Staying Power: Why Churches Need Long-Term Pastors
The vast majority of churches grow by layers, not by leaps. Step by step, family by family, person by person rather than jumping by hundreds at a time. Because this is true, momentum is strengthened by the longevity of the pastor.
A longer pastoral tenure doesn’t guarantee greater spiritual results (growth and life change), but it sets the stage for it.
There is a strong correlation between pastoral longevity at a church, and the potential for that church to be healthy and growing.
Before we look at the ways to enhance a sustained tenure, let me outline good and bad reasons to leave.
Bad reasons to leave:
- Avoid a major or long-term conflict.
- Escape a burden such as significant debt.
- Bored with the current circumstances.
- Get a bigger church with more money.
- Better stewardship to re-teach your sermons than write new ones.
Good reasons to leave:
- God speaks to you and says it’s time to leave.
- Your family is hurt if you stay.
- The church asks you to resign.
Longevity isn’t easy. Church leadership is exhausting, and it’s normal to experience seasons of doubt, fear or insecurity. Pastors often try, sometimes unknowingly, to “catch their breath” by making a change to another church. I’ve acknowledged that sometimes making a change is the right thing to do, but many times staying the course provides the breakthrough needed for you and the church to grow to the next level.
Sustained longevity is enhanced by:
1) Your pastoral presence
It’s difficult to overestimate the power of presence when it comes to pastoral ministry. Presence being defined as with and among the people, sharing their joys and successes, along with their hurts and failures. When your presence is connected to longevity there is a cumulative effect that results in increased influence. Trust is also increased because the people know they can count on you. Presence further demonstrates commitment which enhances momentum within the vision. As your church grows, you can’t get to the whole congregation, but they still feel your presence through vision and your leadership.
A pastoral presence connected to longevity results in increased influence.
2) Your love for the people
It’s easy to love people at an isolated event; it’s more challenging to do so consistently over time, week after week as years go by. This kind of care and devotion to the congregation cultivates a heart level connection that can be achieved by no other way than the expanse of time. Love develops deep and meaningful relationships that enable the pastor and people to work through conflict, solve problems and stay the course in the lean times. This kind of love is best measured by seeing personal sacrifice for others result in joy.
3) Your vision for the church
Candidly without vision, there is no reason to stay at the church for more than two to three years. A new pastor can arrive and be busy with the necessary work of day to day ministry for nearly a year before the absence of a clear vision becomes an evident problem. If in the second year a clear vision is not crafted and communicated, frustration begins to increase, resulting in a lack of productivity.
Eventually, the lack of growth usually causes a short-fall in revenue and the pastor considers seeking another church. This can all be changed by a clear vision of where you believe God wants to take the church. Connecting the vision to strong leadership execution begins to dramatically enhance longevity. The pastor and people have a purpose to stay together!
Sustained longevity is made possible by:
1) Continued personal growth
Sustained longevity is very difficult if you as the leader do not continue to make progress in your personal growth. You can’t lead the people further than you have traveled personally. This is true both in the spiritual realm as well as the professional leadership realm. Great books, roundtable gatherings, conferences and webinars etc. all add great value to your personal growth. But few outweigh the value of a mentor or two who can offer personal coaching two or three times a year. I highly encourage you to seek out and find a leadership coach within a couple hundred miles of where you live, in a church just a little larger than yours, to help you keep growing.
You can’t lead the people further than you have traveled personally.
2) Staying healthy and fit
Here’s some encouragement for you. Most of us know what we should do. Eat smart and exercise, right? Right. So no preachy sermons for you here. Just this… You don’t have to join CrossFit and flip huge tires at 5:00 a.m. to get in shape. Start small. For example, if you are not currently exercising, a brisk 30-minute walk three to four days a week can change your life. About diet—moderation is the key idea. Hardcore diets don’t last. Think about simple things that you can do the rest of your life such as: drink more water, eat less sugar and trade out red meat for veggies a couple times a week. Little things can make a big difference.
3) Chasing God
Nothing trumps prayer. Chase God with all your heart, mind and soul! Prayer is where the power is, and it’s the source for all lasting life change. Without prayer, ministry becomes mechanical and longevity is nearly impossible. Pray and stay!
We can all cite pastors who have been in their church for 10, 15, even 20 years and it’s not growing or healthy. That does not invalidate the principles I’ve written. There are other things in play that substantiate why those churches are not growing. The point I want to encourage you with is that tenure strengthens your ministry, so when in doubt, stick it out!