by Andrew Hebert
What are the most important priorities for a pastor who begins serving at a new church? I began pastoring my present church a few months ago. This is the fifth church I’ve served in a pastoral capacity. Each church has been a different size, in a different context, with different unique needs.
An important question for every pastor or leader to ask when they begin serving a new church or organization is how they should invest their time, focus their priorities, and steward their schedule. Particularly, what should the pastor’s focus be in his first year? Here are the first five of ten practical priorities when you arrive at a new church.
- Listen and learn. Become a student of your church. Listen to as many people as possible to try to understand the church’s history, DNA, and strengths and weaknesses. Learn about where the church has come from and what opportunities lie before the church in the future. Get to know the unique people, needs, calling, gifting, resources, and passion represented in the church. Before you know where the church needs to go, you need to understand and appreciate its history and legacy. Allow time for one-on-one and group meetings with people who can help you understand the church better and find out how God is already at work there.
- Build relationships with key leaders. It is vitally important in your first year to develop relationships with key leaders in the church. In the business world, key “stakeholders” are those who have a vested interest and hold sway and influence in your organization. It is important to identify who these key influencers are in your church and begin to establish a relationship with them. Prioritize time with staff, deacons, small group and other ministry leaders, and influential lay people. If you do not have their support in the early days of your ministry, it will be difficult to garner the support of others. Be prepared to drink a lot of coffee and spend quality time with your key leaders.
- Focus on evangelism. One of the most important things you can do is simply to share the gospel regularly. This can be difficult because the majority of your time will be spent with members of your church, but look for ways to leverage your normal rhythms in order to share the gospel with people in your particular circles. Be intentional about putting yourself around lost people so that you can have opportunities to lead the way in evangelism. Ask God every morning to bring people across your path with whom you can share the gospel. Model for your church what it looks like to have an evangelistic heartbeat. Likewise, encourage your staff and church members to share the gospel relentlessly.
- Prioritize pulpit excellence. Week in, week out faithful exposition of God’s Word is absolutely primary throughout your ministry, especially in your first year. The first year is when you will establish expectations for your ministry. The church needs to get used to bringing and using their Bibles every time you speak. Work at your preaching and then work at it some more. As with anything, the more you intentionally practice, the better you will get. I want to become a better preacher week after week. I’m not looking to hit a home run every week, but to get a solid base hit, as it were, every time I step into the pulpit. Consistent, faithful exposition of God’s Word is the most powerful way to lead your people. Start well and set up the people’s expectations for solid biblical preaching early on in your ministry.
- Clarify future vision, strategy, and staff roles. As you listen and learn about where the church has been, you need to pray, dream, and plan where the church needs to go (vision) and how you will lead the church to get there (strategy). While God may not lead you to a vision and a strategy immediately, you need to begin the process of clarifying where you will lead the church in the future. Further, if you are coming to a church that has a staff, you will need to spend time in the first year understanding what they do, what they can do, and what they should do. As John Collins once said, you need to get the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats. You need to determine what role each staff member will play in leading the church to accomplish the church’s vision and strategy.
Andrew Hebert is the lead pastor of Paramount Baptist Church in Amarillo, Texas. He and his wife Amy have four children. He is a graduate of Criswell College and holds a doctorate in leadership and discipleship from Southern Seminary. You can follow him on Twitter at @andrewhebert86.