By Josh Tandy
You don’t have to be 22 and just walking away from the welcome potluck to read this article.
Here’s how I define Rookie Pastor: someone who is brand new to ministry, or someone who just took on a new role, or one of those veterans who refuses to stop growing, learning, and adapting.
As I wrote my e-book 30 in 30: How to Start or Restart Well*, I realized I did some of my 30 pointers in my first 30 days, and some I have yet to do. My goal is to help the recent graduate who is just getting started and the pastor who has been serving for years.
(Re)start well. Start leading. Start being who you were called to be.
The easiest way to show people you care is to remember their names.
Forgetting someone’s name a few weeks into a ministry can create a barrier between you and that person that could last for years. It isn’t fair, but it’s the reality.
There will be a few interactions where you can get away with a wrong name or asking someone you’ve already met what his or her name is, but you’re taking a risk. You can only apologize so many times.
For whatever reason, in my ministry experiences there are always a few people whose names I just can’t seem to get right. In one situation, after I got a woman’s name wrong several times and repeatedly apologized for it, her name finally stuck with me, but for years she liked to remind me of what I used to call her.
Most people say they are horrible at remembering names, except for those few who figure out a memory system that works for them.
Evernote.com has a contact management app you can put on your phone. Or you could use a reminder app to keep the names of people you meet fresh in your mind. The best system I’ve seen involved a person who carried a notepad that he filled with people’s names and something about them. Often he would do this right in front of people, which communicated his desire to remember their names.
That act made it clear he was trying to remember names, which helped him in the long run because people knew of his efforts. People give grace to those who obviously are trying.
Never say something like, “I will probably forget your name,” and when you do forget a person’s name, be quick and sincere in your apology. But never underestimate the importance of remembering names.
Say Yes to Everything
It is time to cash in some of that relational equity. Hopefully during the first few weeks of a ministry you will be in people’s homes and getting to know them in relaxed environments. Don’t rely on the programmed meet and greet times to suffice as your relational inroads. You can shake hands and kiss babies over a potluck all you want, but you really need to be having one-on-one conversations with people at family and small group gatherings.
As you meet people, you will hear what seem to be empty invitations like, “We should have you guys over for dinner.” While some people are just being polite, I believe most are making a genuine invitation and trying to gauge your willingness. For that first month or so, you shouldn’t eat many meals alone or with just your family.
If you aren’t careful in this area, it could create an unhealthy precedent that doesn’t lead to any sort of balance or time to recharge in the safety of your home. To counteract this, as you meet people and eat with folks, make it clear this isn’t the norm, and that you are intentionally doing this to meet people, even though you don’t plan to sustain it over the long haul.
By doing this, you set a boundary, get to know people on their terms, and perhaps most importantly, you model what it means to have a healthy family balance.
Before I move on, let me acknowledge that all the introverts reading this are getting a little queasy. I know this because I’m an introvert, and this was hard to write. Remember, this isn’t the norm; there will be an end date to most of this. Also, you don’t need to eat with a new family or group every night. Saying no to someone because it conflicts with date night with your spouse might be better in the long run than having dinner with them.
Meet Other Pastors in the Area
I don’t understand why churches don’t partner more often. Even though my own pride has occasionally prevented me from collaborating, it still doesn’t make sense. When you really consider it, churches and pastors that refuse to partner at least occasionally make the drama among middle school girls look sophisticated.
One of your biggest challenges as you get settled into a ministry is to figure out the local culture. Every community has a specific rhythm, pace, and to some extent, a specific set of values that are vital to understand.
The easiest shortcut to figuring some of these things out is to talk to those who have been living it. There will be some who give you the runaround and won’t jump at the idea of talking to the new kid in town. The majority, however, will be more than willing to talk—they just need to be asked.
In my experience, something very interesting and life-giving happens when pastors from different churches talk to one another: they are themselves. Whether we admit it or not, having someone to talk to who isn’t in the middle of it, but still understands, is needed and is something we don’t experience very often.
There are people down the street and on the other side of town who have been on the same path you just started; why wouldn’t you want to learn from them?
Identify Cheerleaders and Ax-Grinders
As you go around and talk with folks during those first 30 days, it will quickly become clear
who has an agenda. Those who are pushing their puppet and clown ministry are pretty easy to spot (it’s the bedazzled sweaters), and they can be let down easy. It’s the ones with sneaky agendas you must watch out for.
The people who are pushy-friendly, who really want to “get to know you,” are the ones to be careful of. However, from that same group will come people who truly want to support you and who deserve your listening ear.
If you haven’t learned this yet, let me break the news to you: ministry is really hard. It’s not math problem hard or Saturday crossword puzzle hard; instead it’s draining, exhausting, “I don’t get paid enough to put up with this” hard.
Because of the challenges of ministry, you need to embrace the cheerleaders and avoid the ax-grinders. The ax-grinders are the ones who send you an e-mail Monday morning that kills all the joy you had on Sunday. Ax-grinders point out the problems with your program but don’t offer to help. They’d be happier at another church, but, unfortunately they appear to enjoy the misery.
On the other hand, the cheerleaders you need aren’t the ones who rubber-stamp their approval on everything you do. A good cheerleader in ministry isn’t going to let you ignore the problems; they will lovingly point them out and help you correct them. Nor will a good cheerleader let you sit in the negativity that comes from the critics.
Thankfully, I am married to my biggest and most honest cheerleader.
A big task in these first 30 days is keeping your eyes and ears open. When you walk in, you are most likely relieving some volunteers who were carrying the torch in the absence of a staff person.
Imagine writing curriculum, leading youth group, preparing sermons, reconciling budgets, dealing with cutting comments and e-mails, all while working a full-time job. You need to take some time and say thank-you to some people you’ve just met.
In your excitement to get things rolling, it can be easy to overlook what happened before you arrived. Missing this opportunity can sabotage you before you even get started.
Those who kept things running might gladly step back and let you run with it as they return to a volunteer role, or they might want to hang around. Despite what you say, some of these leaders will hang on to their role and the influence that came with it. These leaders liked having some control, which is understandable, but dangerous.
You just stepped into a ministry they ran, and their style doesn’t match yours (no two leaders have exactly the same style). Therefore they will always have an opportunity for criticism and/or dissension. You come into this situation at a disadvantage that many rookie pastors don’t anticipate.
Whatever you do, don’t ignore them. If you didn’t thank them and acknowledge what they gave to the ministry before you got there, can you really blame them if they become angry?
At least don’t be surprised when they start resisting your leadership.
*This article is adapted from 30 in 30: How to Start or Restart Well. You can purchase the book through the Amazon store. at www.amazon.com/30-Start-Restart-Well-ebook/dp/B007KSYKK6.
Josh Tandy is a church planter in Greenwood, Indiana. He wrote his e-book after interacting with visitors to his website, RookiePastor.com.