Pastors seem to be staying at one church for a longer time than in the past. I have seen a few pastors who resigned recently after 13 or 15 years at the same church. How did they do it?
Let me share a few of my observations. Some, or all, or none, of the following may be at play in longer pastoral stays.
1. The Strong Leader
Leadership has been one of the main issues pastors have been told they need to work on to have a great ministry. There are many books and seminars and podcasts dedicated to pastoral leadership. Well, some pastors are great leaders. The congregation loves the pastor because they see how the pastor always leads with a strong vision and clear direction. The congregation see the results of new people, maybe their own children, coming to Christ and being baptized under the leadership of these pastors. The leadership board enjoys having a leader who guides them as a board.
This type of pastor appeals to a congregation that loves to do the work of the Kingdom. They flourish because the leader equips them and inspires them to move toward one direction together. This pastor understands the congregation and builds ministries on the gifts and skills and passions of those present.
The strong leader addresses issues as soon as they arise and deals with them swiftly. If there are relationships that are struggling, he will do his best to fix them immediately. If there are ministries that are having issues he steps in to resolve them as efficiently as possible.
This pastor will most likely be a “projects person.” He is great at setting up the right ministries so that the care for people is done in the ministries and programs of the church rather than through his own relationships with everyone.
2. The Strong Shepherd
Pastors do not need to have abundant leadership skills to stay long term in one church. I’ve seen some who remain at a church for years because they love people. They care for those in the congregation. They are at the hospital bed of everyone who ends up in the hospital. They might even remember everyone’s birthday and call them or take the out for coffee to celebrate. I remember a pastor with this gifting who remembered everybody’s name from the first time they attended as new-comers.
This pastor may not start new ministries but is faithful to continue to maintain the ministries that are already going. This pastor may not have strong preaching abilities, but the congregation senses his love for them whenever he preaches.
This pastor will generally be a “people person.” His ministry is all about loving and caring for people.
3. Be a Strong Adapter
I am presently doing transition ministry in one church that just said goodbye to a pastor who was there for about 13 years. As we have gone through the transition process, I have heard comments from people that the previous pastor was not the same at the end as he was at the beginning of his ministry. He changed and adapted, and it was a good thing.
Adapting happens for a few reasons.
a. The pastor grows up: If you are a new pastor just out of Bible College, you are likely young, and probably inexperienced. Some young pastors may have been very involved in their church growing up, or grew up in a pastor’s family and so have some experience of how church works. Others come to this role with little church experience at all.
If you are a young pastor, you may be able to have a long ministry at one church if you keep on growing. Keep on taking courses. Attend seminars. Read books. You might want to focus in on a certain aspect of the pastoral role that excites you, but keep learning. Find an older pastor nearby who will mentor you and whom you can bounce ideas off of. Make use of denominational leaders and coaches to help you. Be willing to listen to your leadership team. They have probably been in that church longer than you.
b. The church grows: If you are part of a church that is growing, the dynamics of church ministry will shift over time. When you have 60 people, you will know everyone. When you have 120 people, you may have to work much harder to get to know the newer people. You may need to add more small groups and add more leaders, so your role in equipping leaders may expand. If you grow to the point of hiring staff, you will again have to adapt as you are now leading a team, even if it is just two of you. You are now handing off some responsibilities to another pastor and trusting them to lead their areas well.
If you are in a growing church, make sure you keep learning. Go to seminars, take courses, and read lots. Look for someone who has experience pastoring a church that is growing and ask them to help you adapt well. Learn to increase your leadership team. Work closely with new staff. You may need to establish another level of leadership to look after different departments in the church.
If it is your goal to be a pastor who stays a long time in one church, then be the best you that you can be. If you are gifted as a leader, lead well. If your primary gifts are in the area of shepherding, then shepherd your congregation well. When you are in a church that is growing, figure out how to adapt where you can and gather a team around you to compliment and balance out your own gifts and skills. Usually both the pastor and the church benefit from a pastor staying for a longer period.
Keep looking up,