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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  • I love your ministry and your very helpful articles! I noticed how this article struck a moral tone as though to propose that longevity is the effect of doing these ten things. If pastors would be good men in the following ten ways, then their tenures would not be brief. Believing as I do that most pastors who average only four years per church also have your ten traits, I wish to learn four other things about your test pool. I think the dominant trend of brevity is an inevitability and tragedy imposed upon most pastors and churches by expulsive conditions of context and culture.

    In the interest of keeping it real– I would care to know information on the 30 pastors regarding these 4 factors for brevity of tenure–
    1. How many are at “deacon-led, pastor-fed” structured churches?
    2. How many of them are in communities of less than two thousand population yet had positive attendance growth over the first five years?
    3. How many of their incomes were frozen over those first five years?
    4. How many of their children are preteens?

  • I am in complete agreement with your article. I am commenting on the sheer notice that you have replied to everyone else’s thoughts personally. Personal contact goes far beyond what we expect or imagine. I am a 22 year old associate pastor. I may not know too much, but I do know that my generation seeks genuine and relational people like yourself. I believe a pastor cannot contact people personally enough. Too many times pastors believe that preaching is the only job. To me, that is not the case. Preaching is our main focus, but not our only focus. We must take care of the spiritual health and sanctification of our people also. Thanks for the insight and writing that you provide.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Ben –

      Thank you very much. Your words are very encouraging. With men like you rising in leadership, I am hopeful for the future of our churches.

    • Craig Beeman says on

      Have often felt that we, as pastors, are responsible for the spiritual well-being of everyone with whom we come in contact. Preaching is not all there is. Thou speakest the truth.

  • I am a PhD student doing research on resiliency in preaching ministers. Your blog mentions research that indicates a large percentage of ministers leave their ministry before the fourth year. Can you list the specific bibliographic information about this research? I imagine I would like to cite it.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Jamie –

      The research was done in conjunction with my book “Breakout Churches.” We looked at 500 churches that did not make the statistical criteria noted in the book and found the tenure of their previous pastor.

  • 11. Have the last name of Mathison.

  • Certainly a solid ten. One of the things I struggle with is ‘how to rest or recreate well’ with my family. I think this will help in long tenured pastoral service. I am afraid, I am “no fun.’


  • Thanks from someone who is still a proby -4 years in! A great encouragement to persevere. I recently read Derek Prime’s biography of Charles Simeon and it is a great encouragement to stay the course. Simeon spent over a decade persevering despite opposition -locked out of his church building, boycotted etc -yet his ministry in Cambridge had long term fruit lasting to the present day.

    I would also suggest that what you say translates across from staff team pastors to lay leaders including unpaid elders and also to missionaries.

  • Next month will mark my 25th anniversary as pastor. Right out of seminary in 1989, and I couldn’t even spell “bivocational”, but God has been gracious, and His people have been loving. I have certainly made my share of mistakes! I think that being bivocational actually assisted me in a longer tenure since it kept me grounded in the same daily world that my congregation was in.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      Wow! What an incredible ministry, Jerry. The eternal impact you are making is incalculable. I salute you and thank you.

  • Anonymous Pastor says on

    Great list! Really glad you put prayer as number one. My only wish for your list is that you would have simplified “praying daily for church and members” simply to the generic prayer everyday. I’ve not prayed or needed to pray as much as I do now in pastoral ministry. How often I pray “If any of you lacks wisdom, let him ask God, who gives generously to all without reproach, and it will be given him” (James 1:5).

    • Frances Tuck says on

      While I agree that prayer is the vital foundation to ministry, I think a lack of prayer in general will lead to burning out of ministry altogether, not just one position. Praying specifically for the people in your ministry cultivates deep love for them and a concern for their well-being and growth. Those qualities make it difficult to leave a ministry position and would contribute to a longer tenure, in my opinion.

  • Dr. Rainer,

    Thank you for a very helpful article. I am the founding pastor of a young church (we will have our 4th anniversary in January) and as I read your article, I wondered about your statement that, “our research shows that the time of greatest fruit in a pastor’s ministry does not begin until somewhere around years five to seven.” What types of things are you measuring to determine the years of greatest fruit? I guess I am wondering what to look for…

    Thank you again for your faithfulness to the Lord and willingness to bless His church.

    In Christ,