Are you heading to your first church?  Maybe your second? You probably feel a combination of passion and uncertainty. How you start out in your church matters greatly.

Olympic coaches and runners have taught us that how a sprinter comes out of the blocks is a significant factor in how well he or she runs the race.  The same is true for a leader in a local church.  If you get off on the wrong angle, or wrong foot – it may be a difficult race at best.

There is no one formula that fits every person, but there are guidelines that can help you get out of the blocks strong, swift and sure-footed. The guidelines offered here work best based on the assumption that you have prayerfully chosen the right church.

  • Transition from leading person to leader.

Some young leaders I talk to consider their first church the fifth year of college – and their real education! Just saying. When you make the transition from preparation, (from college or an internship or whatever it might have been), to your church, there are several adjustments to be made.

The most crucial of these adjustments is a change of mind-set from one that focuses largely on moving (growing) yourself from point A to B, (graduation), to moving an entire congregation from point A to point B.  It’s a huge difference.  The transition is from being a leading person (one who does things well) to being a leader of persons (one who leads others to do things well.)  A leading person may excel in what they do personally, but has no track record in leading others to excel together. It’s a gigantic transition from being a good student to a good leader. Don’t let it overwhelm you. Just knowing you need to make the shift is half the battle!

  • Learn as much as you can as fast as you can.

Learn the history of the church. The past will give you great insight about to how to lead into the future.  Spend time getting to know the leaders. Find their heart and learn what they think. Ask about the strengths and weaknesses of the church, but not like a consultant conducting a survey, ask like a parent who cares about their kids.

Still on learning, but from a different angle, I encourage you to find a mentor or two. Very specifically, find a pastor whose church attendance is just one step above yours. For example, if your church averages about 200, find a mentor who leads a church of 400. You want to learn what he knows!! Find a church as close to yours as you can. There is no secret to proximity. It’s only for practical reasons. If you need to travel a couple hours to find one, then get your Starbucks on and start driving.

  • Gather some change before you make change.

Change will always cost you as a leader, so you need “change in your pocket” before you make changes. This comes by earning trust, building strong relationships, and getting some wins under your belt. The good news is that the church will loan you some change upon your arrival.  If you spend it well they will give you more.  If you spend it unwisely, they will charge you interest that will kill you.

One young pastor used his borrowed change to announce from the platform on his first Sunday, without discussing this with anyone, that the choir would no longer be wearing robes.  He said it was about time they caught up with the 21st Century.  He didn’t last long.

Another and wiser pastor, a United Methodist in Georgia, not a week on the job, saw that his church of 200 plus desperately needed a win.   It was a plateaued church with little money and even less hope.  They really wanted new choir robes but couldn’t afford them.  The pastor knew that choir robes had little to do with the success of the church in the big picture but was wise enough to know they needed a win.  He told the congregation that God was big enough to provide the money for the choir robes – $2400.  He stood beside the pulpit and lovingly challenged the people to give.   He took a risk and God blessed. Over $2500 came in and you never saw such a pumped and enthused church.  They thought, “If we can do that” what could we really do?  The pastor gained serious “change in his pockets” that morning!

  • Be yourself.

People like you best when you are yourself. Not everyone will like you, but people like you best when you are genuinely you. When you are yourself people can connect with you. When they connect with you they can trust you. When they trust you they will follow you.  It’s not easy, but it is that simple.  Just be you.

Relationships are always important, but especially in the first three to six months. Invest time with the people, not to be their pal but their leader and friend.  Let people get to know you as you get to know them. Don’t try to make everyone happy and don’t lose sleep worrying about what everyone thinks. Remember that while you lay awake at night thinking about it, they are snoring.  Find the key leaders and care about what they think, but remain true to yourself.

  • Develop leaders.

This is obviously a much larger topic than a paragraph or so can cover in one article. But I can at least make the point. If you want your ministry to be larger than you, you must develop leaders to help you realize the largest possible Kingdom impact. It’s not about numbers and size, it’s about impact. I don’t care if your church is 100, 1,000 or 10,000 as long as it’s growing and people’s lives are being changed.  You need more leaders to help you do that.

If you are already doing leadership development, great! Skip this paragraph. If you are new at it, let’s get started in a simple doable pattern. Here it is. Gather up a small group  of leaders. They can be paid staff, volunteer or a combination. It’s OK to have rookie leaders with potential and veteran leaders if they want to grow. Pick a great leadership book and meet twice a month to learn leadership together. Hit a chapter or two each time and focus on two things: 1. What are you learning? 2. How are you applying it? That’s it!  The key is simplicity and consistency.  Leadership development is a lifelong commitment not an event. Stay at it.  Leadership development can get much more involved than what I just said, but those two things work very well. Just keep doing it and you’ll expand your process naturally.

If you’d like several good book suggestions to develop leaders with go to my blog at http://danreiland.com and click on the “books” button.

  • Chase God.

This may be the most obvious of all, but curiously it gets left out more often than you might think. Young leaders are so eager to lead, build and succeed that it’s easy to crowd out that which really matters. Don’t get me wrong. I applaud the zeal, energy and hard work. But God is the one who adds the favor, blessing and true power to make anything of eternal value happen.

The two things that will keep your heart hot for God are prayer and evangelism. Stay close to God and never lose a heart for people who are far from God.

Yes, you and I could make this list longer. But if you make it much longer you’ll get lost in the list. The idea is just to get started on the right foot. Start smart and the rest will come in time.