Thanks for joining us for this week’s unSeminary podcast. Today we’re talking with Charles Stone, pastor at the very multicultural WestPark Church in London, Ontario, Canada.
In seminary they don’t teach pastors what to do when starting at a new church, but there’s much more to the job than preaching the Gospel and visiting people. In Charles’ own journey, he looked for practical learnings about onboarding well at a new ministry job, but only the secular world had advice to offer. So after much research and personal experience Charles wrote a book called Every Pastor’s First 180 Days: How to Start and Stay Strong in a New Church Job which outlines the practical steps pastors can take in a new role, leading to fulfillment and success.
- Success and failure. // In one study of 1300 senior HR leaders, 75% said success or failure during the first few months at a job is a strong predictor of overall success or failure later on. Another study of 20,000 significant leaders in the secular world showed that 40% of new hires at a senior level were pushed out, failed, or quit within 18 months. For pastors, over 50% say that their role is frequently overwhelming and 50% say the demands of ministry are more than they can handle. So what can you do to set yourself up for success at the beginning of a new job?
- Define reality. // One of the wise things a newly hired pastor must do is gauge where in the life cycle of a church is the new church they’ve come to. Charles explains that there are two extreme views a new pastor might take. If things are nosediving, you’ll want to make major changes. On the opposite end a church could be doing well and so you do nothing. When you come on board, it’s important to define reality and determine the pressing needs of your new church. These two things will tell you a lot about what you do or don’t need to tackle.
- PALM and SADDLE. // To help with this process, Charles developed two acronyms: PALM and SADDLE. Each letter represents a best practice that can be used when going into a new church. For example PALM stands for Prioritize Self and Family Care, Avidly Overcommunicate, Listen and Learn, and Manage Change Wisely.
- Listen and learn. // Charles notes that one of the most important skills a leader can develop is the ability to listen well. By being fully present and really listening to the stakeholders in the church, you’ll be able to get an accurate picture of what is reality at the church. At his new church, Charles polled the staff and board asking questions about what people thought was going well, not going well, suggestions they had for a new pastor, and how Charles could pray for them. As Charles made appointments and went through this set of questions with each person, he began to see trends. Additionally when Charles wasn’t present he had staff answer questions such as: “What do we expect of you, Charles? What can you expect of us? Here are the burning issues you will face…” Come up with a set of questions which you can ask to key people that will help you to really get a picture of what’s happening at the church.
- Don’t get burned out. // To prioritize self and family in the early stages of transitioning to a new job, Charles suggests leaving a gap between your previous job and new job, if possible to give yourself a break. Keep in mind that the first day on the job happens before you ever walk into the office. Have honest conversations with your family to set up realistic expectations for the first few weeks/months. This time period will be more demanding and require more hours while you set up routines. Don’t let yourself burn out by month six; be sure to set boundaries and have accountability.
You can learn more about Charles and his book at www.charlesstone.com. When you buy the book you can also get free 25 templates and other resources to help you apply the insights he shares.
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