I have been in ministry for over a decade and since then I have learned a lot about stepping into new roles and what to do and not do. If I were being completely honest, I failed in more ways than I care to admit when it came to stepping into a new role. I was often rash, too direct, quick to assert my ideas over another person’s, and way too aggressive.
Looking back I could make the argument that all of those characteristics were done with good intentions, but how I went about sharing ideas, vision, and implementation could have been handled in much better ways. What I want to share with you in this post are 5 key tips to remember as you step into a new ministry. These are not exhaustive, but I think if we remember them they will help anyone stepping into a new ministry position or role within a church.
1. Take change slowly. I remember my first paid ministry gig. I was a 24 year old senior pastor where the median age at the church was 55+. I was hired in to fill the pulpit, but very quickly asserted myself and began to take over other ministry roles held by leaders in the church because I saw how to “do it better.” My intention wasn’t to alienate anyone or to push people aside. In fact, in my heart I truly was doing it all for the kingdom of heaven, but in running so hard after the success and mission, I missed the people.
So many people had gone before me. They had put blood, sweat, and many tears into the ministry. They had great ideas. But when I started I thought I knew better. I had the experience, the ministry degree, the calling. But I missed the people and the reasons they had done things.
So here is my challenge to you: when you start fresh somewhere make sure to slow down, to listen, to bring people in, to build a team, and take your time making changes. A good rule of thumb is to wait 6 months to make big changes and to bring people in as you make small and large changes.
2. Make sure to build relationships and cast vision well. Often times it is easy to come and make changes because you believe and know it is the right thing to do. But if you don’t bring people in and share that with them, then more often than not, that change will fail. Before you even begin to make changes, build relationships.
Our ministry philosophy should never be program over people, but instead should be rooted in relational ministry as we mirror the philosophy of Christ. When you build relationships you are intentionally growing your team and helping them to see and believe in the vision. Change then becomes natural and part of the ministry DNA. Instead of making changes and trying to catch people up, build into people and let the vision flow through the relationship, then see people move the vision with you.
3. Always be willing to adapt. I am a Jersey Boy born and raised, but I went to school in the Midwest and did ministry there for over 5 years. What I learned very quickly is the Midwest is very different from the East Coast. The way of life, the pace at which things are done, the interactions between people, and even the way religion and faith are viewed were all very different.
What this meant for me when I stepped into a new ministry role is that I had to be willing to adapt my methodology, philosophy, and strategies toward my ministry setting. I wasn’t compromising my beliefs, values, or plans but instead was assessing my new ministry setting and working within the culture and respecting the people I was serving. Doing this will allow for more intentional interactions, rapid building of rapport and trust, and demonstrate to your people that you are there to minister to them not to be the center of the ministry (people over programs).
4. Take time to invest in the community. Depending on where you live and the size of the church you serve in, it can become easy to only be focused on the church family. Meaning, sometimes it is hard to see outside the walls you serve and work in.
My first paid ministry position was with a church that had 10 people including me. We met in the back room of an American Legion Hall and no one knew where or who we were. I began branding the church, looking for a new space, and developing our leaders. All great things in the big process, but I missed caring for and stepping into the community we served. Only when I physically moved into the community did I begin to see the needs and understand how to holistically serve our church and the community together. Then we saw not only growth in the church, but healing and hope come into a very broken area.
When you invest in the community more options are presented for the Gospel to go forth, people begin to see the church as the Bride of Christ, change begins to happen, and healing comes in amazing ways. So go to school games, check out community events, go to PTO meetings, bring donuts to various organizations or community groups, shop local, and look to give back. When you look outside the walls and understand your community, you are able to better invest in your ministry as a whole and this will naturally bring people in.
5. Finally, find a mentor. This is something I would highly recommend to anyone regardless of age, ministry experience, length of time at a ministry location, or level of education. Mentors help in so many ways from bouncing ideas and implementation strategies off of them, to having an empathetic and sympathetic person to lean into, and in many ways having someone to tell you when you have done a great job and when you need to shape up. A mentor is an advocate and a friend, and if I were honest with you sometimes both of those are hard to come by in a ministry setting.
I would encourage you to find someone outside of your church, someone who has been in ministry or served in a church in some capacity, is more seasoned than you are, and is willing to pour into you and speak truth into your life. This will allow for you to be open and honest without fear of reprisal and also help you to grow as a ministry leader. Be willing to listen to encouragement and criticism, process through difficult moments, to be grown and stretched, and to invest relationally. This will be one of the best decisions you could ever make to enhance your own spiritual walk and the ministry you serve in.
These 5 thoughts cannot guarantee a rapidly growing ministry or a church of thousands. But it can create a place where people are loved and valued, where the Gospel goes forth in powerful ways, and growth and development happen in your own life. These thoughts will help you to generate a ministry that puts people before the program, and allows for lives to be impacted and changed. Be an ambassador for the kingdom, and let God work through you, as you model the life of a selfless servant and see what can happen!