There is a lot that goes into starting a new ministry position. Meeting new people, learning new things, dealing with the unknown, it can be quite overwhelming. I can definitely sympathize since I am just beginning those dreaded “first six months” as we speak. Sure, I have done it before, but it’s different every time. A couple of weeks ago, I asked some ministry leaders for suggestions on what to do and what not to do in the first six months of a new ministry position. I already had some of their answers on my list, while others surprised me with some great ideas. I didn’t expect to have ten steps at first, but the list easily grew. These steps have been extremely helpful to me, and I am already putting a lot of them into practice in the first month.
First 5 Steps to Success (in no particular order):
1. Ask Questions
Seriously, ask LOTS of questions about anything and everything. Ask your fellow staff members/pastors about their ministry. Ask questions to find out who is friends with whom, who does what, who likes what. Ask volunteers in your ministry area what they like and dislike about what has been done in the past. Ask families what they would like to see happen in the future. If you get the chance, ask your predecessor as many questions as possible about your ministry area. Remember, asking a lot of questions is far better than finding out the answer the hard way in the long run. I’m pretty sure I may have already driven some of my fellow staff members nuts asking so many questions, but they have been pretty cool about it.
2. Listen More, Talk Less
Some people are better listeners than others. For me, listening is hard. I have to be intentional about shutting my mouth and listening to what other people have to say. You can learn a lot from sitting in staff meetings if you really listen, instead of spending the whole time thinking of something good to say next. Speak up when it is appropriate, but as a rule, make sure you are spending more time listening than talking. It will save you from having to pull your foot out of your mouth later. I’m still a work in progress in this area…
3. Learn the Culture
Asking questions and listening more will help you out with this one. Figure out if your church is more casual or formal. What kinds of events have been well attended in the past and which ones have flopped. Are they more family ministry-minded or kid’s ministry-minded? Which age group is most likely to serve in your ministry area and why? I wish I could say that everything that worked well in my last ministry position would transfer over and work well in my new position, but that is simply not the case. For example, a worship song, event, or curriculum my kids in Texas absolutely loved might completely fail to capture the attention of the kids here in Arizona. Some of this will be learned by trial and error, and it’s ok if some of the things you try don’t work. It’s all part of the process.
4. Learn the Vision
Most churches have their mission statement, vision statement, and core values plastered all over the walls and website. You should probably learn those, but that isn’t all there is to the vision of your church. The best way to figure out what is the true heart and vision of the church is to sit down and talk with your Lead Pastor. If your Lead Pastor has a huge heart for missions, that will be reflected in how the church runs. If your Lead Pastor has a vision for church planting, that will be visible throughout your church’s DNA. You may have a wonderful vision for your ministry area, but if it doesn’t line up with your Lead Pastor’s vision, it’s not going to work.
5. Make Few Major Changes
This is probably the hardest of the ten steps for me personally. I love making changes, and I want to do it all right now! However, I know there is a lot of wisdom in making changes at the right time. Change is good, but not everyone thinks so. Building relationships with people makes a huge difference in how they react to change. Relationships take time. Find some changes that people will respond to positively in the beginning, and go for those. The one big exception to this rule is if your Lead Pastor has asked you make a specific change. When you have your Lead Pastor backing you up and leading the change, people will respond more positively. Above all, remember to be patient. My husband always reminds me that ministry isn’t a sprint, it’s a marathon, and he’s right. Your ministry won’t look exactly the way you want it to in the first 6 months, and that’s ok.