Have you just started in your new church? Good news! You have a honeymoon to enjoy! The first 6-9 months of a new pastorate can be a fun and fruitful time. Your members are getting to know you while you are getting to know them. It is a time of optimism. A time where people will give you the benefit of the doubt. There is no baggage to hold your relationships back. There is no friction between the pastor and the leaders of the church because it is a brand new relationship.
It can be a wonderful time for both minister and congregation. That being said, there are some pitfalls that one has to be aware of as a new pastor in a new church. Below I list 4 ways we can ruin that honeymoon period as ministers.
1. Making major changes too quickly.
It is very tempting as a new leader to make wholesale changes right off the bat. After all, everyone is excited, you have fresh eyes to see the potential problem areas of the church so why not just jump in and make major changes?
I’ll tell you why, because you don’t yet have the trust of the key leaders of the organization. You have no track record with the organization. You also have no track record with the leaders of the organization. Major change demands trust. Trust is earned over time. It isn’t something that you get instantly.
Yes it is true that your members will give you a certain amount of trust by virtue of your title but don’t mistake that respect for real, lasting trust.
“You have no track record with the organization. You also have no track record with the leaders of the organization. Major change demands trust. Trust is earned over time. It isn’t something that you get instantly.”
2. Taking sides in longstanding disputes or tensions.
Since you are the new one in town and you are the key leader or one of the key leaders in your organization, people will be trying to bend your ear to their side of whatever bias or perspective they have. By virtue of being new, you will not be aware of any longstanding issues present in the organization. You will be ignorant of any undercurrent of tension between possible factions in the congregation.
Ignorance is bliss and one of the things that makes the first 6-9 months enjoyable for us as ministers is that we are starting with a clean slate but don’t let that clean slate cause you to take sides prematurely. You need to take advantage of your honeymoon to get to know your people. You need to circulate among them and listen twice as much as your talk. Ask questions and listen to the answers. As you observe different dynamics in the congregation, take the time to inquire from different leaders about what you have observed and take note of their answers.
3. Pushing out toxic leaders too quickly.
You won’t get along with every leader in your new charge. Some leaders will strike you as toxic to the well being of the church. Resist the urge to clean house during your honeymoon. It is a mistake I’ve seen many ministers make.
During this honeymoon stage you do not have a good grasp yet of the dynamics of power in the congregation. You may fancy yourself a good judge of character. You may think that you have amazing powers of discernment to know who is good and who is bad. Who needs to stay and who needs to go. There is more to cleaning house than simply pushing out people who are negative, toxic or who seem to be troublemakers. Be patient.
These ‘toxic’ people you’ve identified no doubt have a power base. They have people in the congregation that know, like and trust them. When you go after these leaders early on, you ruin your chance to build rapport with their power base. The power base of these leaders will immediately go from seeing you as good to seeing you as evil or toxic. You could find your honeymoon disappearing in a flash.
4. Starting building projects or renovations.
You are new to the church. A fresh face right? Respect the history of the church. For the same reason that you shouldn’t make wholesale changes to the programs or structures of the church during your honeymoon, resist the urge to make major renovation decisions in your first months in your new pastorate.
You have no history with the building or meeting place your church currently inhabits. There is a good aspect to this newness, you can clearly see problem areas that need updating or change. The problem with you initiating these changes during your honeymoon is that you don’t have much trust built with the leadership. They don’t yet know that you have the longterm best interest of the congregation in mind.
The second problem with initiating renovations is that physical changes to the building can be very emotional. Churches have been known to split over the color of the carpet in the worship centre.
You need to focus on those activities and decisions that build rapport and trust, not those that are laced with minefields.
If the church is already in the middle of a renovation or building project you don’t have to put it on hold but you will need to go out of your way to listen to your leaders and connect to their hearts so that you aren’t seen as being insensitive and simply discarding or reversing decisions that were made by your predecessor or that you simply personally dislike for whatever reason.
Are there any other reasons you can think of that can prematurely end a minister’s honeymoon? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below!