by Bob Whitesel, D.Min., Ph.D., 10/15/15.
A student once shared that he was hired from within the organization to fill the lead pastor role. I have written (Growth by Accident, Death by Planning: How NOT to Kill a Growing Congregation, pp. 109-120) about why this is often a strategically wise practice. And, research confirms this.
However, hiring from within also brings caveats. Following the student’s comments, are my top three things you must avoid.
Joshua D. (a student) wrote, “This article is very encouraging. I have been at KSM for 15 years as music pastor and Administrator and just found out Monday, as of January 1st I will be taking the Senior Pastor position. This class could not have come at a better time. Thank you for investing in us.”
My response about Top Three Things to Avoid:
Congratulations Joshua, I have a couple suggestions I make students:
RULE #1: Even though you’ve been at the church a while, a “listening tour” is the first thing I would do. Tell the people that though you have been around for a long time, you want to have fresh eyes and fresh ears to hear what they haven’t told you before. This is because in this new position you have a new relationship! So don’t get defensive or answer them yet. Just go to them privately and ask them, “What do I need to hear from you?”
RULE #2: Secondly tell them you’re going to go slow before you make any changes. Remember going slow and building consensus is the secret to making change happening in a unifying manner (see research and examples in the chapter, “Go Slowly, Build Consensus and Succeed” in Preparing for Change Reaction: How to Introduce Change in Your Church, pp. 151-169 which you can download here: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 8 Go Slow. Also, you will find even more extensive examples in Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It” Abingdon Press.) Even though you have been at the church for some time, some people may have felt that the previous later wasn’t open to their ideas. And, they will immediately start to politic you. You do not want to be perceived as taking sides. So listen to them and explain to them their ideas must go through proper channels (baords, vetting by people affected, etc.). Get them working with others who they’ve been at odds with in the past to move the idea forward. Do not becomes the champion of the new idea or you will be perceived as taking sides. Taking sides on methodology (not theology) is one of the most dangerous positions a new pastor can find her or himself in.
RULE #3: And this brings us to the third point: don’t get in between people with different opinions – but rather get them working together to solve their differences. As you remember in my book Staying Power: Why People Leave the Church Over Change and What You Can Do About It” (Abingdon Press) that when a new leader comes into a position (even if they been a leader in the church for many years) there will arise a new activity of politicking to get the new leader to support their side. You must remember … don’t get in the middle. Research shows the best thing is to get them working out their differences between each other without you in the middle (again download this chapter for the research footnotes: BOOK ©Whitesel EXCERPT – CHANGE REACTION Chpt. 8 Go Slow.) So don’t, repeat don’t, let them put you in the middle as a go-between between them. Do not be a mediator or negotiator. Force them to meet with one another and to come up between them with a third option. The secret is not for you to be the negotiator, but for them to conduct negotiations face-to-face. That way there is no communication filter or opportunity for them to blame you for miscommunicating their position. So don’t be a go-between – be someone that gets people to talk out their differences with each other (and without you there 🙂 Of course they must still bring it back to you for affirmation. But don’t affirm a compromise, until they work it out themselves.