Calling a new pastor can be an exciting, yet unsettling experience. The excitement of a new minister (the honeymoon period) can render some encouragement from the membership as well as some aspects of delusion that will soon change. The unsettling element comes later, usually, as the new minister settles into his call. Therefore, allow me a few moments to offer some simple suggestions so you and the minister will labor joyfully together after the honeymoon period is over. These suggestions are born out of my own experience which is, admittedly, not extensive. However, they are gleaned from various issues I have faced as well as the mistakes I have made. I offer them in no particular order of priority. Frankly, they are all critical if the church, with her new pastor, will survive.
First, resist the urge to asses his overall ministry in the first six months. He is learning about you during this period – your strengths and weaknesses. He is settling into his call and adjusting to his routine. He is likely unsure of himself because you are a stranger to him at this point. It is likely that he has never lived in the community of which he ministers. He probably doesn’t even know the way to the nearest grocery store. Therefore, be patient with him as he should be with you. I am told that it takes 3-5 years of hard work before a ministry takes shape and bears fruit. I suspect that is true.
Second, the new pastor is not your previous pastor as much as you would like him to be. That means he will probably not do the same things as your former pastor. Nothing is more discouraging to a new pastor than to hear that he is not like the previous one. Usually, those kinds of comments come across to the new minister as negative. Resist the urge to tell him that he is not like the previous minister. He isn’t because he is not him. He has his own personality, characteristics, flaws and good points. Remember, you called him — warts and all. At one of my session meetings, a Ruling Elder who did not like me very much told me he wanted me to be like the previous minister and do the same things as he did. Friends, that is impossible. I am not the former minister, and I never will be. Your new minister is not your old one, and he never will be.
Third, you didn’t call a perfect minister. I know that you think you did during the honeymoon phase, but you will soon realize that he isn’t perfect. He will make mistakes (especially if you are his first charge and he is fresh out of seminary). Resist the urge to beat the new minister into submission. If you think he is making mistakes, and those mistakes bother you, talk to him and not to everyone else in the church about those mistakes. Resist the urge to form alliances against the new minister. It will only lead to ruin. He is also a work in progress like you are. He has not arrived, and he probably knows it, painfully. If he takes his responsibility seriously, and if he truly understands that he will give an account for your soul, he is very aware of his insufficiency to do the things he has been called to do (2 Cor. 2:16; Heb. 13:17).
Fourth, your new minister is likely to make changes over time. In my context as a Presbyterian minister, these changes are not his alone — they come with direction and approval of the Ruling Elders in the church. Usually, the pastor gets the blame. It comes with the territory. When those changes occur, there is no need to wring your hands in fear. Those changes will not kill you. I know you think they will, but they won’t.
Fifth, pray for your new pastor. This suggestion should probably be at the head of the list (a list that is not ordered by priority. They are all important). He cannot do this work alone. He needs the Holy Spirit just as you do (2 Cor. 2:16). So pray! Pray daily for him! Pray that the Spirit of God would be pervasive in all that he does. Most of what he handles is unseen and unknown to you. While you are at it, tell him you are praying for him. That encouragement alone will take your new pastor miles down the road. Remember, that your minister has a unique target on his back and is the object of the attacks of the Evil One. Nothing would make the kingdom of darkness happier than to see your minister fail and fall. So, please pray for him. Please.
Sixth, do not gossip, slander, or sow discord regarding your new pastor. It does not matter what he does or doesn’t do. If you start a smear campaign against him, you are sinning (Prov. 6:16-19). The solution is not all that difficult: talk to your new pastor respectfully (Matt. 18:1-5; Gal. 6:1). If that does not resolve the issue, bring another with you, preferably an elder in the church. I faced this problem for months. At one point, two members of the church insisted on talking to me in my study immediately after I preached the morning sermon (that is not the best time to address problems or concerns with your pastor, by the way). Yet, it was not a conversation. It was a list of all the things they didn’t like (it was written down on a small piece of paper that was pulled out during the “conversation”). When I tried to offer some explanation or response, or even give ground on some of the “concerns,” I was told to “be quiet. We don’t want to hear your answers.” Friends, that is not the way to resolve differences, and it is not respectful. If you behaved that way towards your employer, you would likely be fired.
Seventh, don’t compare him to your favorite celebrity preacher. Your new pastor probably doesn’t preach like Charles Haddon Spurgeon or Robert Murray M’Cheyne or your favorite preacher you have found on the internet. However, he is your pastor. He prays for you as he prepares a meal for you each week. He is the one who will visit the hospital and sit by your bed, reading Scripture and praying and encouraging you and your family. He is the one who will take your call at two in the morning. He will sacrifice much for your well-being and carry your burdens to the throne of God on your behalf. He knows your hurts, failures, successes, and sorrows. That superstar, celebrity preacher doesn’t. God in his providence gave you the no-name pastor, not the superstar. In other words, God gave you exactly what you need — unless of course, you don’t believe in the providence of God. Well, even if you don’t, God gave your new pastor to you on purpose and for your good (Rom. 8:28).
Eighth, remember your membership vows. I am writing from a Presbyterian context, and this may differ somewhat in other settings, but the principle is the same across the board (Prov. 6:16-19, Heb. 13:17). Members of the Presbyterian Church in America (the denomination in which I mister) take vows to “submit to the purity and peace of the church” and to “submit to the governance of the church.” Remember, you are not in charge. The elders of the church govern the practice of the church, and they should be submitted to insofar as they are submitting to the Lord. The Savior is the King and Head of the church. He alone is in charge. Not you. Not the elders, and indeed not the pastor. Before you break your vows before the Lord (Eccl. 5:1-5), discuss your concerns with the elders and the pastor. They will appreciate your willingness to do so and thank you for it even if the topic of conversation is difficult.
Remember, you are not a perfect Christian, and neither is your new pastor. He wrestles with sin as you do. If church members heed the things above (things that are not exhaustive by any means), life in the church would be much better and much sweeter, and your new pastor will find much joy in the ministry as he seeks to minister to you.
Please feel free to offer other suggestions in the comments section.
The next article will be about the other side of this coin: Suggestions for New Pastors.