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What I've Learned in My First Role as a Senior Pastor

  • Name
    Dan Reiland
Note From Dan: On March 1 of this year, my good friend Shannon Whaples assumed the leadership role of senior pastor at First Wesleyan Church in Battle Creek, Mich. Shannon and his wife Sandy left our team in February to start their new job. This is his first role as senior pastor so I asked Shannon to share what he learned in his first 90 days of leadership! You can follow Shannon on Twitter here Sandy and I have thoroughly enjoyed this new Kingdom adventure as I have stepped into the role of senior pastor for the first time. Here’s what I learned in the first 90 days. (And I’m still learning!) I learned to find my rhythm. One of my early mistakes was with my schedule. In a desire to be accessible to my staff team, I scheduled all my meetings on Mondays and Tuesdays. Within a few weeks, I realized that this left me in a frantic pace each week, trying to finish my sermon prep and associated note guides. After a month, I changed my schedule and now spend all day on Mondays solidifying my weekend message. I finish the note guide by the end of the day on Tuesdays. All my meetings have been moved to Wednesdays and Thursdays. What a difference! It may have taken me four to six weeks to learn this lesson, but now I am four months in with my current routine and have found a “sweet spot” for preparation, staff connection and church leadership.

I learned to build culture.

I am the cultural thermostat for First Wesleyan. I can’t delegate modeling the environment that I desire to exist. If I want our church to exuberantly worship the Lord, I must set the example. If I want them to tenaciously pursue the lost, I must set the example. If I desire for them to enjoy our journey together and not take themselves too seriously, I must set the example. Additionally, the transition from personal practice to corporate conviction comes through reinforcement. I like to say … “Celebrate to stimulate.” Every small win should be identified and celebrated. It could include things such as celebrating a staff member going the “extra mile,” or a positive email recapping a first-time guest’s experience. It could be celebrating people getting involved on a serving team or following the Lord in baptism.

I learned that my dream is more powerful than my vision statement.

In preparing for my new role, I was particularly interested in vision creation and communication. Through wise counsel, I chose to refrain from casting vision for six to 12 months. Instead, use that time to move from the voice of an outsider to an insider through listening and learning.That proved to be a wise move for my first 90 days! However, I have learned something additional lately—thanks in part to Mahalia Jackson and Martin Luther King, Jr. On August 28, 1963, King began his speech to 250,000 people on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. However, Mahalia recognized the potential power of the moment and need for a course correction in Dr. King’s speech. At that moment, she began to call out repeatedly from her spot behind him on the platform, “Tell them about the dream, Martin.” And the rest is history! While vision statements are necessary and keep your organization focused, your dreams carry more potential. They carry the passion and power. So while I will continue to wait until next January to share what I believe God is calling us to as a church, I have already begun to tell others in a variety of settings the dreams I have for First Wesleyan Church and the surrounding community to which He has called us. I’m still learning more about each of the above, and loving what God is doing here in Battle Creek! What's one thing you've learned in a new ministry position?