“The First 100 Days: A Pastor’s Guide” by T. Scott Daniels

There are 25 citations in the book, some of them from the same source.  Some of these sources are not strictly, if at all, academic sources.  Rather, they may be an illustration or explanation of some point of content in the book.  But, it is not intended to be an academic research on the topic of transitioning into a new pastorate.  Rather, these are the reflections garnered over a lifetime of ministry from Scott Daniels and other pastors that he consulted when constructing this book.

It is important to start well.  The first 100 days of ministry are vitally important for setting expectations and trajectory.  When considering a new pastorate, Daniels suggests we should be aware of three areas.  First, we must consider why we really want to take a position.  Is this a legitimate call from God or are there other mitigating factors?  Second, reflect and pray.  Don’t be hasty in making the decision.  Finally, “know thyself.”  In other words, would this be a good fit for your personality, gifts, and strengths?  Are you an activator, sustainer, maximizer, or rebuilder.  Knowing this can help you discern if it is a good fit for both you and the church.

“Knowing what you don’t know” can also save your ministry.  Coming into a new pastorate calls for you to become a student of the culture.  Learn the history of the church.  What is the heartbeat of the community?  Also, “assess the present.”  What are the expectations of the church now and what is its strengths and weaknesses?  Understanding issues, such as finances, are extremely important in determining the health of the church.  Finally, “learn about the community.”  Understanding the context is important for any ministry.  Not only does it help you understand your congregation but it also gives you insight into potential ways to reach the community at large.

Change is always hard.  That is true for pastor’s families.  Daniels points out that it is important to help the whole family transition.  One helpful possibility is taking time between pastorates to grieve what is being lost and dreaming about what is possible in the new church.  This allows the family to transition together and to process the emotions that go with such transition.  It is also good to talk about taking the position with your family.  It should be a family decision.  If you do go to a new church, help your family make connections to others and to the community.  It’s also vitally important to be present with your family during this time.

“Establish clear expectations.”  This not only provides accountability but it also helps everyone to be on the same page.  This pertains to the financial package, expectations about the position, and anything else that might pertain to life together.  Daniels suggests writing a covenant rather than a job description because this is a commitment to one another, not simply a pastor that is “hired.”

“Preach well.”  This is the opportunity to shape the congregation.  And, it is also a way that the congregation assesses the pastor.  Fair or not, congregations will question a pastor’s ability in other areas if preaching and teaching are not done well.   It is also important to make changes in this area of worship very slowly.  In fact, it’s best to not make any changes to the worship schedule until sufficient time has passed.

“Secure some early wins.”  This helps establish leadership early.  Focus on pastoral care and relationships.  As the old adage goes, “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.”  Connecting with the congregation is essential, especially early, in the ministry.  That might mean hospital visits, opening your home to others, and getting involved in the daily lives of parishioners and their families.

“Choose your battles carefully.”  Not every battle is worth being crucified over.  Pick the battles that really matter.  And, introduce change, especially big change, slowly and delicately.  Trying to introduce too much change too quickly can be perceived as an attack on the people or the church itself.  Helpful change happens with diligent attention and a commitment to the long view.  Social capital becomes extremely important in these transitions.

Transition accelerators.”  Several things can help a leader transition faster and gain social capital simultaneously: get organized, establish achievable goals, be teachable, begin building a team, and negotiate conflict.   How you handle each of these elements can really create and sustain momentum.

“Take care of yourself.”  Leaders pointed out four ways to care for yourself: find a mentor, disciplined soul and body care, fight in your own armor, and keep perspective.  Personally, I can attest to the power of a mentor.  They help us see the big picture and keep us accountable.  Exercise of body and spirit is essential for personal care.  Neglect in either realm can lead to a ministry cut short.  Fighting in your own armor means that you play to your strengths and gifts.  Don’t try to be somebody else as a pastor.  Finally, keeping perspective is really about looking at your ministry in the great scope of the world.  Your problems and issues may be quite small and minor compared to the majority of Christians in the world.  Realizing how good you have it may help you maintain balance.

Most importantly, leadership is intimately connected with our connection to the Father, through the Son, empowered by the Holy Spirit.  One of the most compelling things to follow is a person on fire for God.  That is really what it means to be called.

This was a great book.  I had Dr. Daniels as a professor in my Master’s program and came to really appreciate and respect him as a pastor.  This book was not disappointing.  There are very practical applications that any pastor could employ.  Even after having transitioned to my third church recently, this book helped me think through some of the issues that I really need to consider.  This is a great read for young ministers, but it can also help those that have been doing ministry for a while, too.

“A Work of Heart: Understanding How God Shapes Spiritual Leaders” by Reggie McNeal

This book only has two sources that are cited.  And, one of those sources is Reggie citing himself.  By the author’s own admission, this book is not strictly academic or exegetical.  There are plenty of moments when I wish that McNeal used sources to firm up his argument and be more theologically concise.

The book starts by tracing the lives of four biblical leaders: Moses, David, Paul, and Jesus.  By outlining their story, McNeal attempts to highlight the factors of influence that God used to shape each leader spiritually.  He concludes that there are six elements that shape spiritual leaders: culture, call, community, communion, conflict, and the commonplace.

Culture is the environmental factors that have shaped a person: socio-economics, time in history, geography, language.  These inevitably shape the earliest and most fundamental parts of each person.  Culture can have both positive and negative elements.  Regardless, culture has a profound impact that shapes people.  In order to “transcend” one’s culture so that it does not become a hindrance, the leader must understand where they come from, where they stand, and where they are going while taking others along with them.

The call ignites within the person a sense that God has something special planned for them.  It is both a matter of being and doing.  According to McNeal, this goes beyond the general calling that is issued to every believer.  Rather, it is a life of service to God for the Body of Christ, which is the Church.  But, how this is played out can be multi-faceted, ever-changing, and unconventional.  Most importantly, our calling should always be directed back to God, not toward ourselves or others.

Community suggests that we are not created or matured in a vacuum.  We are created as communal creatures and we are shaped as communal creatures.  No pastor is an island unto themselves.  This recent generation has recognized its need of community, despite the fact that they are often over-extended and isolated.  There is a drive to work in teams and in community, which is actually healthier and theologically grounded.  Pastors more than ever need genuine community.

Communion deals with our relationship with God.  As one of my pastors used to tell me, without the Spirit’s presence we are dry, dusty bones.  There may seem to be life on the outside, but on the inside it’s a different story.  Eventually, that lack of communion with God becomes evident.  Not only is this true in the life of the leader but in the community that is being shepherded by the leader.  God initiates, guides, sustains, and accomplishes the work of ministry, we are simply called to respond to God’s leading.  To be a minister is to be called to be a vessel of God’s grace.  That is our primary responsibility.  Without the Spirit’s anointing, ministry quickly becomes joyless and a burden.  Ministry turns into program rather than progress.

Conflict attends every leader.  Sometimes it is the result of poor decisions and sometimes it is simply because we work in the midst of broken people.  Good leadership learns to weather these situations with God’s empowering.  McNeal suggests 8 strategies for dealing with conflict: get over it, choose your pain, examine your critics, look in the mirror, get good advice, be kind and honest, forgive, and make a decision.  Conflict can be used by God to shape us into the leaders He desires.  We are called simply to respond in faithful obedience.

Commonplace refers to the ordinary routines of life.  That is the crucible of life, not merely the extraordinary moments.  The daily decisions we make shape our character for those defining moments of trial and difficulty.  McNeal suggests four habits that help shape our character daily: look for God, keep learning, say yes to God, and stay grateful.  By doing each of these things in ordinary moments, we are trained to do them in extraordinary moments.

Overalll, I thought this book was insightful and helpful.  It made me wrestle again with my calling where I am at now.  Not being in too big of a hurry, but allowing God to shape me in the daily routine of life was a helpful reminder.  This book was not full of novel concepts, but highlighted things that we need to be constantly reminded of in our ministry.  In some ways, McNeal seemed to stretch the Biblical story in ways that it isn’t necessarily intended, overall he was faithful to the heart of Scripture and provided some good basis for his argument.  I would recommend this to other pastors to be reminded that leadership isn’t simply about learning the latest trends in ministry, but it really is a “work of heart.”