Seven Habits of Long-tenured Pastors

They have been at their present church at least ten years, often much longer.

They have persevered. They have served multiple generations of the same families.

They have known the highs and lows of ministry. And they have not succumbed to the siren call of greener grass churches.

I have been following these long-tenured pastors for years. And I have seen consistently seven patterns, or habits, in their lives. To be sure, these habits are not unique to long-tenured pastors. But they do seem to be most consistent among those pastors who have been at one church for at least ten years.

  1. They don’t skip a day in prayer and the ministry of the Word. They are truly Acts 6:4 pastors. They refuse to succumb to they tyranny of the urgent. They put prayer and Bible reading as a priority on their calendars, usually early in the morning. They are able to carry on because they are refueled every day.
  2. They realize gnats are gnats. So they are able to look beyond the momentary critics and nuisances. See my earlier blog post of April 3, 2017.
  3. They pray for wisdom. I have been both amazed and encouraged to discover how many longer-tenured pastors include the prayer of James 1:5 in their prayer lives.
  4. They dream big. These pastors are not satisfied with the status quo. They truly believe they serve a God who has bigger plans than we can possibly imagine in our own strength.
  5. They intentionally seek to see the green grass in their own churches. That helps them not to fall for the trap that the green grass is always at the next church.
  6. They keep an outward focus. Pastors in a maintenance mode are either miserable pastors or pastors on their way out. Long-tenured pastors really take Paul’s admonition to Timothy seriously. They do the work of the evangelist (2 Timothy 4:5).
  7. They take care of their families. They know their families are their first lines of ministry. In fact, they grasp clearly that they cannot lead their churches for the long haul unless they take care of their families (1 Timothy 3:5).

The longer-term pastor is a step in the right direction for greater health and more fruitful ministry.

Posted on April 5, 2017

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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  • Great article. I have been the pastor of a small church in a small town for 11 years. The church building seats around 400 comfortably. Before I came they had just gone through the last of 3 splits in 7 years. There were 9 people left. We are running about 90 now with up to 45 children on Sunday mornings.
    I am convinced the main thing I did right was keep my mouth shut and not try to address and fix everything that I saw. Isaiah 42:18-21 Too often we get in God’s way as he is trying to work. I have tried not to get in his way.
    I also am convinced of this. I know Jesus Christ personally and my people are growing to know him also. This is the foundation for unity.
    I also encouraged people to speak up respectfully when they disagreed with me…. That was often challenging, but people began to feel safe to think and question and learn.
    God has been very good to us here and I am very thankful.

  • David Daumer says on

    As a pastor of 28+ years in the same setting, I’d add:
    1. Receive and share God’s grace freely and frequently. Admit mistakes and forgive the mistakes of others. Move on–without having to move. And if members need to make a change in where they worship, allow graceful exits. Try to stay on good terms with everyone.
    Romans 12:18 “If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with everyone.”
    Ephesians 4:26-27 “In your anger do not sin”: Do not let the sun go down while you are still angry, and do not give the devil a foothold. ”
    2. Don’t be afraid to share your opinions and what you think should be done, but also solicit and show respect for opinions of others. Leaders don’t and shouldn’t get their way all the time because they are leaders.
    Read Acts, i.e. 15:36-16 for its examples of how God worked through well meaning but imperfect sinners to get the job done in His own time and way. Trust in the Lord and be open to His guidance, delays, and redirection.

  • Thank you for these great reminders. Healthy ministry doesn’t happen by accident.

  • Sandy Williams says on

    I completed 36 years as Pastor of one church in a town of 8,000 in 2015. When other pastors or people said “wow” upon hearing of the long tenure, my first response was: “I have a very patient congregation . . . And they have a very patient pastor.”

    If Pastors want advice on how to have a long-term pastorate, I offered these three suggestions:
    1. DON’T QUIT. If you quit, you will never have a long-term pastorate.
    2. DON’T GET FIRED. Don’t do stupid things that will certainly get you fired. Things like stealing money, having an affair with the pianist, neglecting your family so that your spouse leaves you or your kids rebel, etc. If you get fired, you will never have a long-term pastorate.
    3. DON’T GET SICK AND DIE. Take care of yourself. Stay healthy physically, emotionally, spiritually, vocationally.
    Above all, love God and love people. Love the church and the community.

    • Now that’s wisdom.

      • Cliff Owens says on

        I am a preachers son and I have been to many churches. Being moved around. My dads longest was 13 years which I call my home church. I was 5 when we moved there. Now he preaches at a church that has A gnat issue yes just one. My dad preaches Gods word all of it! He doesn’t have a ” suggestion box” for people to put what that want to hear. He will preach it all. He isn’t there to entertain or make people feel good. My problem is this church knows this Gnat is causing problems and has for several years. She tries to tell my dad what she will do and want. She is the choir director. She will say we don’t do that here. My dad will say you may not have but we are starting. For example he is just had them install new speakers and he wants a projector to show videos that are related to his sermon. Well she said No that’s ridiculous. So we voted on the speakers and my dad waited to bring up the projector. So I ask him about it and she heard me. She told my dad that I needed to know they voted no! Well that’s not true because we never voted! That day because of her I left church early. She had made me angry. How do I or we handle Gnats like that? She is not in charge and it’s Gods house.

      • As I understood Dr. Rainer’s column about “gnats”, he was talking about people who tend to get under your skin, but are generally harmless. Judging from your description, you may be dealing with something much more serious. Several people on this blog – including myself – have spoken of a book called “Antagonists in the Church”, by Kenneth Haughk. He gives guidelines for telling the difference between well-meaning pests and genuine antagonists. Your Dad might have one of the latter on his hands.

  • Let me add – learning the numbers do not always equal success. My first pastorate (1981-1986) was in a community of 500 people. We never grew to megachurch size (surprise!) but our small congregation had a significant impact in our community. Now in my 26th year of pastoring in a town of around 6,000 I’m still not serving a megachurch, but our small congregation has completed nearly 100 service projects in our area (thanks to assistance with World Changers) and have an outsized impact in our county!

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