New preachers need time to adjust to new congregations
Many Methodist churches across south Georgia received new pastors two weeks ago. Pastors and people are starting to get acquainted with each other.
To the average person it might seem simple for a new pastor to learn a new church. Preaching is preaching wherever one serves, right? Church leadership is the same in every church, right?
Well, yes and no. Every congregation is a unique organization, even if, like The United Methodist Church, there is some institutional uniformity.
Here are a few things I’ve discovered in moving from one church to another:
- Although a church may have leaders nominated for certain tasks, those leaders on paper may not always be the real power brokers of the congregation. The unanimous vote of a committee may carry no weight because the real power broker(s) in the church have not weighed in on the issue.
- Every church has an overlay of committees that can be so confusing that the new pastor cannot understand the lines of responsibility and authority.
- When the pastor begins asking how these bewildering committees relate to each other, the laity will give conflicting answers or profess not to know the answer at all.
- Some committees/groups in every church once were vitally needed but are no longer necessary due to changing circumstances. But trying to eliminate those committees can lead to quick conflict. It’s often easier to let vestigial committees remain in existence and work around them.
- Many congregations profess they want visionary, decisive pastors. But sometimes those pastors discover that taking action on something that seems quite benign can cause the most painful arguments. Talk to pastors about tinkering with an element of the worship service, removing or replacing a flag, or adding or removing a cross, for instance.
- It is not always apparent to a new pastor how people are related to each other by blood, neighborhood, or past or present association. He or she can quickly get in trouble failing to grasp the intrapersonal dynamics of a congregation.
- Oft the congregation may not know where it wants to go, but quickly knows where it does not want to go. This can lead to awkward and angry moments early in a new pastorate.
- Rhythms of worship in a congregation are developed over decades or even centuries. A new pastor may not recognize these rhythms. Some of them, subtle and long entrenched, are not even acknowledged by the people in the pew. But the way a new pastor greets the church every Sunday, pronounces the benediction, announces the hymns, etc., can be a source of dis-ease that often goes unaddressed. Small things are often not so small.
Can you recognize some elements that make your church unique? It takes time for pastor and people to understand each other, and there will be some inevitable missteps in the first weeks or months. Can you have patience when a new pastor comes on board?
Email Creede Hinshaw at firstname.lastname@example.org.