Today we’re featuring a post by B21’s long-time friend, Jimmy Scroggins. Jimmy is the Lead Pastor of Family Church in West Palm Beach. Below he shares some key insights and wisdom for new pastors learned from his own transition.
Prior to being called to pastor Family Church, I had served as a teaching pastor at Highview Baptist Church in Louisville, and as Dean of Boyce College at Southern Seminary. I was used to managing budgets, leading a large staff, and preaching and teaching on a regular basis. I regard the leaders that I served in Louisville, Kevin Ezell, Al Mohler, and Russell Moore, as tremendous, godly examples of leadership, from whom I learned much. When I accepted my current position as Senior Pastor, I believed that I was well prepared for the job. But there is definitely something different about being THE head guy – the final place in a church where the buck actually stops. It is from this experience as a new pastor that I offer a set of “life lessons” for new pastors like me.
- Invest heavily in new relationships. The lifeblood of successful leadership in a church is relationships with your people. Church people want to get to know their new pastor – let them! Early morning breakfasts and meetings with key constituencies in homes are great ways to connect. A flurry of relationship building at the beginning of your tenure will allow you to amass important leadership capital and accelerate the pace of any changes you need to make.
- Talk less than you think you should, listen more than you think you should. New pastors (especially young ones) may be tempted to constantly put on “mini-demonstrations” of their biblical scholarship, theological knowledge, expertise in financial matters, counseling acumen, and aptitude for all things leadership. But a learners posture, particularly at the beginning of your tenure, will ultimately prove more productive.
- Take time to personally evaluate existing leaders. As soon as you arrive on the scene, and often even before, all sorts of people will pull you aside and give you information and opinions about staff members, deacons, committee members, Sunday School teachers, etc.. Listen carefully, take mental notes, but don’t buy everything that your new “friends” are selling. Find out for yourself – you will likely be surprised.
- Make a careful study of the history and tradition of the church. Listen a lot (see #2). Ask a lot of questions. Look at the church records – minutes from business meetings, old bulletins, financial statements, etc. Talk to as many former pastors as you can find. It is much easier to know how to lead going forward if you are familiar with how the church got into its current state.
- Carefully calculate the best timing for changes. In many cases, your new church needs to change (that is often why the previous pastor left, and now they have you). But don’t forget that the church has survived to this point doing things a certain way. It can survive a little bit longer until you have earned the leadership credibility to implement change in a healthy way. If your key leaders aren’t “with you” yet, it probably isn’t time to make the change. It is a dangerous and often foolish thing for a new pastor to stand alone.
- Don’t be paralyzed by opposition. No matter how much time you invest in relationships, how much you listen, and how well you communicate, you will rarely have 100% support for significant decisions – make them anyway. If a majority of key leaders are on board and agree with you on the timing, then you can do it. If you wait for unanimous support you will be paralyzed forever.
- Don’t “go negative” on previous leadership. You will feel like you have to bash earlier decisions in order to point out the need to change the status quo. But don’t forget that the “man in the arena” at the time probably did the best he knew to do. And hindsight really is 20/20.
- Be sure to pay attention to your study. There are many demands on a new pastor. Your family is in the midst of transition, your new church members need your attention, and there are important connections to be made in the community. But you cannot lead well if you do not preach powerfully. Carve out the time and the physical space for yourself so that you can skillfully feed the Word to your people. What good is listening, credibility, and vision for the future if you can’t deliver in the pulpit?
- Be BALANCED in your approach to preaching. Preaching is important, but it is not ALL-important. You are a husband and a father. You are a pastor. You need to love your family and you need to take the time to love your people. Over time, you will be able to develop leaders that will take some of the day-to-day administrative and even pastoral care responsibilities off of your shoulders. But for now those things are probably all on you. Don’t run from other responsibilities by retreating to your study.
- Pay serious attention to personal integrity and accountability. Your sexual and financial integrity are absolutely critical to your leadership platform. Don’t be alone with a woman you are not related to (your wife, your mom, your daughter, etc..). Avoid private communication with women, including email, text, phone, and facebook. Get appropriate protection and accountability for your computer. Don’t personally handle money. Above all – tell your church people the truth. They can handle it.