I’ve been asked to comment about some things on starting in a new work. Through the years I’ve made some BIG mistakes, so maybe you can learn from some of what I’ve done poorly! I humbly offer these suggestions:
- Let people know who you are! Let them know you do not preport yourself to be perfect. One guy who recently began a work used these as his first words in the pulpit: “My name is ____ and I am a sinner.” I know we all know that but sometimes people may need to be made clearly aware of it. Let them know of your desire to live for the Lord and of your intent to serve. And before I move on from this point let me remind you that in the good "honeymoon" days of getting started don't forget to nurture your own relationship with the Lord. It is easy when you are busy, and happy, and fill full to forget you need to continue to be filled.
- Closely akin to number one is this important lesson learned: Let them know what you believe. When I began one work I did not do this and nearly a year into the work some began to question where I stood on various things. I made the error of assuming that everyone knew what I believe about worship, salvation, the infallibility of the Word of God, the nature of the church. I knew what I believed and just thought they would all know that too. Some didn’t. So, ever since then, I have begun my work with “On This I Stand” sermons. This could be dangerous as some might think you are judging them. But be clear you are not. This also gives y ou the chance to talk some about how you feel about your family, or elders, etc.
- Place membership: My friend and one of my favorite mentors, Jerrie Barber, was the first person I heard suggest this and I think it is huge! My wife and my kids are members of this congregation. The elders are responsible to them as much as to any member. This is my congregation too.
- Teach the group you most fear you’ll have a hard time relating to: Maybe more than that, just teach every class. Here would be my suggestion. Ask not to teach the first month or quarter and attend every class from middle school up. As much as possible, just listen. Find out how the classes communicate, find out the mood/outlook of each class.
Then the next quarter ask to fill in in each class that you attended. Then the third quarter teach the class you think you’ll have the hardest time relating too. When I went to Hamilton, because I was young, I was put teaching the teens. I now think this was a mistake. To say it was adversarial is an overstatement but I think the “old men’s class” looked at me with suspicion. Looking back I can’t say I blame them. It was over 5 years into my work there that I was asked to teach the class (or maybe I asked to teach it). After only a week or two I wished I had taught it much earlier! It was probably my favorite class I taught there and they enjoyed really getting to know me too. At GW (Granny White), teaching the Wednesday morning Bible class was just as rich an experience. If you are older starting a new work, teach the young married class or the teen class. Just my opinion but it will be worth it from both sides of this view.
- Read and learn. Listen and learn. But stay out of politics. Many churches have old bulletins - at GW they had them dating back to the early 50‘s. I went back and read everything I could. Iliterally read everyone of those bulletins. In doing so I read the history, the life of that church. I rejoiced over births and baptisms and hurt over disappointment. I saw the programs promoted and learned who the “roll up your selves”, I’ll be here come what may, people were. Listen to others. But always remember you will often only hear one side of a story. So strive to hear more than one side of the story before you believe any side of the story. Paul may have said it best: “lay hands on no man suddenly” (1 Timothy 5:22).
- So, everyone wants to have you into their home but how do you decide how to balance that with who to go to their house and how to have a normal home life? I think my friend Brian had as good of an idea as I’ve seen. He posted a signup sheet on his office door with times that he and his family would be available should someone want to take them out. This works well. If Friday night is family night, don’t include that as a time you would be available. If Saturday’s don’t work for you, then don’t include them. Want to do it only one or three meals a week, you set the agenda. No one can accuse you of “playing favorites” since anyone can sign up.
- Akin, but different... Who do you have over? At some point you are going to be accused of “playing favorites” regardless of what you do - that will be said because it is true. Just admit it. There are some folks you will enjoy more than others. One guy did something I liked. He divided the congregation into 12 segments. And one Sunday night a month he and his wife would invite one twelfth of the church over. We have tried off and on to have annual events at our house in which everyone is invited. This way you have invited everyone into your home.
- This one is a little harder to put into words but I’ll try: Get what you need upfront. Now I want to say this clearly. I’ve tried at times to be too nice. A leader will say something like - “we really need to get you a new office chair...” and I’ll say “Oh, I’m fine with the one here.” Or “what do you need computer wise?” and I’d respond, “well for now this will work.” Listen, if you don’t get that on the front end, as there is conflict, the new wears off you or they grow bored/unappreciative of you - you never will. If you agree to a salary upfront. Be satisfied with that salary. Don’t agree to it and then “poor-mouth” about how they mistreat you. If they make future promises - get them in writing. Sorry, but I forget, or leadership may change (it does), and honest people don’t remember what was said sometimes. This is not a matter of not necessarily trusting others, remember we may be the ones who misunderstand. Honest people do not mind coming into a written agreement. Communicate what you want - then live with what you agree to.
- Expect some not to like you. I can never forget the first time that I was around that guy who “everyone” loves and found someone saying something bad about them. Frankly, I wanted to punch them (was that too frank?). How dare them not know what “they have” in that guy. But it was a hard, painful lesson that I’ve learned over and over through the years. There is always someone who doesn’t like the preacher/youth/involvement guy. Don’t focus on those people. Love them. Try to live at peace with them. But don’t focus on them. It will eat you alive. Ultimately, just accept it.
- Be willing to stay if it gets bad the first two years. Most every move I’ve made I’ve not been happy the first year or two. I tend to second guess myself. And I set myself up for failure by expecting too much. I forget how human I am and start thinking I’m good and then fall hard.
- Be humble, you are not as good as they will think you are the first year. Be reassure you are better than they think you are in the third year!
- Become friends with the preachers in the area: How many divisions could have been curtailed if we worked together instead of working in competition with each other. It is not about just building the congregation - it is about building the church. I believe with all my heart that much of the division of the 50’s and 60’s was more personality driven than issue driven. Let’s not live that again and divide the Body over matters of opinion that we insist on our way over. I believe that if we know each other and love each other and encourage each other when issues arise we will at least approach them with a different air.
- One more thing. Love the people. If you are there one year or fifty - love the people. They are God’s People, love them.
I wish you the best. I know I’ve left out a hundred things, probably left out things more important than I included...leave comments to help build this list.