How To Successfully Join A New Church Staff
By: Brian Dunks
If you’ve been hired for a new ministry position, you will undoubtedly experience many transitional challenges. This is especially the case if you are making what is called a “lateral move,” where you are hired to do things you’ve been effective doing elsewhere. The difficulty lies in adjusting to the new context of of a new church staff.
Joining a new church staff is similar to an organ transplant - and you’re the new organ. If you don’t adapt, you could end up facing resistance or ultimate rejection by the organizational immune system.
Follow these four steps to effectively and successfully join a new church staff:
1. Establish key relationships.
It is imperative to develop connections quickly once you've started a new ministry job. This new role will present very different challenges from those you’ve experienced in the past. This involves identifying key stakeholders and building productive working relationships with your direct supervisor, direct reports, and/or other church staff and lay leaders.
The tendency is to focus on vertical relationships early on - up to supervisor and down to teams - to the detriment of horizontal relationships with your fellow staff and other church influencers. To succeed in your new role, you will need the support of people over whom you have no direct authority, like other staff members, lay leaders and volunteers. It takes time to build rapport, so begin investing your energy in building these networks as soon as possible.
2. Absorb the environment.
Just as every restaurant has an aura and ambiance, every church possesses an atmosphere that is unique. I’ve said it many times, “If you’ve seen one church, you’ve seen one church!” The sooner you understand the aura and culture of where you serve, the sooner you’ll make productive contributions. This means learning about the church as a whole, not just your specific piece of the puzzle.
Regardless of your position, knowing the vision, DNA, and ministries of the whole church is crucial. This will allow you to properly focus your area of responsibility to fulfill the overall mission of the church. Included in this absorption are the organizational systems in place, from the decision-making process to performance evaluation systems to leadership development models to budgeting considerations, and so on.
3. Determine real expectations.
Going through the search process is similar to digging a well. Once you’ve found the right location and the equipment is in its place, the only way to start pumping water is through employment. It is important to set realistic expectations once you start. Many things you hear before you take the new position (ideas, support, resources, etc.) may not be in line once you’re actually on the job.
Faulty assumptions about expectations can lead to frustration and can trigger unnecessary resistance. What does your supervisor need you to do now? What are your short-term, medium-term and long-term goals? What resources do you have? What does success look like? How and when will your performance be evaluated? Knowing the answer to these questions will help you secure some early wins.
4. Cultivate the culture.
Culture is the way people think, act, and communicate in an organization, and it’s all rooted in their shared staff values. To fully adapt to a new position, you must understand the overall culture and how it’s manifested throughout the church. Identifying culture is like peeling an onion - there are many layers.
Each church tends to have its own language describing core values, programs, or other elements, so it’s essential you learn early on how to "speak like the locals." Beneath the language lies a layer of behavior that will be exemplified among the staff. These behaviors include how staff will gain support for initiatives, view meetings, recognize accomplishments, etc. When you carry a deep understanding of your church culture, you will find the right balance in adapting to the new organization and knowing when to seek to alter it.
With an understanding of the different types of transition challenges you face - relationships, environment, expectations, and culture - you can now focus on preparing yourself to succeed.
How can you start off your new church staff role strong?
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