When mentors found out I would be serving as the pastor of University Baptist Church, a few lovingly pulled me to the side for words of counsel. Their wisdom has helped guide me through the first five years of ministry in East Lansing. One of the gems given in 2009 was to take the time to find out who brought the adoring church to welcome me as pastor. Below is the perspective of a wise mentor.
Pastors lead churches but an incoming pastor of an established church doesn't lead the church. A church is rather led by formal and informal pastors or influencers. Take the first year or two to quietly observe who the influencers / pastors in a church are. It seems counter-intuitive to consider someone else, or even other people, as the pastors of the church. Your nameplate says pastor. Your parking space says pastor. Your business cards and title say pastor, but you are not yet the pastor of the church. If, however you have a nameplate on the desk, a picture on the website and a key to the building, there is increased likelihood that you can be the pastor.
Your job for the first year or two is to figure out how you can begin pastoring the pastors so that they will pastor the rest of the church for and with you. A pastor is a shepherd and the people you found were shepherded to the day of your installation by someone else's hand. Someone else's telephone rang when loved ones were hospitalized during your interviews. Someone else listened to hurting congregants while you were unpacking your books and setting up your office. The pastors of the church held things together so you could have people to lead when you arrived. Who are the pastors? Finding out is an organic process of observation, humility and surprise.
You may be able to rattle off the name of the members of the search committee or even the governing board. The true pastors of the church however may not surface until year 2 of your assignment. Be watchful and respectful of you they are. They will be invaluable resources to you in the days to come because they have sway and history with the people. If you pastor the pastors, the pastors will pastor the church.
In a church of 50 people there may be 3-4 pastors leading a group of 8-12 people informally. They may not meet regularly or have established infrastructure. If however the 8-12 people influenced by an individual in the church had to choose between you and one of the informal pastors in making a decision, you'll probably lose. There won't be a public opposition to your ideas but a raised eye brow or scratch of the chin of one of the pastors in public can deep-six any momentum you may be building.
Momentum you're building can be increased with the backing of some of the pastors. There are grudges and politics into which you don't want to be triangulated. Rather, you want to be able to have a few of the pastors call you - sincerely! - pastor. When the flock sees a pastor claim you, your stock goes up. Identifying and shepherding the pastors is an organic process however. You have to watch, listen, pray and show up to stuff.
A way to find out who the pastors are is to first seek to understand the congregation before seeking to be understood. Take the first year or two to quietly observe who the influencers / pastors in a church are. Your job for the first year or two is to figure out how you can begin pastoring the pastors so that they will pastor the rest of the church for and with you.