Eight Ways Pastors Can Cultivate Long-Term Tenures

By Sam Rainer

Generally, long-term pastor tenures are better than short-term pastor tenures. The context where the pastor ministers can impact the tenure. The church body can impact tenure. And the pastor can impact tenure length. Here are eight ways pastors can cultivate their long-term tenures.

  1. Elevate your family above your career. You simply cannot overestimate the importance of family stability. Your family is not a quantifiable metric in the decision to transition or not. One wise mentor once told me, “If your wife ain’t called, then you ain’t called.” He’s right. Your family is the front line of your ministry. They come first. If they want to stay, then in the vast majority of cases, you should not lead them to another place of ministry.
  2. Stop basing fulfillment on the size of your church. A 2,000-attendance church is not more fulfilling than a 200-attendance church. Your worth to Christ is not dependent on the size of your church. Success is no longer about “arriving” at the large county seat churches like it was in the 1960s. Quite frankly, such ideas should not have existed back then. They certainly shouldn’t exist now.
  3. Live in the community where you pastor. I once consulted a church where the pastor left after several years because he simply did not connect with the community. He lived thirty minutes outside of the city from where his church was to get more house for his money. It’s hard to love a community if you don’t live there. Additionally, some communities are easier to love than others. A New Englander might have to work to love the Deep South. A Southerner might get culture shock in Miami. Californians know that the northern part of the state is quite different than the southern part of the state. To love a place over time, you must live there.
  4. Don’t cast your preferences as vision. One of the biggest unseen and internal faults of a pastor is creating a vision around personal preferences. Just because you like something doesn’t necessarily mean it is best for the whole of your congregation. You don’t always have to get your way in your church. If you always get your way, then you’re creating a toxic culture.
  5. Pick your battles. Too many pastors die on molehills. I knew a rural church where the new pastor got fired in his second year. He decided to discard all of the tchotchkes families had donated throughout the years. He thought they were ugly. He was right. However, the church chose ugly décor over a foolish pastor.
  6. Continually ask long-term questions. You minister to people in the moment, but you must also lead them towards the future. The person struggling with a dying parent does not care about your ten-year vision right then, but they will be glad you asked the right questions about leadership ten years from that point.
  7. Have a plan to develop and equip staff. Without a formal plan to develop staff, you will be alone in your long-term vision. If you don’t bring along your staff, then it is highly unlikely you will bring along the church as well. You must do the hard work of developing staff to survive long-term at your church.
  8. Discern the difference between snippiness and disunity. That comment about the lack of choir robes is most likely just snippiness. Don’t treat the offender as if he’s killing the church. You should expect criticism as a leader, especially if you are the lead pastor. You are the person everyone sees. High visibility means you will have both influence on people and critiques from people. Most criticism aimed at you is not disunity. If you can’t handle criticism, then you should not be the leader.

One of the greatest influences on pastoral tenure is the pastor. While some things are out of your control, a lot is not. You have the ability to cultivate a longer tenure.

Posted on October 23, 2019

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21 Comments

  • Need some feed back from all of you out there… I have been in my current church coming up on year four….

    This church has had 24 pastors in 57 years… I am number 24, and this does not count the interims they have had. I did not know that until year two of being here.

    Along with that there has been a consistent high rate of turn over in other ministerial staff. The longest tenure for a pastor here has been 7 years – at 4 years I am number 2 in tenure length.

    They seem to take this all in stride, as though it was normal, and truly do not see it as being unhealthy. They honestly cannot make the connection from that statistic and the church’s current state.

    In 20 years of vocational ministry I dont believe I have ever heard of a church having that many pastors in that short amount of time.
    So right now, I am pretty much living on borrowed time.

    Thom’s post here is good… for sure, but this church has a long track record of pastors leaving (one even quickly departed at what would have appeared to be a time of success and boon, he suggested one change and many turned on him – it was a VERY simple change) Add to that – that one pastor came on board and resigned in less than two months…

    I dont enjoy just waiting for the other shoe to drop wondering what small thing will force me to be a statistic in the church’s history.

    Any thoughts?

  • William Alan Secrest says on

    I have been in my current church for 11 years. I have seen the great moments and the not-so great moments. I noticed how many of us are responding to your eighth point. I will admit from the outset that I have thin skin. We need to be careful because I have seen “snippiness” turn into disunity. I have seen it way too many times. Any kind of criticism needs to be addressed quickly.

  • After 41 years pastoring the same church I think I have something to offer on this topic. It was a lot about grace-giving, life-giving and forgiving. It was learning how to handle tense situations with humor, not hardness and the like manner any criticism was delivered. It was about working toward KEEPING the unity the Holy Spirit had already created there (Eph 4:3), one of the grandest themes and goals for the church in the entire New Testament. Its way bigger than buildings, budgets and behinds in the seats…right behind (pun intended) love? It was about humility more than getting credit, sharing leadership and empowering people instead of just tooting my horn and touting my vision.

  • Don’t do what John MacArthur just did.
    https://youtu.be/NeNKHqpBcgc

    • I doubt seriously MacArthur’s job is in danger.

      • His job may not be but he made a lot of women upset and men should be ashamed of what he said too.

      • MacArthur has been upsetting people for over thirty years. I know quite a few men (and women) who agree with him on this issue.

      • Beth Moore spoke out against Trump over comments he made years ago bragging about his thoughts about women. Beth Moore never said a word about the Clintons ever and their serial sexual assaults on women.

        She needs to sit down and be quiet.

  • In the midst of our ever changing times and trying to keep up with an ever changing culture; I have coined this phrase in helping our 55+ Family and others deal with the changes that we must make to make an impact as a church. “I choose His Presence over my preference” any day. If we keep the focus on HIs Presence and winning people to Jesus and discipling them; then our preference will grow strangely dim “In the light of His Glory and Grace”. I have been at CHBC since 2001 and I try to keep my focus on HIs Presence!

  • James Steen says on

    Learned a new word – ” tchotchke.”
    Defn. a small object that is decorative rather than strictly functional; a trinket.
    “a pig mug and a dozen or so other porcine tchotchkes adorn his office.” Yiddish origin.
    I use the term “dust collector.” :>)

  • I served eleven years in my first pastorate, and I’m twelve years and counting in my current one. I know the temptations to quit are legion. I’ve been there many times, and the last few times were quite recent. Be that as it may, I’ve always tried to live by some advice I heard from Adrian Rogers: “When you go to a new pastorate, go for life. God may move you, but plan on being there for life.”

  • I’m 15 years in my current pastorate. It’s been exhilaratingly wonderful and deeply dark, but I love our people. I also love my city and don’t want to leave. My wife and, now adult, children still love our church and city. I still have a heart for our city and church. My concern is that Thom Rainer has commented what comes after 20+ year pastorates is often turbulent. I desperately don’t want that to happen to us. I could see myself pastoring here for at least 15 more years, maybe 20… but I’d be heartbroken if the church couldn’t press on to even greater heights after God says I’m done. But one thing I know… I’ve loved being a long tenured pastor, despite the hardships that we’ve endured.

  • Thanks for the helpful 8 tips God bless u.i can love the online training

  • Thanks for #8. Been wrestling with quitting the ministry. Thanks