About this time each year, many clergy prepare to begin new work in new places with new people. Some of it will feel familiar. Some challenges will catch us off guard. There will be unexpected blessings. Nothing will feel as overwhelming as it does on the first day, but it will not be as easy as we might like either. Over the years, I have had the opportunity to enter many dramatically different places with a continually changing array of new faces. Here are some bits of wisdom I have picked up on how to make an entrance.
Enter as Yourself
You are like a cup of good coffee. People may or may not like you at first, but it is much easier for people to acquire a taste for you if you are honest. If you tell them that you are tea, and they find themselves with a mouth full of strong coffee, they will spit you out or choke you down with difficulty. None of us wants that. So be what you say you are. Be the same person at home and at church. The real you is a masterpiece of God. You will be most effective as a leader being exactly that person. It will set you free, and it will set others around you free as well.
I have had the opportunity to enter many dramatically different places …. Here are some bits of wisdom I have picked up on how to make an entrance.
Enter with Humility
As you enter a new place, do so understanding that things will be different and feel different with time. The things that may seem easy may become more difficult for you; and the things that are hard at first will become easier. You will adapt. Do not be afraid to ask for help; you do not need to have all the answers or do all the work. A good leader is one who knows what tasks necessitate their attention, and which tasks can be safely delayed or delegated. Listen to advice, but be wise about what advice you take. There are people in your congregation who know more than you do about some very important aspects of life and ministry. Be smart enough to figure out who those people are, and humble enough to listen and learn.
Enter to Listen
Do not just listen to advice. Listen to hopes and dreams, fears and joys. You may think “Oh, I know what they need.” You don’t, but they do, so listen. Listen for those places where the desires of their hearts overlap with what you are discerning to be God’s will for the church. Then lean into the dreams God has given to them and you. You cannot effectively listen if you already think you have all the answers; listen believing that others have something from which you can learn. In addition to the wisdom and direction you gain, you will also gain the respect of the people. They will be more likely to listen to someone who has been wholly devoted to listening to them.
Jump in with both feet! When we make a transition, it is difficult because we have to say goodbye to people we love, and at the same time say hello to people that we know we will love. That’s life. Love them anyway. Don’t hold back. Give them everything you have got, and make the most of every moment you have, from the beginning to the end.
Enter to Love
It is inevitable that you are going to love these people. It is one of the symptoms of having a pastor’s heart. And you are going to be surprised by which ones take the biggest chunk of your heart, too. The grumpy older gentleman who refuses to call you pastor because you are young and a woman might just be the one you still think about and worry about years after you have left. Love them, but be careful. Loving people does not mean being stupid or being weak. Love them, even when you disagree. Oh, and while you are busy learning to love this new group of people, let them love you. It goes both ways.
This article is adapted from a post that appeared on the UMC Lead Blog April 14, 2014.