I have been through 5 job transitions in my vocational life. Each transition was unique, because they took place at different churches. The one similarity among them, however, was a “honeymoon”. The honeymoon referred to here is that period of time when the hiring church or organization gives the new staffer extra time, grace, and space to learn the culture of their new setting. The honeymoon period is fleeting, but it offers a unique opportunity that can be leveraged for impact when approached as an opportunity.
Consider the suggestions below and increase that impact.
1) Discern the priorities of the church/organization.
You likely asked about church priorities in the interview. The answer you received was likely well-meaning and not meant to be deceive, but now is the time to discern real priorities. Occasionally what was said and reality align. Many times they are not. In one interview I experienced, I was told “children and youth are our priority.” The reality was that worship was a priority. Worship as a priority is not wrong, it was just not communicated as such. No deception was intended because in the hearts of the committee children and youth were a priority….after all, they had full-time staffers and some budget money. “Priority” in your mind might seem a bit different. Be ready for the difference.
How does one discern the priorities of the church? It is easier than you might think…simply follow the money. A great question to ask is, “What ministry area requires the most resources of staffing and/or funding?” THIS is the priority of the church or organization. Once discerned, you can avoid the mistake of stepping on ministry landmines and move your ministry forward in ways that make the most sense.
One of the most productive but under-resourced tools in ministry is an intentional time of listening. Upon entering a new ministry you must take the time to meet with and listen to ministry stakeholders. As soon as you can, set a meeting date and invite the stakeholders. Feed them. Make it as “formal” as possible (or consider bringing in a third party to lead the discussion). If you are doing youth ministry, this means that you need to meet with the youth ministry team AND invited laypeople unconnected from the youth ministry from the church. Many youth teams can be insular and because they are so close to the ministry cannot give you a clear picture of the ministry. Inviting unconnected lay people to speak about the youth ministry can help provide a 360 degree look from a congregational perspective. To best invite helpful discussion, prompt participants with key questions before the meeting. Here are some of my favorites—
• If we hit a ministry “home-run” here, what would that look like?
• In 10 years what would you like to say people would say is our ministry “legacy?”
• What people and resources do I need to be aware of to help our kids move toward Christ-like maturity?
3) Innovation happens NOW.
If you want to make changes, you are going to have to ignore the much-beloved rule that I have heard repeated ad nauseum, “Don’t make any changes for 6 months.” I understand that learning organizational culture and meeting people is important, but I have found that if you wait 6 months before doing anything new, you likely won’t or cannot proceed because the demands of the current ministry structures will be owning you by then. In addition, the volunteers in your ministry will have a hard time understanding the delay before acting as well. Their vocational lives happen quickly. Why shouldn’t yours? The energy and enthusiasm to make changes will be supported by them now more than later. I KNOW this pushes against traditional wisdom, but I also know it to be true. But, it is of ultimate importance that you proceed after doing #1 and #2 FIRST (in that order).
4) Launch something new
Early into one ministry setting, I began a “messy games” night as a kickoff and outreach event. There was A LOT of faint praise and some pushback as I floated the idea with the staff. Undeterred, I stuck to my commitment and proceeded with the event. Once the kids arrived and the “mess” began our ministry team, bolstered by the laughter, frivolity, and the glut of new faces, brightened and moved from skeptical to fully committed. When church staff heard the stories later, they were glad we proceeded and laughed as we shared stories and pictures.
The pull of the status quo is very powerful in most ministry settings. Use this time of honeymoon to launch something new (notice I didn’t say EVERYTHING new). If it flops, you will likely experience the same grace you would have been afforded if it was successful. My ministry mentor encouraged me to innovate early by saying, “Even a bad idea, done with enthusiasm, can be a good idea.” I believed him, and so I encourage you in the words of Tony Stark (Iron Man), “Go break some eggs!”
Sometime soon, there will be a moment when the honeymoon and the accompanying excuses are over. At that moment you can celebrate that things are settling down and “normalcy” is right around the corner. How will you know it? The early signs will come through questions of “helpful” people—
• “I like what you are doing, but have you thought about…?”
• “Are you going to…?”
• “Have you seen what (fill in the name of the church down the street) is doing?
If you haven’t used the time of honeymoon to innovate and curate stories of ministry “wins,” these questions become more difficult to answer. Engaging the above suggestions, however, will enable you to answer that you are boldly pursing the vision of the ministry and that things are proceeding better than you could have imaged.
Enjoy your honeymoon!