6 Things You Inherit as a New Pastor at an Established Church

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This is a guest post by Sam Rainer. Sam is the president of Rainer Research and the senior pastor of Stevens Street Baptist Church in Cookeville, TN. His new book, Obstacles in the Established Church, was released this past September.

Welcome to your new church. Most everyone is excited to meet you. Few will remember your first sermon, but many will tell you it was great. If your church is going to vote on you, the percentage of “yes” votes is likely to be high. The reason is simple. The vast majority of church members want to follow a good leader, and they want their church to thrive. But be careful. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking the subsequent days will be like the first.

You’re at an established church, which means there are a few things already in place. During the leadership honeymoon, you’ll begin to figure out exactly what you are inheriting. You will want to tweak something. Some of your church members will think you are unwise. Some will put you on a pedestal. Most will go with the flow. The “new” label will drop from your title.

Considerate pastors understand what they are inheriting before people stop introducing them as the “new pastor.” Here a few examples of the things you inherit as a new pastor of an established church.

You inherit people. Don’t miss this. You lead people, not processes. There will be plenty of established processes to discover, but you should know the people first. And if you don’t love the people where they are now, then you don’t deserve to lead them now or later.

Don’t miss this. You lead people, not processes. – Sam Rainer

You inherit a culture. Some people will be new. Some will be longstanding members. Others will show up your first day and stick with you. Others will leave your first day. The culture of your church, however, is likely deeply rooted. Culture is created by people, but it’s also bigger than any one person. No individual—including the pastor—will change the culture quickly.

You inherit a staff. It’s important to understand the influence of the staff on people and culture. A newer, younger staff is often less influential than a long-tenured staff. And the culture of the staff may be quite different than the culture of the church.

You inherit a schedule. At one church I pastored, the second service began at 10:55am. I asked a few people, “Why the extra five minutes?” Every answer was different. No one agreed on why, but everyone agreed on what. The service started at 10:55am.

You inherit expectations. If your new church has 400 people, then you have 400 different sets of expectations about you. These expectations are an amalgamation of ideals, previous leaders at your church, personal preferences, and favorite pastors and church leaders in culture.

You inherit traditions. Some things stick for generations because they are good for generations. Other traditions need to go. Figuring out which traditions are good, bad, and ugly can take time. Don’t assume your gut reactions to church traditions are correct. Take the time to learn why they exist.

Your new church will welcome you. The first day, first week, first month, and perhaps the first year will go well. Use the time to understand better what you are inheriting.

The First 30 Days of Your New Job

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4 thoughts on “6 Things You Inherit as a New Pastor at an Established Church

  1. I’m 90 days into the job (lol) but this post seems spot on. I preached the 4 Sundays of Advent not sure how it would go over but didn’t do the wreath and candles; small SBC church in a rural community and I didn’t want to throw too much new stuff at them at once. We’ll do it next year; turns out the music director happens to love that. While taking a position of leadership I’m also relying on the church members to let me know, particularly during this first year, their traditions throughout the calendar year. They have called me to pastor but I respect that for a long time it has been their church.

  2. 2 and 1/2 years into my first Pastorate. I have fully embraced the traditions of this faith community. Now we are starting to embrace change. God is good.

  3. People don’t care how much you know, until they know how much you care. You have to be genuinely and selflessly interested in the people. If they discover how much you love them, then they will submit to you…