Five Reasons Some Long-term Pastorates Fail


Please hear me clearly: I am a strong proponent of longer-term pastorates. I love hearing about pastors passing tenure thresholds of five, ten, and fifteen years. All other things being equal, I would much rather see a pastor have long tenure in a given church than not.

But recently a member of this community challenged me. He is a longer-term pastor himself, and he candidly and transparently shared some of his struggles of serving so many years at one church. I took his admonition to heart and reviewed several long-term pastorates that did not turn out well. I saw five common themes in their struggles:

  1. The pastor can coast. Because longer-term pastors have earned the trust of members over many years, it can be tempting for them to go through the motions of ministry and leadership. They may also be weary of the ministry and, thus, have little desire or energy to lead the church to a new level.
  2. There can be too much familiarity among the staff. It is not unusual for longer-term pastors to have longer-term staff. It is possible this staff becomes too comfortable with the pastor and the pastor’s leadership. Simply stated, they no longer look at the pastor as their leader as much as they view the pastor as their friend.
  3. The pastor can stay for the wrong reasons. In some cases, the longer-term pastor hangs on for financial security or fear of finding another place of ministry. The call to ministry thus becomes a defensive call rather than a proactive vision-laden call.
  4. Church members can get too comfortable. The longer-term pastor becomes a source of routine and tradition for the members. The pastor becomes a symbol of longevity, stability, and change aversion.
  5. The pastor can stop learning. Longer-term pastors must be highly intentional to learn about the world outside their own churches. Because they have been at one church for so long, they can see their particular experiences as normative. One pastor shared with us, “After twelve years at my church, I started learning about other churches, even visiting a new church once a quarter. I was amazed to learn how much had changed in church practices that I had missed the past several years.”

For certain, longer-term pastorates have great advantages. I have written about those advantages and spoken about them on my podcasts several times. But it is possible for a longer-term pastorate to have its own challenges. It seems that those longer-term pastors who avoided these problems were highly intentional in moving in a positive direction.

I would love to hear your perspectives on pastoral tenure, and specifically on longer tenure. Let me hear from you.

Posted on November 7, 2018

With nearly 40 years of ministry experience, Thom Rainer has spent a lifetime committed to the growth and health of local churches across North America.
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  • We have just celebrated 25 years here at Westside Baptist. All of these themes are heart issues with the pastor, the staff, or the church family and may not necessarily be related to length of tenure. I do concur with several others that unique opportunities come only after staying in one place for a long time. My advice is to keep a vital relationship with the Lord and express faith in God daily.

  • I’m not a pastor nor the son of a pastor, but I have been in a church, which had one pastor for the first 34 years I was there. And the following does come to mind, from Proverbs 34:

    33 A little sleep, a little slumber, a little folding of the hands to rest—34 and poverty will come on you like a thief and scarcity like an armed man.

    I can see how that might apply Spiritually.

  • Joel H Sarrault says on

    I’m 30 years in the ministry and 20 at my present church.
    I agree with your 5 points in the article but would like to suggest that it’s not just a long-term pastorate that does this. I’ve witnessed pastors in places for under 5 years who exemplify your points! It’s not so much the tenure as it is the character of the pastor.

  • I’ve been here at Cedar Heights Baptist 29 years next month. I like to tell folks that God sent me to a very patient church! 🙂

    One issue that “tenured” pastors need to face is how will we lead the church to accept the pastor that is to follow us? We began a “succession plan” a year and a half ago, intentionally bringing my replacement pastor on staff. We have a couple of more years to go and it seems to be going well!

    That would be my additional point for tenured pastors, we should want the pastor following us to be successful and not cast in, and compared to the shadow of our leadership!

  • Last month, my wife and I completed 34 years at the same church. Our most fruitful years (at least number-wise) have been the last four. It is essential for the pastor to stay up to date. I try to go to seminars, conferences, Rainer webinars, etc., to stay current. The main factor, however, in long term or short is to stay close to the Lord in prayer and His Word.

  • I have pastored Crossgate Church for 27 years. We are a Church that is turned outward, with great leadership and unity. Lots of evangelism and great discipilship. No debt, no conflict. Always doing disaster relief. We’re located in southeast/New Orleans area. Yet, we continue to decline. HELP!!

  • Roy Wahlgren says on

    I think that, after over 14 years in my present church, rather than coasting, I am working harder to make messages be anything but “the same old thing!”

    When I see my folks and ask how they are doing and they reply, “I’m fine!” I know them well enough to know I need to make a visit. Body language and tone of voice tells me much more than the words coming out of their mouths.

  • Wayne Alumbaugh says on

    I suggest everyone read: Not A Daycare ( The Devastating Consquences of Abandoning Truth) by Dr Everett Piper.
    I see that generally in the Church across the board. Keep in mind I am nobody. All the above in your 5 points. Including complacency, don’t rock the boat or I’ll get fired mentality.

  • I volunteer for a ministry that does leadership training for pastors around the world. We often see that the pastor is the most lonely person in the Church. Most don’t have a mentor to walk alongside them and give them what I loosely refer to as “adult supervision”. They need a voice speaking into their lives, and often can’t find one within their church due to inherent conflicts and trust issues.

  • Some pastors never change their methods even after decades. The pastor keeps the same (lay) leadership (and may not even replace dead leaders), does not teach any Sunday school class but the elderly adults, and preaches the same way as was taught in seminary ages ago. Meanwhile, the leadership keeps the pastor. No one wants to change anything and all the people other than the older ones suffer.

  • As a long-term (18+ years) pastor of one church, I couldn’t agree more with these warnings. Spot on.

  • A friend of mine who has ministered in >1,500 different Churches in many different countries over the past 20 years, and “…seen it all” told me:

    “In a Church, for its Pastor, familiarity eventually breeds contempt. Not sometimes, but every time. Pastors MUST form their close friendships outside of their own congregation.”

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