22 Rapid-Fire Leadership and Life Lessons From Transitioning to a New Church

22 Rapid-Fire Leadership and Life Lessons From Transitioning to a New Church

Transitions are hard.

In the past seven and a half years, my wife and I have made many. From quitting full-time jobs in the marketplace and moving to Cincinnati to follow God’s call to ministry to getting started in ministry to joining the staff at The Crossing Church to going full-time there to graduating from Bible College and starting Seminary work to going from zero kids to four kids, we’ve gone through many transitions.

Every transition I’ve had in my life has come with challenges. And this latest one has had its fair share of them.

In mid-November of 2018, I left the staff at The Crossing Church to accept the call of senior pastor at First Church of Christ in Bluffton, Indiana.

Since December of 2018, I have been drinking from the fire hose of transitioning to a new church and figuring out what it looks like to be a senior pastor.

And while the fire hose has been steadily spewing life and leadership lessons, I think I’ve grasped a few.

22 Rapid-Fire Leadership and Life Lessons From Transitioning to a New Church

  1. If I could go back and do this all over again, I would have slowed down before the transition took place to let the emotional weight of it all be felt more on the front end. This has come heavily in moments since making the transition, specifically feeling homesick and missing friends who had become family. Slowing down beforehand would have helped me say goodbye better.
  2. When you arrive to the new church you’ve been called to lead, spend a lot of time observing. The new person has to have an accurate picture of what is. Let the people paint it for you.
  3. Spend a lot of time listening. [See #2]
  4. Spend a lot of time asking questions. [See #2]
  5. Your walk with God must be your highest priority. The better place you are spiritually, the better your transition will be.
  6. Communicate a lot with your spouse about establishing a new normal and a new routine. If you’re at all a routine-oriented person like my wife and I are (we’re both type-A…), then just know that everything is going to get blown up. That’s obvious. But the important part is being flexible and talking through what you want your new normal to look like. This is a great opportunity to make some positive adjustments. For example, we’ve re-prioritized regularly scheduled date nights since this transition and it’s been great.
  7. In order to truly understand the church’s current culture, you’ve gotta be in it for some time. Again, spend a lot of time observing.
  8. Cultural change takes time. But that doesn’t mean you should be passive about it.
  9. Two of the best things you can do as the new pastor are (1) love your people well and (2) preach great Christ-exalting, gospel-proclaiming sermons.
  10. Trust is built over time. So give it time. Keep showing up. Keep plodding forward.
  11. When (not if) you make a mistake, admit it, apologize, and move forward.
  12. Work through leadership challenges head-on.
  13. Leading through positive change requires having courageous conversations.
  14. Your family needs you. Invest in them. Don’t let yourself get lost in all the work that “needs” to be done in the church. Your family needs you.
  15. As you observe and reflect on what things need to be done, write them down. Don’t trust your memory.
  16. There are eight key systems that every church needs functioning well (I’m sure there are others too):
    1. Org chart – This answers questions like who reports to who? who is responsible for what? who is responsible for equipping who?
    2. Master calendar – It’s super simple when you have it. When you don’t, everything feels chaotic.
    3. Assimilation – how are people’s experience when they are new to the church? how are they being encouraged to plug in and how often are people plugging into the church?
    4. Discipleship – what is your discipleship model? how are we going to encourage people to grow in their walk with God?
    5. Evangelism/outreach – how will people be encouraged to practice evangelism and how will the church reach out to its community in practical ways with the love of Christ?
    6. Generosity – how is biblical generosity going to be taught and emphasized in the church body?
    7. Leadership development – how will you build leaders in and through the church?
    8. Yearly planning and evaluation – how will staff members be coached and evaluated? how will programs be evaluated? how will the church calendar come together?
  17. There are probably going to be a lot of things that can and should be changed or implemented. But go to God and ask Him what is the next best thing? And yes, that’s intentionally singular. Figure out that one thing and go spend your attention on that one thing. Simple enough, right?
  18. There will be people coming to you with distinct agendas. Don’t let them rush you into a decision.
  19. If you want to keep the culture you have, hire from within. If you want to disrupt the culture you have, hire from without.
  20. Prioritize your sermon prep times (plug them into your calendar and view it as an appointment – it is).
  21. Designate a certain primary day or certain primary times of the day for meetings. This will help keep you from overbooking yourself in a given week.
  22. There is an enormous weight to your words with many people so wield that weight carefully and for God’s glory.

I’d love to hear from you. Have you recently transitioned to a new church? What position? Have you seen these things to be true? Anything you would add? Send me a tweet @BrandonKelley_ or join our Facebook Group.

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Written by Brandon Kelley

Brandon Kelley is the co-founder of Rookie Preacher and the author of Preaching Sticky Sermons and Crucified to Life. He serves as the Lead Pastor of First Church of Christ in Bluffton, IN. He also writes at BrandonKelley.org. You can follow him @BrandonKelley_. Watch his sermons here.


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