Memo to a New Pastor

Today I’ve got a short memo to a new pastor. I’m in a transitional role right now as a transitional pastor and we’ve had a successful candidating event, and have a called pastor who is starting in just a few weeks. As we typically do in a transitional role, I will overlap with him for about a month, although it’s not a full time month. Usually it works out to about a week of work handing off documents, having meetings, and giving him a heads up about all the crazy people in the neighborhood, that kind of thing.

I’m thinking of this incoming pastor, and there’s something I often tell young leaders which I think will be relevant for new pastors as well as us older pastors. I want you to think of three different ways of approaching challenges and problems in the church. I want to think in terms of teaching and leading and praying. Teaching, leading and praying. I realize this is a simplification, but just bear with me and you’ll get the point.

Here’s really the heart of the matter. Whatever problems or challenges come up in the church; the more complex the problem, the more complex the solution, often it will require the pastor to engage in leadership skills and prayer and teaching. But some problems are primarily solved by teaching, such as theological challenges. Some problems are primarily solved through leading, clarity of vision, confrontation, or communication. And some are primarily solved, or the critical issue is prayer. Praying for certain spiritual things, some invisible challenges that show up visibly, but there’s spiritual things that need to happen.

So here’s the issue. You cannot solve a leadership problem with just teaching. You cannot solve a leadership problem with just prayer. Likewise, you can’t solve a teaching problem, a theological problem just with leading or just with praying. You can’t just solve a spiritual problem that deals with spiritual forces just through leading and teaching. You need to discern what is required.

Now in most problems, there’s obviously bits and pieces of all these things, but most problems have a primary tack you need to take. And here’s where it gets difficult because depending on our wiring, as lead pastors, we will have a primary tack that we like to take. For a lot of lead pastors, we try to teach our way out of every problem.

We think the answer to everything is teaching. It’s our big hammer, and whatever your big hammer is, you see every problem as a nail that that hammer can hit. If you’re a pastor who leans towards teaching, you’re going to think that every big problem in the church is just a matter of teaching better or teaching harder or teaching longer or more biblically or whatever. When in fact it might be just putting on the big boy or the big girl pants and confronting someone as a leader, courageously confronting them, or it may mean getting down on your knees and praying through some things and asking God to do some things that you just can’t do.

Likewise, some of us may inclined towards being very contemplative and devotional and prayerful. That’s a bad thing. It’s a great thing. But sometimes we are called to get off our knees and to lead. Or maybe we’re called get off our knees and teach through a good exposition of a passage, address a subject or some current event from a biblical perspective, which obviously requires prayer to get to that place, but it requires the teaching or sometimes the leading.

I could go through a lot of variations of this but the point I want to make in this short memo to a new lead pastor is discern what the challenges are and what the solution is. And remember the solution may not be what your natural bent is. This is why we always need to be growing, learning, having mentors, praying for wisdom and teaching the word clearly and leading courageously. They’re all essential.

I could also throw in another tool or another trade could be the whole pastoral side, the whole shepherding side, and caring for people personally. That’s a big tool and for some problems that is the solution. If we are hardcore capital “L” leaders and we want to lead as this visionary, bold leader, sometimes we need to put on the shepherd hat, fulfill the shepherding role and come alongside some people. But most often I see this tension between teaching and leading and praying, maybe a little bit of tension on the pastoral side.

Just discern what the problem is. Discern what the primary response is and respond in kind prayerfully wisely as a courageous leader based in the word, but apply the proper tool to challenge.

Wisdom in grace to you, no matter where you’re at in your pastoral journey, God bless you as you enter a new role or as you carry on where you are. Press on

2 thoughts on “Memo to a New Pastor”

  1. Good stuff, Daren. That hand-off stuff is important alright. I like to let them know what I’ve been doing during transition, taking them through the Board Policy Manual, showing them how we were organized during transition and why. It is helpful, I think, to the new leader to know the journey through transition, but in my experience the new leader is raring to get at it as well — based on his own way of thinking and doing things. So I want to be sure he knows what’s been important from my perspective, but then I hand off and try to stay clear, praying all the while!

    • Yes, that’s one of the great challenges, isn’t it? Stepping back and letting it go. As we always tell the Search Teams when they hand off the shortlist to the board- after the handoff it’s “hands off!” Same for us I guess, eh?


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