Pastors Get One Major Change Year One

nature-3633356_1280Over the years, I’ve distilled observations and stories about leading change the first year in a new position into a handful lessons. I trust these lessons will help leaders better transition into new roles. 

The lessons better help. I’m starting a new position. In one form or another, I’m living out these lessons daily. 

The first lesson for year one is the most important lesson: 

Leaders can make one major change a year; becoming the new leader is the one major change year one.

While there are a wide range of reasons pastors accept calls to new congregations, two reasons stand out. The pastors were frustrated at their inability to lead change at their previous churches. Or, the pastors saw opportunities for start new ministries that weren’t available at their last church. 

Almost all pastors experience a “honeymoon” period when starting new calls. Almost all the members seem to love their new pastors. Every time the new pastors float trial balloons, members nod their heads and offer words of affirmation. 

Due to this positive feedback, and the excitement of the new position, the pastors quickly prepare for action. They start making plans for adding a worship service or changing governance or starting outreach centers in the community. 

When the pastors formally bring the ideas to the leadership, the clergy are shocked. Congregational leaders, who were seemingly so excited and supportive, are recoiling in horror. The pastors are immediately deflated, worrying they misread the congregations. 

Odds are the clergy did understand the churches. What the pastors didn’t understand is how to lead change year one. The congregations could only handle one major change the first year. The pastors were the one major change.  

It takes time for churches to get to know new pastors. Members want to know what motivates their pastors. They are watching how their ministers respond to stress. The members are curious about what their pastors celebrate.  

The first year is more about a pastor learning about a church and the congregation learning about the pastor. The first year, the new pastor is earning the trust of the congregational members through…

  • Building relationships with members, especially the informal leaders. 
  • Faithful and preaching and teaching.
  • Understanding deeply congregational and community needs. 
  • Successfully leading minor changes.

In the coming months, we’ll dive more deeply into leading change year one. What lessons have you learned about leading change the first year in a new position? Share your thoughts in the comments or shoot me an email. 

3 thoughts on “Pastors Get One Major Change Year One

  1. I may disagree. While this methodology is common and often supported by wiser church authorities, my experience has been the exception. My first year in Ohio as senior pastor of a grieving congregation included a philosophy that advocated to “give them an early victory.” Thus within two weeks after arrival we proposed to pursue a building program to memorialize their recently departed pastor. In that same year we proposed and initiated plans for a new contemporary worship service and I completed a round of personal visits to the official and unofficial leaders of the parish. The service took off in the subsequent fall, the building effort used the services of a consultant who lead not only in fundraising effort but in articulating our first ever Ministry Development Plan. That ministry lasted seventeen years.


  2. I sympathize with the overall sentiment and understanding that pastors need to be cautious concerning change, especially regarding non-doctrinal and practice issues. My comment here is not about those things. My comment is regarding doctrinal and practice issues a church may have when a pastor gets to a church.

    The pastor is called to teach (1 Tim. 3:2) and teaching includes not only “hygenius” (healthy/sound) doctrine, but also practice (Titus 2:1, 2 Tim. 4:2). If a pastor comes into a church where a false doctrine/practice has been in place, a faithful Pastor immediately begins to teach the Truth of the Gospel and opposes the false doctrine and/or erroneous practices. Lord willingly, the Holy Spirit convicts and reproves through the Word (2 Tim. 3:16), and the people respond in faith and say, “we need to make that change.” If they don’t, the pastor keeps teaching with the meekness and gentleness of Christ (2 Cor. 10:1). If hearts remained hardened after patient catechesis, the pastor needs to discern when it is appropriate to make the change lest people think there is a disconnect between what he is teaching and what the church is doing. That discernment may conclude it best not to wait more than a year, esp. with Gospel-defying doctrine or practices. The change may need to be immediately; or it could wait five years!

    Yes, a pastor can and should endure poor practice for a time. Article IV of the Apology on Justification says such (“In the same way, Paul urges that there be love in the church to preserve harmony, to bear with (if need be) the crude behavior of the brothers [and sisters], and to overlook certain minor offenses, lest the church disintegrate into various schisms and lest enmities, factions, and heresies arise from such schisms.… (paragraph 232-234).” Yes, a pastor can and should endure for a time poor practice, but he doesn’t wait to start teaching and doesn’t restrict the Holy Spirit to a time scale for when those changes should be made. In this regard, the pastor could make four or five (or more!) changes in a year. And the people, responding in faith and love, could ask for more!

    So while I agree that major changes concerning things like carpets or wall colors or non-essential things need to be in moderation (perhaps one change per year), limiting the work of the Holy Spirit who can and does change hearts when and where it pleases Him (John 3:8a) should be cautioned, especially where pure teaching and practice are at stake. May we not ever doubt the power of the Holy Spirit to “create in me, a clean heart… and renew a right spirit within me” (Psalm 51).

    I’m not saying you, President Wilson, don’t have a clear understanding of this, or that your article was arguing against what I’m writing, but some may read your blog post and not realize there is a difference between doctrine/practice change, and non-essential items change. I am just posting this for clarity of that distinction, not to argue, and hopefully to inform some who may have a pastor or other leader that is striving to make more than one major in a year! May this also encourage those pastors and leaders who are suffering through faithful teaching of doctrine and practice!

    Sometimes a faithful pastor needs to make a change(s) for the sake of the purity of the Gospel. This is what I learned my first year as a spiritual leader in my congregation. Patient catechesis! The Holy Spirit does and will work through the Word. My congregations’ response in faith to that Word has humbled me numerous times. Praise God from whom all blessings flow!

    God’s blessings to you in your new vocation! And thanks for stimulating me with your thought-provoking article!


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