Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Journey of Starting a New Ministry - month 1 (2 of 2)

You might want to read part 1 first, if you haven't already.

The first month of a new ministry is very important. It is important for both you and the congregation. During this first month, you will be developing habits and routines which you will continue to use for a long time. You are beginning to set the precedent for what people can expect from you. The congregation will use these first four weeks to watch how you interact and listen to how you present yourself. The are interested in what you will bring to the ministry. Most of these people, even some of those who met you prior to being hired, have not had much time to meet you and ask you questions.

No two ministers will have the same first month at a new ministry. You might preach every week or not at all. You might not even be on stage during this month. You might teach multiple classes or you might be able to sit in and observe. You might have a death in the congregation or maybe its a wedding. You might start in the middle of summer or the middle of winter. Despite the fact that every start to a ministry is so vastly different, I believe there are some things that every minister needs to accomplish during this time.

Tips for Month #1(con't)
5. Learn the culture of the congregation
Technically, I should probably add the words “start to” in front of that phrase. The culture of the congregation is not something you can learn in one month, but you can learn a lot if you try. Ask a lot of questions to the other staff and leadership. Find out what is important, what is not important, and why. As you are sitting in on leadership meetings and discussing the life of the congregation (or should I use the word programs), pay attention to what is being implied about the culture. Learning this early will help you know how to go about changing things when you feel like you need to. 

6. Organize your office
This is a very important part of your first month. If you do not get your office organized (or at least mostly) at this point, it is going to be difficult to get it done. The longer you are there, the less you want to spend your time putting books away and going through files. Spend a few hours each day working on your office and you’ll have it done in no time. Plus, let’s be honest, when a youth worker has an organized office most people will be shocked and impressed.

7. Spend time away from the ministry
This goes right along with #2. As you start a new ministry, you are creating habits and patterns that will be carried on throughout your tenure at this congregation. Make it a point to spend time away from the ministry, including not doing work at home. Go to the park with your family. Go shopping. Rent a movie and enjoy a night at home. Go explore the area and find out what you can do with your family. Make sure your family knows that the new ministry is not more important than they are.

A quick thought on changes.
Whenever you begin a new ministry, you will encounter a number of things you want to change. Or at least I have a difficult time imagining someone not having at least one thing they want to change (if this is you, please contact me I would like to talk). Making changes, though necessary, is not always easy or wise. Although I cannot give you a specific timeline of when/how to make changes within your context, I will offer you a few of my thoughts on the topic.

Remember, you do not have to change everything in the first few weeks. In fact, you may not want to change anything that quickly. Most of the changes you will want to make will probably be grounded in a philosophy of ministry. When changes are based on something like that, you need to make sure those involved with the change have the same philosophy. And this can take time, so allow yourself time (maybe a year or more) to help move people along and work together on determining the reasons behind the changes before you make the changes.

Another thing you can do is to find something small that needs changed and change it. I got this idea from Jim Wideman, in a chapter entitled Fifteen Smart Things to Do During Your First Three Months in Children’s Ministry that Works by Group. All you need to do is find something that you can add or adjust that does not take a lot of effort, but makes something better. Maybe you make it easier for teachers to get their materials or provide a quicker way to notify parents of a ministry event. Even though you do not want to come in and make drastic changes, you want to avoid “not doing anything” for 6 months.

One last thought: There are times when you start a new ministry and there is a change that needs to be made right away. You will know what it is and you will know it needs to be handled. If there needs to be an immediate change, do not hesitate to work on it. You will need to talk with the other staff and leadership, gain understanding from them and share your concerns. Talk with any youth coach who might be involved and then come up with a solution, as a team. Do not try to make the change on your own, but do not ignore it either.

Previous weekly perspectives: week 1, week 2, week 3, week 4, week 5

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