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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  • concerned about the stats of half leaving before their 4th year. What is the tenure rate difference between full-time and bi-vocational? Just curious.

  • Jackie Lyn Tamparong says on

    top 1 & 2 are the most important and the rest will naturally follow. relationship with God through prayer life is a must to every Pastor. dependence on God the Holy Spirit is our source of strength and effectiveness. family is indeed our first ministry. if we may not be able to handle our families well, how can a Pastor handles the church effectively? the rest of the traits are now fruits from the top 1 & 2 most important traits. Overall it’s all by the grace of God that we can do all these.

  • I appreciated the article and agree with each of your points as well as several of the additional comments made. In reading all of the comments, what I found I really liked was the consideration you give to each person who commented on your article. I think you model a trait that long-term pastors need to do well…listening to the thoughts of others and letting them know their voice matters. Well done.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Thank you for your kind words, Rob. You readers on this blog are very bright and thoughtful and deserved to be treated with respect. I am honored that you come to this site.

  • Twenty years of ministry and still growing here at my first church. I agree with your list.

  • Thom, thank you for the encouraging words. I am in the third year of my first pastorate of an existing church located in a suburb of Phoenix (a NAMB Send city) and very much feel like a church planter starting from scratch. I agree that a sense of humor, my Friday with my wife, plans kept with my daughters, and friendships with leaders (ministry and community) have been essential to my sanity.

  • Thank you for these wise reflections, Thom. My first pastorate was for five years (with plans to move on to the mission-field made known 9 months before my time ended with the church). Now, having marked my fourth anniversary in my present (post mission-field) church, I now make it one of my main aspirations and prayers that God might sustain and keep me in the church where I now serve for the long-term.

    I was recently very encouraged by Dr. Joel Beeke’s message on the theme of long-term pastorates. His insight and exhortations are so helpful: http://www.sermonaudio.com/sermoninfo.asp?SID=72213151201

    Thank you, once again, for this inspiring and affirming article on a vital theme.

  • I agree with everything that you said. However, there is another factor that causes ministers to move prematurely. Salary. I think that neither local churches nor church hierarchies has factored in the costs to churches and pastors of moves due to salary constraints. If there were regular pay increases, the high costs of moving might be reduced and the tenure of pastors might be significantly increased.

  • Great article. Very true.
    I’d love to see a companion piece titled “Ten Traits of Churches Who Keep Long-Term Pastors”

  • Robert Scott says on

    They do not treat their pastorates as “pit stops” to the next major “assignment.”

  • Chris Bridges says on

    I agree wholeheartedly. One of the dangers, though, I’m starting to see in churches in the attitude from a congregation that ministers are a “consummable.” They are used for a season, and squeezed for what they can obtain from them, and then discarded for the fresher newer model. These steps will indeed lead to long tenure, but only if the church has a healthy view of the benefits of a long-term relationship themselves as well.

  • Great post- thinking of our pastor who us doing all the right things you list.

  • Thanks for the list. More than 20 years ago I asked this question of a denominational official who had been in the ministry for over 3 decades. After he shared a few thoughts, he paused and said “You know what- all the ones I can think of either have spouses who don’t work outside the home or work at the church with them.” Does this still hold true? Did it ever?
    I also remember a survey that indicated long term pastors took all their holidays and took a full day off each week.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Daren –

      I have never seen that pattern in long-term pastorates.

      • That might have been the norm for churches 20+ years ago, but I doubt very much that it’s a necessary element for a long pastorate in today’s culture. This is especially true when the pastor is female; there’s not as much expectation that the pastor’s spouse will not work outside the home in such a situation.