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. 

2 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.


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