Revolutionary or Evolutionary? 5 Tips for Pastors in a New Role


The placement of pastors in churches is the major focus of what we do here at Vanderbloemen Search Group.  So what should a pastor do during their first year with a church?  One hears such conflicting views on this.  Some say, “In the first year, the cement is still wet; this is your chance to make an impression before it hardens.”  Others say, “Don’t change anything in the first year; simply build credibility.”  So which is right?  Is either of them fully correct?  Should a first-year pastor be revolutionary—that is, make some fast, major changes?  Or, should a first-year pastor be more evolutionary—go slow, making small incremental changes?  While understanding that every ministry opportunity is contextual, let me suggest a few things for first-year pastors to consider while making any decision.

1. Understand the “economy” of leadership. 

Over thirty years ago, author and leadership authority, Edwin Hollander, made the observation that leadership is a lot like money in the bank; a leader makes deposits and withdrawals.  Some pastors come into a new role with some credit already on deposit—maybe because they come with a well-known reputation.  But how does a leader build deposits and credit in the leadership bank?  Do the basics well!  Prepare and deliver effective messages, invest in current staff and leaders, and shepherd the flock with care and love.  A pastor who does the basics well will in most cases build up deposits in the leadership bank.  How does a leader withdraw from his account?  Bring innovation, make changes in programming or personnel, and be a leader!  The more credit one has, the more freedom a pastor will have as a leader.  But if a leader makes major changes without credit in the bank, they risk their leadership credibility in that church. 

2. Honor the past. 

Many people will interpret change as a value judgment on all that has gone on before, even if that is not the intent.  If a pastor is following a successful leader, make sure to publicly honor the past.  People will think, “Okay, he values our past—maybe I can trust him with our future.”

3. Ask these two questions.

Effective leaders ask two important questions.  First: “How can I help this church/organization do what it is already doing well, but make it better?”  Maybe it is adding a special needs focus to an already effective children’s ministry.  Maybe it is making tweaks to the flow of church services or adding more parking spaces to make the transition between church services easier.  The second question is: “How can I help this church/organization begin to do what it is not doing, but should be?”  Maybe it means moving outside the walls in local compassion service or a new emphasis on reaching people for Christ.

4. Develop your character.

A lack of skills is not what derails most leaders.  This is a major point of Mark Miller, VP at Chick-fil-A, said in his latest book, The Heart of Leadership.  What derails most leaders is not a lack leadership skills, but a lack of leadership character.  Miller uses the metaphor of an iceberg—only 10% is above the surface, while 90% is below the water.  The 10% above the water is leadership skills; the 90% below is character.  Without leadership character, no one cares about your skills.

5. Most of all, pray.

A twenty-year-old, by the name of Solomon, was about to become the king of a nation.  God told him, “Ask me for anything, and I will give it to you!”  What did Solomon request of God?  Wisdom!  Wisdom is not intelligence, and neither is it facts and information.  We often confuse information for wisdom.  Pastors today are armed with all kinds of information on megachurches, multi-sites, staff management, casting vision, raising funds, and almost every topic imaginable.  But being armed with information and possessing wisdom are hardly the same!  One Old Testament scholar defined wisdom like this, “Competence with regard to the realities of life.”  Solomon, who asked God for wisdom to lead, later wrote this, Proverbs 4:5-7, “Get wisdom, develop good judgment. . . Don’t turn your back on wisdom, for she will protect you.  Love her, and she will guard you.  Getting wisdom is the wisest thing you can do!  And whatever else you do, develop good judgment.”

What other words of wisdom do you have for a pastor in their first year of a new role? 

If you like this, then you'll also like How to Implement & Develop Change on Your Church Staff.