply takes many months to adjust and settle into. The fog will gradually lift with time.
3. Focus on three basic things (which are still my focus)—feeding the flock, fellowshipping with the church family, and following up on guests and lost people. Everything else can wait, these three priorities are the core of a ministry calling.
4. Don’t try to fight battles you don’t need to fight. Some guys come in guns blazing, making changes that unsettle or scare people. Often those changes are born out of insecurity, not the Holy Spirit’s leading. Change what you must, but wait when you can. Get to know and love people. Many battles I expected never really materialized, because people were glad to be loved and accepted.
5. Lead toward positive change, but communicate it biblically with vision. I’m finding that God’s people have joyfully embraced healthy change, so long as they understand it. Our church has responded well to being refocused on the gospel and lost people.
6. Turn the church UPWARD and OUTWARD—the more the church worships Jesus, seeks the lost, and serves others, the less they will want to squabble over internal, interpersonal things.
7. Honor every generation—I highly esteem and respect those who were here before I came. They are my heroes. I want all the ages of the church to appreciate all the other ages.
8. If coming to New England, prepare to spend A LOT of money on winter stuff—clothes, socks, gloves, hats, coats, Dunkin’ coffee, etc. Winter is awesome, but staying warm requires real planning and strategy.
9. Don’t try to make your new church your last one. Take time to follow the Lord and listen to Him for THIS church. He does a different gospel-oriented work in different places, and He does it in different ways. There is no ONE SIZE fits all in New Testament Church life. Every church has its own personality, regional culture, and unique identity.
10. Come expecting to reach lost people. God will most likely soften hearts and intersect your life with prepared people as soon as you arrive. It’s awesome to see people come to Jesus Christ. And there are few things as energizing to a church family as when the pastor introduces people that have recently been saved.
11. Come expecting to find some discouraged, unchurched Christians. Every region has believers who have all but fallen away completely. God will most likely use you to give a second wind so some of His scattered sheep. My focus has been the lost, but God has also refreshed some discouraged Christians at EBC. I’m thankful He entrusted our church family with that work.
12. Come expecting spiritual confusion—primarily due to Catholicism. New England is the land of spiritual confusion. Most people here think of Christianity in very “Catholic” terms. When sharing the gospel, you must untangle a lot of doctrinal confusion before you can actually teach truth with clarity.
13. Focus on teaching the Word and loving people where they are. God will grow them and lead them forward. Don’t try to conform people to your model. Let God work in them through His Word, and love them with patience and acceptance.
14. Expect some times/seasons/days of discouragement or emotional lows. I’ve had many. There is not usually a good reason for them. Early in your transition, while you are still getting to know people, you and your family will feel lonely—even though people will love and care for you. Accept that Mondays you will feel like a zombie. Stay close to God during these emotional lows, and don’t let emotions rule.
15. Dunkin Donuts ministers to a lot of WINTER lows!! Somewhere in Heaven, there’s an angel that was tasked sometime ago with giving New England pastors and Christians some liquid grace. I’m not sure how the marketing scheme led to what it is today, but that liquid grace is called Dunkin’ Donuts Hazelnut coffee. If you are ever in a place in New England where you can’t see a Dunkin’, turn around, it’s probably right behind you.
Whoever you are, God bless you as His unfolding call leads you into a new pastorate! You are in store for a great adventure of loving God’s precious heritage, reaching those who don’t know Him, and seeing Him work in their lives. It’s going to be AMAZING!