It looks like the current average tenure of pastors in local churches is about 3.5 years. That may not be long enough to really bring about a change.
Longevity in a ministry role isn’t a silver bullet, but it does offer some really good things both to the pastor and the church.
Before we get to a few points here, there are some general thoughts on longevity in ministry including calling, seasons of life, purpose, and prayer.
First of all, when God is clearly calling us away to a new place of ministry, we must go. We can’t allow our comfort of many years in one place to be a reason not to answer the call. Secondly, there are seasons of life and we must trust that God is at work in the various stages. There is a purpose in each pastorate – both for the pastor and for the church. You don’t want to stay too long, but that’s not usually the problem – it’s when we leave before we’ve accomplished the purpose of being there. The last general thing is to remain in prayer. As you are seeking God, he will be at work both in your heart and behind the scenes. God will prepare the way – either keeping on keeping on where you are some other place you’re needed.
Now on to a few thoughts on how longevity can impact your ministry for good:
Stability For The Church
When someone stays for several years and leads well, the church is stronger. People know what to expect and the culture of effective, long-term ministry is built.
Experiencing Fruit From The Ministry
A pastor (or another staff person) who leaves prematurely, misses out on some of the sweet fruit from seeing things through. Of course, you never know all that God will do through you in ministry, but when someone is there for a number of years, you see lives changed and discipled. You see kids become students and students become adults. Eventually, you get to know the children of those whom you knew as children! It’s powerful to see God’s faithfulness at work in the whole thing!
Deep And Rewarding Relational Ministry Takes Time
Deeply relational ministry takes time and that’s why longevity is so important. Staying for several years will build a different kind of trust, a different kind of connection, and a stronger bond overall.
Pastors and the congregation who have been together through thick and thin will have a longtime connection and community! Pastors can more easily articulate the needs of their people. They become more in touch with the history, the current season, and the needs for the future!
More Capital For Risk
It’s possible someone can stay in their post so long they lose the desire to risk much and that’s not good. However, a pastor who has some relational connection and people’s trust will be able to take some risks other short-term leaders could never be able to take!
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Ideas for staying in your ministry role for the long haul:
Belong To A Group
Meeting with a group of pastors or ministry leaders outside your church to share and be held accountable is a huge benefit to a pastor. You need someone with whom you can share burdens.
Build A Ministry Team
In order to stay for the long haul, you need people around you in ministry to help move the mission forward. Pray for and develop leaders. It’s not easy, but it’s a major part of your ministry.
Grow In Your Skill
Never stop learning. I’m always impressed with the retired pastors (or near retirement pastors) who continue to attend conferences and other training events. You can always grow and learn from others!
If you’re going to stay, you will have to change. Your church will have different needs as time goes on and if you’re going to stay, you need to be able to rise to the challenge of new seasons of leadership, style, and ministry.
When Struggles Arise, Give It Time
Never quit at Christmas. There are always going to be more intense times and crazy schedules. Issues and situations will arise, and when those struggles come, give it a little time. I often think about this Scripture when struggles come (Luke 13:6-9):
Then he told this parable: “A man had a fig tree growing in his vineyard, and he went to look for fruit on it but did not find any. So he said to the man who took care of the vineyard, ‘For three years now I’ve been coming to look for fruit on this fig tree and haven’t found any. Cut it down! Why should it use up the soil?’
“‘Sir,’ the man replied, ‘leave it alone for one more year, and I’ll dig around it and fertilize it. If it bears fruit next year, fine! If not, then cut it down.’”
There may be something to “giving it one more year1”
Grow Where You Are
When God calls you to move, you go. But at times, I think people jump at the chance to move because they think there’s something better out there. Who knows, but God may be using this time to form you for what is next – stick with it until it’s complete. Until your next assignment, grow where you are – learn all you can. And do your best work until the very end!
If you don’t feel like you’re serving the best church, then work hard to make it the best church!