When Beth McConnell was being introduced to our congregation as our new pastor, someone asked her what we could do to make her transition easier. Beth is too humble to give you this list. Over the decades, I have given that great question a lot of thought and I have some responses based on my experience.
1) Introduce yourself until she says your name.
2) Be patient—about everything having to do with a new pastor. By “patience,” I don’t mean a month or even a year. Grace does not have a timetable. Be patient.
3) People mis-remember the past. Nostalgia about the “good ol’ days” contains a lot of half-truths and untruths.
4) Pray for spiritual vitality and energy for our new pastor. When they arrive in Columbia, Beth, Tandy and Claire will be physically, emotionally and spiritually tired, moving furniture and boxes as well as saying goodbye to friends in Charlotte.
5) Remember that we called Beth, not her family, to be our pastor. We called Beth to be our pastor, not to be a spiritual superhero.
6) Participate in church activities. Attend Sunday school and worship. Make a habit of coming to Wednesday night activities.
7) Give. It has never made sense to me to invite a pastor to come to a church and then limit the tools she has available to do her job. The goal of a storehouse is to gather and dispense supplies, not to horde them indefinitely.
8) Invite our new pastor to breakfast or lunch or invite her family to dinner. There’s no substitute for one-on-one conversation to get to know someone.
9) We don’t know where Beth, Tandy and Claire will live, but they will need the names of good local plumbers, electricians, dentists, etc.
10) When I was a pastor, I liked for people to write down specific requests, e.g., “Ms. Eliza Jones needs a pastoral visit. She fell recently and can’t attend church.” On a larger scale, communicate with our new pastor your hopes and dreams for our church. Pastors cannot read minds! Then, let her communicate her hopes and dreams.
11) Remember that our pastor’s time will be divided in many directions: visitors (guests) who attend our church, community outreach and ministry, truly needy church members, church administration, etc. I hope we do not put pressure on her to invest great hunks of time tending to those of us who should not need much of a pastor’s attention.
12) If you need to have a difficult conversation with our new pastor, speak clearly and directly and speak for yourself. “They say” is rarely helpful. Gossip is never helpful.
13) Lower your expectations. Too many of our expectations are merely opinions that have nothing to do with Jesus or the Bible. Too many of our opinions are based on 20th century church models that no longer work and are no longer relevant. Give our new pastor room to experiment and the opportunity to fail at some things.
14) Comparison is seldom helpful in the Kingdom of God. We don’t need to compare our pastor to any other pastor. We don’t need to compare our church to other churches. We are a uniquely called congregation with a unique pastor.
15) Value our new pastor’s expertise. We have called her because she has gifts for what I call “Church-craft.” She has been to seminary. She has a lot of experience in serving churches, large and small. She has been to countless continuing education conferences about how to help congregations thrive. She talks to colleagues about what works and what doesn’t work. When she suggests we try something that is outside your comfort zone, instead of criticizing the new plan, maybe you are the one that needs to change.
16) Create a positive buzz in the community about our church and our new pastor. Social media is already atwitter with excitement about her arrival. If our congregation follows true to form, we will have a lot of visitors over the next few months. Let’s build on that energy.
17) Be kind.