I was the pastor of Crossroads Baptist Church in Beggs, Oklahoma for four and a half years. The church loved us and we loved them. I genuinely expected to stay there for many years. There were no major issues, at least not that I knew of, and the church was growing and doing well. My period of contentment was interrupted by a call from a search committee. These calls had come before, but I quickly dismissed the opportunities. This one was different. The call was from my home church, FBC Okmulgee. The church was in a period of struggle and transition. Staying in Beggs was the logical decision, but the Lord has given me a passion for church revitalization and a great love for the church that raised me. As a result, my family and I transitioned churches in April of 2022. I learned some valuable principles in that process. Here are a few of my recommendations when transitioning to a new church.
- Don’t blame God: We have all heard a pastor say, “God told me it was time to move.” I really don’t think we mean it when we say things like that, but in reality we are letting God take the blame for our decision to move. People are hurt when we leave, and we don’t want them to blame God for their broken hearts.
- Ask the right questions: Asking the right questions up front can alleviate a lot of future headaches. I call the previous pastor despite my advice above, and ask his unfiltered opinion on the church, specific issues, and even members. I also ask the search committee as many or more questions than they ask me. I would encourage any pastor in transition to write out a list of questions that he wants to have answered before he starts the job.
- Be honest: Being honest about everything on the front end allows issues to be dealt with before they are hot in the moment. I like to tell the committee about my theological convictions, philosophy of ministry, pet-peves, how I handle cultural issues, and everything else I can think of before I accept the call.
- You don’t have a bag of tricks: It is tempting to try things I’ve done in the past with the expectation that they would work better in a new context. What works in one place is not guaranteed to work in another. I also keep in mind that someone was there before me and did things a certain way for a reason. The church has done fine so far before I arrived. I cannot assume they need me now.
- Familial expectations: My grandfather told me to always make clear that my wife and kids are not open for criticism. If they wish to criticize them, then they should be placed on the payroll first. The church is not allowed to put any duties or expectations on my family that are not on any other family in the church. My kids run down the halls just like all the other kids and my wife does not play the piano, and it’s all good with me.
- You can’t do everything at once: A new place presents a lot of new opportunity, and the things that need to be changed stand out clearest during this time. I keep reminding myself that not everything can be fixed during the first year and more analysis of the situation would be useful before developing a plan. Trying to do everything will result in doing nothing.
- Get to know the church: Every church is unique and has a history worth studying. I spent the first several months in Okmulgee studying the church’s historical documents and even reading old business meeting notes. I wanted to know what made the church what it is today. I also spent time talking with members about their personal stories. When I look at the wall of pastor’s portraits, I must remember I am only one in a long line of men who have gone before me and who will come after me.
Brayden Buss is the pastor of FBC Okmulgee and can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.