What to Do When the New Pastor Messes Up
The new pastor looks out at the congregation. He’s acting confident and looks the part. The search committee did a good job from all appearances. The pastor speaks well and seems to know what he’s doing.
Has someone removed the pulpit from the platform? And is that a rowboat the preacher is standing in? What is going on here? Am I in the right church? Have we entered the twilight zone?
I know of a pastor who did that on his first Sunday.
Is the new pastor not wearing a suit? Oh my, is he wearing jeans and sneakers? Whatever is our church coming to? What was the search committee thinking to bring in such a person to pastor our great church?
Sound familiar to anyone?
Was the new pastor right in introducing some changes immediately? I don’t know. It depends on a hundred things. Suffice it to say, most times the new pastor gets it right. However…
Sometimes new pastors goof up. They get off on the wrong foot. Sometimes they misspeak. Or they call an important person by the wrong name. New pastors have been known to introduce change abruptly when a more thoughtful thing would have been to prepare the congregation and transition slowly.
In every case, beginning pastors need one huge thing from the congregation.
They need time. They need slack. Some room. They need a lot of understanding.
New pastors need time to adjust, to learn you, to make connections, to find the path, to hear the heartbeat of the congregation, to learn the history of the church, to decide what God wants, to receive the vision from Heaven, and to make a few mistakes.
How’s that? New pastors make mistakes?
Yes. The new pastor needs time and room–the freedom, actually–to make a few mistakes.
Someone reacts, “The new pastor will make mistakes? Horrors! We cannot have that.”
Count on it, my friend. If the minister tries anything at all out of the ordinary, chances are some actions may be wrong-headed or ill-timed or misinterpreted.
Why would he do this? Answer: Someone told him “If you’re going to make changes, start off with the big one. Then everything afterwards will be easier.” Soooo foolish. Or, someone has advised him, “Better let them see from the get-go that you are not the old guy. So, play your Ace card first.” Equally unwise.
But, we pastors don’t always know. Sometimes we take bad advice. And when we do, we hope we have a congregation that gives us a little wiggle-room.
So, we the members of the congregation will do well to expect it and to plan from the first to cut him some slack.
How we react
Nothing will tell the story on your congregation more than how everyone takes it when the new pastor goofs.
To be sure, some people will go ballistic and shift into critical mode. These are the people who were “just looking” for some fault to point out. They’re secretly delighted that the pastor has handed it to them on a silver platter.
An immature congregation will expect the pastor to be perfect from the first. Listen closely and you will hear this: “We deserve better.” I suggest that such a statement deserves a response, particularly if several voices are insisting that they deserve the finest. Try this…
We want grace, yes? Then, extend it to one another, and to the new shepherd of the flock.
I’m thinking of the first mistake I made on a new job and how my boss reacted.
I was 22 and fresh out of college. We had married and were trying to save a little money before heading to seminary. The Lord had given me a wonderful position as secretary to the production manager of a cast iron pipe factory just outside Birmingham. One of my assignments was to take the purchase orders sent down from the sales office and retype them into a work order for the production department. The shipping department received a copy so they would know what to send and where.
In typing up the order, there was a tiny detail which I was told would make a great deal of difference in the pipe manufactured and shipped. If I typed in the letters EN, the pipe was to be “enamelined.” Without that, the foundry would know the pipe was to be tar-coated. Those two little letters made a huge difference.
An entire truckload of pipe had to be returned from California because I had failed to type EN into the work order. The cost to the company ran into the thousands of dollars.
I was mortified. My boss pointed out what I had failed to do and what it cost the company. He gave me a moment to digest this, then said, “Joe, don’t let it happen again.”
That’s all he said. And you can believe I didn’t.
That has forever stood in my mind as the proper way to deal with a new employee who has made a bone-headed error. Show them grace but hold firm as to how it should be done.
One more thing…
When the new pastor does something unexpected that is clearly unwelcome, when everyone is going ballistic, you be the one who speaks up for him. Even though you were surprised, maybe disappointed or offended, shocked or amused, even so speak up in his defense.
“Let’s give him time, folks. Pray for him and love him.”
Joe McKeever has been a disciple of Jesus Christ more than 65 years, been preaching the gospel more than 55 years, and has been writing and cartooning for Christian publications more than 45 years. He blogs at www.joemckeever.com.
Photo courtesy: @Thinkstock4maksym