Today, we conclude our three part series on making the most of your first ninety days in a new ministry assignment.
Whatever else you do and whether your first ninety days is a honeymoon or like being thrown into the deep end of the pool, it will be vital for you to do one thing – keep perspective.
The allure of a new position can be intoxicating. It’s easy to be infatuated with the people, the processes, and the purpose of your new church. You will be tempted to overlook the blemishes and to ignore the warning signs because you want this position to be better. But is it really better, or just new? The newness will fade. Having a balanced perspective will help you to ride out both highs and lows. Here are six ways to keep your perspective.
Earn your stripes. You’ve come to your new assignment with a list of questions and ideas from your previous position that you want to import. You want to hit the ground running. Establish a reputation for yourself. Prove that the church made the right decision when they brought you on. Unfortunately, that’s a fine line. Come out too aggressively and you could be perceived as a threat to the status quo and an assault on the church culture. Remember, the organization hired you to lead. They didn’t hire you to shake the place up. They want you in their boat pulling in the same direction. Not off in your own speedboat making waves. Bide your time, be patient and the opportunities to make changes will come. Remember, this is a long-distance race. Before you start a full-out sprint you need to walk a mile (at least) in their shoes and pace yourself so you don’t flame out too early.
Start small. Coming from the outside you will see lots of things that you will question and be tempted to change. Like a hunter with a fully loaded rifle and a great aim, you can’t possibly hit all the targets at once. Before you start spraying the sky with bullets, fix your aim on one thing and fire. In other words: be still, listen to what’s going on and set your sights on small, achievable victories. Here are several actions that could prove most helpful:
• Express thanks to everyone who had something to do with you being there.
• Be especially grateful to God for calling you here.
• Introduce your family. • Ask the congregation to regularly pray for you and your family.
• Write a letter to the whole congregation expressing many of these same points.
• From the moment you arrive until you finally conclude your ministry at the church, say nothing negative about your predecessors.
• Visit all homebound congregants your first month there (but don’t announce you’re doing this).
• Think of your newness as a bank account. Think carefully as to how you will spend this account. You only get one chance to spend it.
• Be especially wary of those congregants who adore you (which of course are the most appealing because of the adoration). This adulation should tell you that these people have poor personal boundaries and extremely high expectations of you (which you will not be able to meet). When you don’t meet their expectations, they will be the first to turn on you.
• If the former minister happens to continue in your congregation, say this (and mean it): “Pastor so-in-so has a well-earned place in your hearts, a place I will never be able to replace. Hopefully, as time goes by you will be able to find another place for me.”… “If you want Pastor so-in-so at your weddings and funerals, I’d be happy to have him assist, as long as the invitation comes through my office.”
Share credit. One of the quickest ways to gain acceptance for you and your contributions is to include other people – both staff and congregants. Involve them from the get-go and they will help you steer through political minefields, polish your ideas and make for a better contribution. When it works, give them the credit. If it bombs, shoulder the responsibility. When you make mistakes, take responsibility for them immediately. Failure to do so will only intensify ill-will. And don’t make the same mistake again. Replace “I” and “me” in your lexicon with “we” and “us.” You will quickly engender a flood of support and good will. The object is to create trust and engender loyalty and commitment.
Be tactful. Don’t rush to judgment. That strategy you’re knocking likely is somebody’s pet project. Let go of your own preconceived notions and try to understand why it was developed and how it has been implemented. You may learn something. Even if you don’t, by showing your understanding and support you may be able to make thoughtful enhancement.
Set the right precedents. In your gung-ho rush to please, you may be prone to tackle more of the workload, work long hours or involve yourself in areas beyond your sphere of influence. Just beware that precedents can be hard to overturn. When you scale back or slow down, it could be perceived as a waning of commitment or enthusiasm. Over and over again I see ministers who are trying to meet everyone’s expectations. Your goal is not to meet everyone’s expectations, it’s to recalibrate expectations. This will involve disappointing people (“No, I’m sorry. I can’t be there at that meeting.”). But in the process of disappointing, you’ll also be teaching them about the limits of your abilities and the priesthood of all believers (that we are all tasked with ministry because no one person enjoys all of the promised gifts).
Keep balance. In a similar vein, don’t forget the other priorities in your life—your family, your health, your hobbies, your friends. If all facets of your life are not in alignment, there’s no way you will find fulfillment in the position. Remember, you work to live; you don’t live to work.
Looking for more help?
To explore these ideas in depth, check out two books written by Transforming Church Team members:
The Leadership Triangle by Kevin Graham Ford and Ken Tucker
The Secret Sauce by Kevin Graham Ford and James P. Osterhaus.
And, know that your very best asset during this transition time may be a leadership coach – a trusted advisor to help you navigate change and settling into your new ministry. Find out more about your options here.