Saturday, June 27, 2009

New church transitions

I have a number of friends (and family) that are taking moves this year. For some of them, the fun has already begun and we have already talked about the joys (cough, cough) of parsonage living and some of the interesting phenomenons involved in starting a new church. Not that I am uber wise or any such thing, but I thought I'd throw out some thoughts on issues that have come up in those conversations.

1) It is not about you! In a variety of ways it is not about you. First and foremost, because what you do is about God. But in the most practical ways, for the first 6 months or so (at least), the way people act and respond is not about you. When they get uppity about bulletins, or change in worship, or your clothes, that's not about you. It will feel like it is, but it's not. When they refuse to come to church because you're __________ (a woman, a man, too young, too old, too conservative, too liberal...blah, blah, blah) that's not about you. They don't know you yet, so it can't be about you.

2) So....don't make it about you. Don't get defensive. Take a step back and try and discern what the real issue is. More often than not (particularly in the early stages) the issue that confronts you is not the real issue. So, dig deep, listen well, and try and attend to the real issue.

3) Parsonages are SOOOO much fun! Remember, one day you will laugh about the rats in the attic, the bathroom floor that is about to fall through, the roof that leaks, the yard that looks like a jungle, and it will be ok. In the meantime, breathe deeply, ask the trustees to take care of things, remember it is not your fault these things are a problem to start with, and help when and where you can.

4) Leave the stereotypes at the door. When you get to the new church (and probably even before) you will hear about your people. You will hear their reputations (both good and bad)...who will be helpful, who will hurt you, who will be an obstacle to you. Sometimes those things will prove true. Many times they will not. Before I arrived at Wesley I heard about couples that were so attached to the last pastor that they would never form a bond with me. I heard about people who would be the hardest on me and might never like me. I made it a point to meet with these folks one on one and got to know them on my own terms. 99% of the time the things I had heard were not true...those that loved the last pastor also love me and those that were going to "get in [my] way" have done nothing of the sort. The "tyrant" of your church, might just be a bully, but take the time to leave that at the door and get to know him/her and then decide for yourself.

5) Meet with your people. Don't have an agenda other than to get to know them and learn their stories. And, when you walk out, keep a notepad or a journal to write down what they told you. You might think you can remember family stories and marriage proposals etc, but 8 months from now, most likely you won't and you'll wish you could. So write it down, and then when you need to call on them, refer to your notes so you can be fresh on names and major incidents.

6) Do not come in with a vision. People will ask you what your vision for the church don't know!! Your vision for the first 6 months (at least) should be to get to know your people. Take time to learn about your people and listen for God's call.

7) Give it at least six months. It takes time to form new relationships and get established. It may be rocky for awhile, but prayer and faithful ministry will make things better. So, give yourself some time to get adjusted.

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