Ten Traits of Pastors Who Have Healthy Long-term Tenure

Imagine what might take place if pastors consistently stayed at churches for ten or more years. Imagine that their tenure was largely healthy. Imagine what would happen in our congregations.

The median tenure of a pastor at a church is around four years. Simply stated, over one-half of pastors leave a church before their fourth anniversary. And our research shows that the time of greatest fruit in a pastor’s ministry does not begin until somewhere around years five to seven.

Is it possible, then, for pastors to stay longer in a healthy situation? In many cases, the answer is a resounding “yes”!

I approached this issue by looking at over 30 pastors whose tenure exceeded ten years. And from my perspective, their tenures have been healthy and loving. Here are the ten traits of those pastors:

  1. They pray daily for their church members and staff. Many of the pastors kept the church membership roll in front of them and prayed through the entire congregation and staff every year.
  2. They view their family as their first line of ministry. They did not see a dichotomy between church and family. To the contrary, they saw their family as the first priority of ministry in the church. I will elaborate on this matter in my post this Saturday, where I will share ways Satan seeks to destroy the families of pastors.
  3. They connect with and love people in their community. Pastors are more likely to stay at a church longer if they love the community in which they are located. That love must be deliberate and intentional.
  4. They choose their battles carefully and wisely. Not every issue is worth a fight. Long-term pastors are not cowardly; they are just highly selective and wise.
  5. They welcome structures that make them accountable. Certainly, they don’t seek structures that hinder their leadership. But a leader who avoids accountability is headed down a path of destruction.
  6. They spend time developing staff. These pastors view their staff, whether fulltime paid, part-time, or volunteer, as one of their highest priorities for development and mentorship.
  7. They expect conflict and criticism. They are a reality in any family or congregation. But these leaders are not surprised or frustrated by conflict and criticism. They realize, if it is handled well, it can be healthy for the church.
  8. They connect with other pastors and ministries in the community. They realize that their congregations cannot minister to and reach the community alone. Other churches and pastors thus become partners in ministry rather than competitors.
  9. They affirm both theology and practical ministry. Their foundation is the Word of God. They have a robust theology. But they don’t neglect such practical issues as attendance trends, outreach ministries, financial health, and parking lot capacity.
  10. They ask long-term questions. They are constantly seeking to lead the church beyond their own tenure. They avoid short-term solutions with long-term negative consequences.

So what traits do you see in long-term healthy pastorates, specifically from the perspective of the pastor?

Posted on September 29, 2014

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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  • John Schmidt says on

    I am retiring after 37.5 years on one church. My daughter posted your list on Facebook and asked what I thought of it. I think all the points are right on, as well as the additional suggestions given. My first two ministries were for four and five years: one left to pursue graduate work and the other to go to a full-time position. This ministry has been with a loving and supportive church; but with a church/community culture that has persisted and produced a situation that is not financially sustainable. I have done the things on the list moderately well and we are leaving on a positive note. One reason for retiring now is the realization that nothing I have done or can ever do will effect the changes that need to take place to attract and retain younger families. I have led our leader through a two-year preparation for a transition that I hope will be what we call a “restart” in our family of churches. The stakes are high for radical change, but there is not time (in my opinion) for anything less. My courageous Elders have recognized that this new approach may fail, but they know what will happen if nothing changes. By the way it must be said that there are many really good things about our church; but future effectiveness — and maybe evil long-term survival is at stake.
    By heart goes out to those who have been in sick churches. I have had many friends in such churches and they are a bane on the body of Christ and one of the reasons we lose so many young ministers early in their careers.

  • A very interesting list. Your next list should be why pastors leave on the average 4 years after beginning. I can guarantee you, you will find many sad stories of pastors who truly wanted to serve Christ in His church, but did not find the support, encouragement, and unconditional love in the church. You can do everything on that list well, but without the support the pastor will not survive.

    The long-term pastor may also follow this list, just don’t be the pastor who follows that him or her.

  • John Gaither says on

    Thank you Thom.

    I’m celebrating 15 years tomorrow at a small church. Throughout, there have been many changes. The pervious record tenure for our church was 9 years. We are also observing our 105th year as a church. The numbers are against us, yet we continue. We are in our 4 growth spurt. They usually crash, but this time we are pushing. We are close to 40 now, yet just a year ago we were at 22. I know the church is healthier than when we started in 1999. Last 7 years we have had Deacons, and to me bringing them along has helped me. Having an understanding outside job has also helped. I know this is where I’m to be. Yet O serve in a community of pastors with lingevity. One 43 years and another with 28.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Your words are a blessing and encouragement to me. Thank you, John.

    • Paul Limato says on

      Thank you, John, for your encouraging words. I’ve had the privilege & honor to pastor our church family for the past 19 years. We too have had several growth spurts. When I was interviewed by the pulpit committee I told them that, God willing, I was going to stay there for the rest of my life. During the church’s 163 year history, the longest held tenure was 7 years, by a pastor friend of mine, back in the 1970s. Most of the other pastors were there for an average of 3-5 years.
      I’m so thankful for our members who have been very supportive, especially over the last 3 years during which I’ve been very ill. They have been so kind and forbearing & have prayed for my health problems.
      I love our church family and consider them to be the best church family that any pastor could ever hope to have the privilege to serve.

  • John Batusic says on

    Observations about a long-term pastorate, having served where I am now for 27 ½ years (six years in a previous pastorate).

    1. Realize your call is to be Pastor. Nothing more, nothing less.
    2. “Momma said there’d be days like this.” “This too shall pass.” This means we take Ecclesiastes 3.1-14 as a guide on life and pastoring.
    3. Learn to listen. And keep on listening.
    4. Share the leadership burden. (As a Presbyterian, this is a built-in advantage when one takes seriously the parity of the eldership).

    Thanks for all your helpful perspectives you share.

  • David Levandusky says on

    Maybe God calls some to short term pastorates. But I believe god calls most to Long term Pastorates but many leave too early. I believe a Pastor s call is not only to shepherd the church (flock) but “other sheep I have which are not of this fold, them also I must bring with me”. The Pastor is the shepherd to the lost sheep in the community as well. A catholic priest was known to have said “the world is my parish.” When a Pastor sees the community vision he is not as apt to get taken up with the little petty things in the local church but help the church reach its community and beyond. I.ve experience this kind of vision in our church and community now into our 26th year. The local newspaper is doing a news article about our 25th year anniversary in our church.

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