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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  • fred redekop says on

    I have been at the church for 23 years. I agree with your article. The church has given me 3 sabbaticals to do whatever I want to enrich my soul. They do not ask any questions and no report is expected, and they see if the sabbatical helps me, then they will benefit as well.

    Fred Redekop

  • Christian Elliott says on

    Thanks for the post! As a long-term pastor (29 yrs.), I see the truth of these 10, as well as the additions from others. I resonate especially with the need for a good sense of humor! If you don’t have a few good laughs now and then, you likely won’t survive.

  • They value the church’s legacy and carefully consider the dynamics of the congregation before making significant changes.
    I have watched pastors go into a church and almost immediately start pushing a “change agenda” without consideration for the dynamics of the congregation. Change for the sake of change in a culture that is “change fatigued” is often unhealthy and is just disguise for a narcissistic leader striving to leave his mark. Yes, leading the congregation in a new direction is needful and exhilarating in many situations, but a pastor would be wise to first earn the respect of the people before undoing systems, replacing leaders, and changing customs that may be perceived as a threat to the sweat equity of the membership.

    • Get people’s trust first. If you come in knowing a couple people who are going to resist change, and get them on your side, you have powerful allies when the time comes to make changes. I’ve found that the best way to make changes is slowly and with the support of many key folks in the congregation. If you can get those key folks to be the ones who communicate the case for change to the rest of the congregation, more’s the better. And a long pastorate allows the time to lay foundations for needed changes.

    • I concur with both Steve and Sharla. Too many pastors are impatient, or they want change for its own sake. Every church is different, and not all programs will work equally well in every church (as a state evangelism director once said, if every program worked equally well, the program would get the glory instead of God). Learn the church first, evaluate what it needs, and then start pushing for some changes. Sharla is also correct about laying foundations first. Timing is often critical in implementing changes, so choose your battles wisely.

  • There is also a bit of a political factor. They do some baby hugging whether and come across as caring about people. The long serving ones also learned how to keep happy and/or handle a certain group of people who can control their tenure.

  • Guy Lancour says on

    #3 is very important (as are all the rest). While you can serve in a geographical location where you are not necessarily inclined to live and in a community that you may not have a natural connection with – to have these things is going to make the long term commitment to minister there easier for you and for your family.

    Perhaps one reason pastors leave before the 10 year mark but after the 4/5 year mark is due to a mismatch of community/geographical locale.

  • Dan Wiersema says on

    Thank you for this, and so many of your posts–encouraging, thought-provoking, and helpful!

  • Thank you for a very helpful article.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you, Rich.

      • Bill Prater says on

        After 33 plus years in the same church that is still vibrant and growing, by God’s grace, I would add the importance of having some young staff members. They keep the energy level high and they’re constantly challenging this pastor. I love it!

      • Thom Rainer says on

        Another good one! Thanks for your commitment and service, Bill.

  • Long term pastors are authentic and consistent on and off the platform.

    They are vulnerable and real about their own spiritual growth and laser focused on vision God has for the Body that the Lord has called them to oversee.

    They are realistically positive and know that the best is yet to come, even in times of struggle and uncertainty.

  • Great list! I would add a sense of humor. You have to be able to laugh and have fun.

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