President Franklin Roosevelt established the importance of a president’s first 100 days. FDR believed the activity and relationships the president accomplished in the first 100 days were a gauge for measuring the rest of his presidency. Since the FDR administration the press has paid special attention to every president’s first 100 days.
A pastor’s first 100 days are also essential. But not like a president. I use to believe my first 100 days had to be like a president. I bought into the pressure of the leadership culture that fuel so many pastoral leadership books. As I approached my 3rd pastorate I realized in my last two pastorates that my most costly mistakes were made in the first 100 days. My insecurity pushed me to show my new congregation that I was leader so I felt I needed to act fast. I’ve come to realize just how foolish that mindset is. I am grateful for those in my last two churches who showed me grace in my error.
It took me a while but I have finally realized I am not a president. Or a CEO. I am a pastor. Churches need change. Absolutely. The old way of doing things is quickly becoming ineffective and it breaks my heart to see churches stay with systems and strategies that only find found people instead of reaching lost people. I have realized the reason dead ineffective churches break my heart is because first I am a pastor. I am also a scholar and finally I am a leader. The state of the dead Christian’s heart affects me as a pastor. I want more for every Christian. The state of a church not committed to the gospel breaks my heart as a scholar. It’s the leader in me that understands how to change these things.
And now I understand. That as a pastor of a church I need to first be a pastor and a scholar to earn the opportunity to be a leader. So, unlike a president, who is an elected leader, a pastor needs to leverage his first 100 days differently, as an elected pastor.
I recently celebrated my first 100 days here in Steamboat Springs, Colorado. The days leading up to the long drive from Texas to Colorado I began a mental list of goals I hoped to accomplish in hopefully, what will be my last, first 100 days as a pastor.
- Establish My Family.
We made a big move. I took a significant pay cut, a smaller church with fewer resources and we moved out of the great “country” of Texas. The state of Texas has been our home, forever! All of these things affected every member of my family. Transitions are hard on families. Even when God is in it. As a husband and father my first job is to make sure my family transitions well. So I was out less. Came home on time. Looked for ways to have fun with my family and checked on their emotional state regularly.
Transitions don’t happen in vacuums. In our case, the catalyst that caused us to leave our last church was painful. I needed some healing and devoted the first 100 days to a lot of prayer and time with Jesus. This was essential. Not only for my emotions but to also ensure I don’t make any future leadership decisions from a position of grief or guilt. Leveraging the first 100 days to more prayer than usual is like pulling back on a slingshot. The longer you pull back in prayer the farther you will fly in the days to come.
- Meet everyone.
This was ambitious. My new church only averages 120 people so it didn’t seem impossible. However, I didn’t achieve this goal. In an effort to do so though I didn’t protect my schedule. I said yes to every invitation. I made home visits, lunches, coffees, ski excursions and mountain bike rides. I know. Pray for me. I didn’t get a lot done in the office. I didn’t get to study as much as I wanted for sermons but I did something far more important. Established myself as a pastor of people.
- Discover my town.
We live in a small town of 12,000 (24,000 in ski season). Everyone knows everyone. When people talk about a restaurant they talk about the owners first then the food quality. Relationships are important in a small town. The best way to get to know the people in a small town is to do life with the people in the small town. We tried to do as much as possible in town the first 100 days. I only left town once (and wished I hadn’t). We devoted as much time as possible to discovering the new town we lived in and the people who help make it run. This practice helped me discover the priorities, the habits, and heart of the people who live in this town that is 90% unreached.
- Get organized.
This may be the one change a pastor can do that barely affects anyone. If you hope to have vision for the future you will need to view data and trends. Where ever you go to pastor getting this information will be essential and may take some time. You may also need to establish some avenues for collecting and storing data. Find out what these are and get your new church organized so you don’t have to do it later.
- Find a rhythm.
I work best in a rhythm. In my last church (a very large church with 19 staff) my rhythm looked like this:
Tuesday: Sermon Prep
Wednesday: Sermon Prep and People.
If you wanted an appointment with me it had to be on Wednesday afternoons, evenings or Thursdays. Preaching for hundreds required a lot of attention and with a large staff I was freed up to take plenty of time to prepare. A smaller church or larger church would require a different rhythm. I haven’t discovered my new rhythm yet, but I am close.
- Discover God’s vision for the church.
We moved from a huge city in the south that is 50% churched. It was a cultural norm to go to church. Our new town is 10% reached. It is the cultural norm to not go to church. The church is smaller and the people’s expectations are different. The vision of a large Baptist church in the south will not work in this town. Every church is different and how you go about fulfilling the great commission for a new church requires prayer and lots of conversations. Coming to a small church I often asked everyone I met with what their vision for the church was while praying about what God desired for the church. This allowed for me to discover a synchronistic vision that will be faithful to God’s heart and fulfilling to our current attenders. I have not yet publicly shared this vision with our church but it was discovered about 10 weeks into my new pastorate.
- Preach deeply.
I know sermon series are the big deal right now. But a great series requires a pastoral knowledge of a church and community. You will not know these things in the first 100 days. So preach deeply God’s Word. I found the book of Colossians was a perfect fit for my community. Colossians was written to a small community church in a valley with pagan religious and wealthy influences. Preaching through a book allowed for me to clearly preach and teach the gospel and how it affects various areas of our life. It’s not catchy. Or attractional. But I knew without a doubt that preaching faithfully through a book in the Bible would be give my new church what it needed to hear without really knowing them yet. Now that I know the town and the people better I have some ideas for series and because I have chosen to be a pastor first I believe I have earned the right to preach a few series that the Spirit may use to convict or inspire.
- Plan the next 100 days.
I know exactly what needs to be done in the next 100 days. We are experiencing some momentum and growth so I don’t know if I can plan for the next year. We are hovering on the verge of moving from a small church to a medium sized church which would allow for a different approach to our vision. In the meantime, based on our current vision and size I know exactly what needs to be done this summer to prepare us for whatever God has next for my new church. I know this because I have spent the last 100 days wisely.
So, new pastor, take it from an older pastor who has made a lot of mistakes. Take it slow. You won’t regret it and your church will be better for it.
Thanks for reading,