This won’t be a popular answer, but you should do nothing. Well, almost nothing.

I was recently at a conference where I overheard a new youth worker tell another youth worker that she was struggling in her brand-new position. The second youth worker’s advice was ‘change as much as you can as quickly as you can.’ I felt like banging my head against the wall… or I felt like banging someone’s head against the wall anyway.

One of the main reasons that youth workers don’t find traction in new positions is that they fly in like superman with brand-spanking new shiny ideas and a completely out-of-context, duck-out-of-water leadership style to boot. Whereas some will see this as a novelty and will try to get behind it, most will treat the over-excited new guy with a healthy level of scepticism.

So slow down puppy.

For your first few months you need to build.  Build credibility (no your CV did not do that), build trustworthiness, build respect, build confidence, and – of course – build relationships. You’re also building up information and research, so the actual changes you’ll make later will sit on something much more like solid ground.

So, here’s my short list of what you should do in your first three months instead:

1. Watch everything

Go to each ministry project that the church or ministry runs. Visit all the homegroups and services. Attend training and meetings. Don’t get stuck into to serving, just watch. Watch, look, listen, and take notes. You’re trying to breathe the culture in, put your finger on the pulse and find the heart (or hearts) of the ministry. Don’t waste this time of watching as a relatively objective outsider – you won’t get it back later.

2. Keep a journal everywhere

Note down some thoughts after every event. Ideally do this under four headings. 1. Who did what when and where? 2. What did I like/do I think worked? 3. What did I not like/do I think didn’t work? 4. Anything else of note? Keep this journal private but do fill it in regularly.

3. Talk to everyone

Accept every dinner invitation and go out for so many coffees that you start to shake. Ask impertinent questions, get people to tell you their stories, and listen actively to what they say. Talk to local schools and government. Talk to other churches and project workers. Make notes in your journal afterwards and reflect. Ask lots and lots of questions – of everyone. Try to withhold judgement and keep the pieces in tension. You’re trying to sense a flavour of people, not just gather facts.

4. Change nothing

Don’t just jump in with your new ideas, learn to listen for the heartbeat. This will build you a foundation that you’ll be able to build solidly on for years to come. Not only does this build you some much needed trustworthiness, but it also gives you the space and information that you’ll need to plan healthily.

How to do this in reality

This starts at interview! You need to make clear that this is your plan for the first quarter, so the ‘interim’ staff or volunteers can’t just pack up and leave in lieu of the new guy coming in. Make sure the pastor or team leader communicates this to the church, teams, and eldership before you start. Then you can hit the ground running by not actually having to run. Winner.

This blog was originally published on youthworkhacks.com, Tim's blog stocked full of advice wisdom and humour to transform your ministry.