Long-term ministers make friends with other pastors in their area. I was told this is a statistically common trait of clergy with longevity, but I had already discovered my need for this type of friendship. Local ministry friends have been a great encouragement to me. I’m now on my second generation of friends as I’ve been here long enough to see churches have 2 or 3 pastors rotate in and out. Some of these pastors have to leave because their denomination moves them or their church fires them. Others choose to go to another congregation.
We can't control other people's choices, but I've noticed some pastors seem to willingly cycle through churches every 3-5 years. It’s like they built up a solid 4 year’s worth of sermons and then quit writing messages. So, when they’re out of material they go! The allure is clear. You get to re-use your jokes, stories, illustrations, and sermons. You can start again in that beautiful ministry honeymoon. During the first two years everything you do is great and everyone loves you. If you're smart you don't make too many changes in your first year or two until you get the lay of the land. This means you can have two years of bliss without a lot of conflict. Then it gets real! Two years of hustle and grind come next. If you don’t make the progress you want or build up the influence you need for change then you head out and start over again with a new church. The old church becomes a well of sermon illustrations and anecdotes as you begin a new honeymoon with another congregation.
Those who leave often do so because they’ve discovered all the problems at their church and don’t like them. They start over at another church forgetting no church is perfect and that a problem well defined is half-solved. Yet, if you’re going to leave every four years you’ll never have to face problems or make changes. The hard work comes with time and the real change comes with shared history.
Elsewhere smart people like Thom Rainer have posted about what long term pastors do, which is worth the read. Instead I want to share why you should want to stay. Before you do what needs to be done to stay, you need to decide if it's worth it to stay.
I want to take a moment to share a few of the benefits of long-term ministry. I want to frame this as personal benefits. We know statistically that stable, long-term leadership is good for churches. It's also good for pastors. Here's the benefits I've enjoyed so far in my long-term ministry...
- You get to see the fruit of your labor. (Galatians 6) God doesn't waste our effort or investment. He will grow his kingdom and receive the glory from our work. The problem is if we're constantly moving, we don't get to see it! When we don't get to see at least some fruit from our work things get frustrating. It's always an encouragement to see seeds I've planted grow into something beautiful.
- You are able to shape a generation of leaders. There is a difference in having a board that you inherit and a board that you shape. Elders who come in during your tenure will be more open to your ideas and more willing to allow you to lead change.
- You are able to build a staff consistent with your values. Similar to the above point, but this is even more noticeable as you work with these people daily! Inheriting a good staff is good, but building one around your weaknesses, strategy, and personality is great!
- You have more freedom with the security of a solid reputation. I would hardly ever work from home the first few years I started, because I wanted people to know I was working! Now I have a reputation for getting things done and people know I'm working even when I'm not around.
- You build time-tested friendships. It takes me a long time to make friends. It takes me even longer to trust people on a deep level. Serving in one church and community for awhile has allowed me to build up a trustworthy network of friends.
- You mature faster. Staying in one place for years allows people to learn your flaws. It allows you to fail and make a mess. It then forces you to grow up and mature. It makes you apologize and rebuild trust. The true test of a great lover is not how many lovers they can attract, but in keeping one lover attracted for a lifetime. The same is true of pastors, except with churches. You keep a church by being honest and transparent, by being real and learning about their needs. Staying in one place allows you to get to the heart of the issue and move past the surface. You'll never mature if you keep moving every four years.
- Your kids benefit from geographic stability. Moving is tough on kids! It just is. Often it's unavoidable and you have to move, but if you can stay then it blesses them. We tell our kids this isn't normal, but they're glad they can stay in the same school district.
I know I could go on and might later, but these should be enough to make you reconsider a move. It's not always easy, but if you decide to dig in deep - to outlove and outlast, then you will find incredible blessings waiting for you in the years to come. If you need more reasons go read Ron Pracht share his own list of pros & cons of staying long term at a church.