12 Things You Should Do When Walking Into an Existing Leadership Culture

A 2011 study by Lifeway Research shows senior pastors across the United States are staying at their local churches an average of 3.6 years. While much has been written about how to increase longevity, little has been written about how pastors should step into their next pastoral assignment.

Unless you are planting a new church, you will be inheriting another church’s leadership team – often staff, but definitely lay leadership. So what should a new pastor do with a leadership team that is firmly in place? How should a new pastor lead a new group of leaders who hired you and, frankly, are now paying your salary?

The following are 12 things you should do when walking into an existing leadership culture:

  1. Establish Your Expectations Before The Interview Process – What you want to hear from leaders at a church you are considering is, “We’re willing to do whatever it takes.“ This is a sign of a much healthier mindset than a leadership team that says, “This is how we’ve always done it.”

  2. Honor The Past – You are standing on the shoulders of pastors and people who came before you. Whatever the condition of the church, people gave their blood, sweat, tears, money and prayers to get the church to where it currently is. You can never move into the future until you first honor the past.

  3. Help The Leadership Become Outwardly Focused – Early on, ask the questions, “If we were to close our doors today, would this community miss us?  Why or why not?”

  4. LISTEN – Identify your influencers. Go sit down with them and hear their stories, even if you know you have disagreements with them. Tell them you just want to hear what their heart is for the church and community. Ask them what they think God wants to do? And do not patronize them. Make sure you take copious notes of their responses so you can remember them. This shows you really care about what they have to say.

  5. Focus On Influencers Who Are Just About There – There will always be those who disagree with you or the vision. Instead of focusing on those who disagree, look for the key influencers who just need a little bit more influencing and information. They may not have all the details nailed down, but they say, “Pastor, count me in.” This group will become your primary vision carriers.  

  6. Steward Your Time And The Vision Well – Pour about 80% of your vision casting into the people who are the most excited, most committed, and who love God with all their heart. If you do this, those who are uncommitted or on-the-fence will follow. However, our tendency is to do the opposite. We often spend 80% of our time with the people who are not for the vision and will not advance it. This is wasted leadership capital.

  7. Identify YOUR Inner Circle – Positional influence is irrelevant here. Identify and train 10 to 15 individuals who are absolutely sold out to the vision. They have influence over circles and family groups a new pastor cannot get into.  This new inner-circle will bring the biggest momentum shift to the church and your leadership. They will make your job as a new pastor much easier.

  8. Look For Invested Leaders – Sitting around a Board table does not make you a leader. Leadership is influence, not a position. You can’t influence effectively if you are not invested. You must lead by example. It has been often said, but it is true – show me your calendar (time, talent) and check book (treasure) and I will show you the leaders who are invested.

  9. Look For Praying Leaders – Your leadership team must be absolutely devoted to prayer. Their spiritual temperature has to be higher than the rest. This is a quality you simply cannot teach. As a new pastor, when difficult times come, you need men and women who will surround you in prayer.

  10. Look For Leaders Who Are Sold Out To The Vision – You must also surround yourself with people who keep the main thing the main thing. They are not easily distracted or diverted.

  11. The Elevator Principle – John Maxwell writes in his book, Winning With People, about the “Elevator Principle” which teaches, some people take you up, some people take you down. A new pastor should spend time with those who energize him. Ministry is hard enough as is. Do not spend the majority of your time with draining personalities who do not bless you or advance the vision.

  12. Protect Unity Above All Else – I mentioned the importance of listening earlier. Do not feel you have to win every argument or be right all the time with your new staff and Board. Know which battles are the most important. Unity creates and sustains momentum.

I would like to thank Senior Pastor Brian Grow of First Christian Church in Dyersburg, TN for his assistance in writing this post.

This post was written by Brian Dodd, Director of New Ministry Partnerships for INJOY Stewardship Solutions. You can read more thoughts from Brian on leadership at BrianDoddonLeadership.com.