Right Start with Bishop Farr
By Fred Koenig
The Right Start event for moving clergy in the Missouri Conference is a familiar event for Bishop Bob Farr. For several years before being elected Bishop, he led off the event with a presentation advising clergy on how to approach their first 100 days. But starting last year the event took on a new significance for him – he was the person responsible for moving everyone.
“I used to look across the room and think ‘I hope Bishop Robert Schnase got this right,”’ he told the group. “Now I look out here and think, ‘I’m the one who did this.”’
There’s another element that has changed. As Director of Congregational Excellence, he would advise pastors to go into their new appointments fast and hard, taking full advantage of their honeymoon period to enact needed changes. But while doing this, he realized that Bishop Schnase was advising pastors to slow down, and spend lots of time assessing the situation before any changes are proposed. Now that he is in the role of Bishop, he preaches a balanced approach.
“If you go too slow, nothing happens, and most of our churches really need to have something happen. But if you go too fast you’ll end up getting a new zip code after your first year,” he said. “You have to walk the fence regarding how hard you are willing to push.”
Bishop Farr said he has been moved five times as an itinerant pastor. His children were in elementary school and high school during his moves.
“I never once got the appointment that I thought I should have, including the one that I’m in now,” he said. “But they have always turned out OK.”
He shared how when he was first told of an appointment, he said to Bishop Handy that he thought they would talk about it first, and Bishop W.T. Handy replied, “We just did.” When Bishop Ann Sherer-Simpson moved him from Grace UMC to Church of the Shepherd, he told her he thought she was crazy, but he moved anyway.
Bishop Farr shared an abbreviated version of the main points from his book The Necessary Nine: Things Effective Pastors Do Differently.
1. Show up – move in. Get excited. Show up like this appointment is greatest thing since sliced bread. Even if you’re not an excitable person, find it. Put everything you’ve got into showing up and moving in, saying, “This is my home forever. This is it. This is the last time I will get to pastor a church. Make it into the best church you ever had. The only good churches we have are the ones we make good.”
2. Listen up and lead with your ears. “When I became Bishops had 40 listening groups with more than 500 people across the state. It is important to stop and listen.” It is not good enough just to show up and have conversations and not take notes. You can do a lot of socializing and learn nothing. Have questions. Keep the group size to 12 people or fewer.
3. Get something going. Find a little win to get the train going.
4. Get Spiritual. It is really easy in first six months to neglect spiritual life. You are so busy learning things you can find yourself running on fumes by October before Christmas even kicks in. If you don’t take care of your spiritual life in the first six months, you won’t be doing it in the last six months.
5. Get real, get grounded, find a group.
6. Speak the truth, and do it with determinacy and grace. You get to ask questions like “Why is this here?” in first 100 days that you won’t see later. If all you do is speak the truth with no grace you are just being mean. I’ve done that a bunch. It doesn’t work out. I see people err on both sides, some speak too much truth and no grace, or some go the other way.
7. Lead up and manage down. I learned this from Bishop Schnase. You fan the flames of what works to build it up. If something isn’t working, you give it less resources and time and manage down. You’re not there to be a popular person, but you have to be liked well enough to stay. When you are managing down you are managing down someone’s baby.
8. Preach and worship well. If you’re not a good preacher, go short. We all have skill sets, good and bad, that we have to balance. If you can’t communicate what you are trying to do they won’t let you do it. Put some work into preaching. Find someone who is good at it, and work with her or him.
9. Have some fun. If you can’t have some fun where you are going – it’s a long journey. I’ve never seen a church grow that wasn’t having fun. Some churches have been in decline 50 years, and lost their confidence, and people wonder why they are declining. If you’re going to die, die having fun. They know they have declined. The question is what are you going to do to turn it around.