Six Things You Inherit as a New Pastor at an Established Church

Sam Rainer

March 20, 2016

Welcome to your new church. Most everyone is excited to meet you. Few will remember your first sermon, but many will tell you it was great. If your church is going to vote on you, then the percentage of “yes” votes is likely to be high. The reason is simple. The vast majority of church members want to follow a good leader, and they want their church to thrive. But be careful. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking every following day will be like the first.

You’re at an established church, which means there are a few things already in place. During the leadership honeymoon, you’ll begin to figure out exactly what you are inheriting. You will want to tweak something. Some of your church members may think you are moving too quickly. Some will put you on a pedestal. Most will go with the flow. The “new” label will drop from your title.

Considerate pastors understand what they are inheriting before people stop introducing them as the “new pastor.” Here a few examples of the things you inherit as a new pastor of an established church.

  1. You inherit people. Don’t miss this. You lead people, not processes. There will be plenty of established processes to discover, but you should know the people first. And if you don’t love the people where they are now, then you don’t deserve to lead them now or later.
  1. You inherit a culture. Some people will be new. Some will be longstanding members. Others will show up your first day and stick with you. Others will leave your first day. The culture of your church, however, is likely deeply rooted. Culture is created by people, but it’s also bigger than any one person. No individual—including the pastor—will change the culture quickly.
  1. You inherit a staff. It’s important to understand the influence of the staff on people and culture. A newer, younger staff is often less influential than a long-tenured staff. And the culture of the staff may be quite different than the culture of the church.
  1. You inherit a schedule. At one church I pastored, the second service began at 10:55am. I asked a few people, “Why the extra five minutes?” Every answer was different. No one agreed on why, but everyone agreed on what. The service started at 10:55am.
  1. You inherit expectations. If your new church has 400 people, then you have 400 different sets of expectations about you. These expectations are an amalgamation of ideals, previous leaders at your church, personal preferences, and favorite pastors and church leaders in culture.
  1. You inherit traditions. Some things stick for generations because they are good for generations. Other traditions need to go. Figuring out which traditions are good, bad, and ugly can take time. Don’t assume your gut reactions to church traditions are correct. Take the time to learn why they exist.

Your new church will welcome you. The first day, first week, first month, and perhaps the first year will go well. Use the time to understand better what you are inheriting.

9 comments on “Six Things You Inherit as a New Pastor at an Established Church”

  1. Tom Jamieson says:

    Good word here, Sam. One church I was at, the only service started at 10:55am. It had started many years prior because the church service was broadcast live on the local TV station and the pastor at the time wanted to make sure the service had already started (and there was no dead air) when they went on the air at 11am. Even when the service went to tape delay, they never changed the start time of the service.

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Ah, the live TV feed makes sense for a 10:55am service. But I’m sure it confused a lot of guests!

  2. Jerry Higdon says:

    Thanks Pastor,
    I am in the second month as a bi-vocational pastor and your list is valuable to me. Thanks for the good learning.. Please pray for us. Praise the Lord

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Thanks Jerry! I will pray for you.

  3. Olaniran Michael says:

    Thanks, this is a great.
    I also think you inherited a PROJECT. Since the Church is a project in continuum, you are expected as a pastor to continue with the project of building people and the project of building other physical assets of the church. 1Cor 13:9-15. Every Pastor joining an already established or existing church must know someone layed the foundation and some others had built on it, so he should be careful how he built.

  4. Alan Anderson says:

    Our church is between pastors, we have a part-time transitional pastor working with us. As we prepare for our next full-time pastor it is up to the transitional pastor and team to do the reconstruction of the “established church”. Items such as vision, mission, administration items need to be looked at and changes made before the new pastor comes. Also look at the six points you listed in this article. Agree?
    There is little to no information directed to the churches that are without a pastor so they can rebuild and recover during the time they are without a pastor. As a lay person, it seems the church issues and problems from one pastor are dumped on the next pastor with expectation that the new incoming pastor will fix the existing problems. All while developing a new and vibrant church. How do we wake up the body to fix some of these issues and ask for help before we get a new pastor? There are leaders (good or bad) in a church besides the pastor, they are the ones that need counsel, direction, and training to prepare the church for the new pastor. The big question – where and how do we lay people get this help?

    1. Sam Rainer says:

      Alan – Excellent questions. And you are pointing to a cycle that I’ve seen often in churches. A small book you might find helpful is I Will. It’s about what each church member should do to move outwardly.

  5. Carolyn Walters says:

    Thanks for this information and I am in total agreement with points shared. It has been my experience as a new pastor at the first church I would be pastoring. It was very challenging but I have learnt so many things, grown tremendously and is serving for four years now. God is good.

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