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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  • Kimberly says on

    I wonder what effect you might find a high level of skills in emotional intelligence to have. I find my training in emotional intelligence to be key in my ability to work on 3, 4, 7, and 10. The way that I handle conflict and stay resilient and grounded for myself and my family has improved tremendously the longer I learn and grow in that area.

  • I retweeted both articles! Love them and have seen them both in action. I actually forwarded both articles to key leaders in my church and asked for honest feedback regarding which qualities they see in me. Hopefully minimal “toxic” qualities and more healthy qualities. GREAT stuff! You need to consider expanding these two posts into a book on biblical, healthy leadership.

    My wife and I are in a revitalizing work in New England, and seeing that the fields are white unto harvest! God has done a miracle in our church these last two years. Many people are coming to Christ and becoming rooted and grounded disciples. Your blog posts and podcasts have provided a lot of great encouragement along the way! Keep it up!


    Cary Schmidt
    Sr. Pastor—Emmanuel Baptist Church, Newington, CT

  • I seecyou specified healthy long-term tenure and I have come to a church or 3 after what was thought to be a healthy long-term tenure. It seldom seems to be healthy for the very next pastor. ‘That’s not how pastor x did it!’

  • Been a ‘support’ pastor under the same senior pastor for almost 20 years. I agree with what I’ve seen and would add that long tenured pastors have learned how to properly deal with rejection. Watching long tenured members walk away is painful.

  • Tom,

    Thanks for your thoughts here. Can I gracefully and loving add a thought or two? Just resigned my church after five years. Year five was worse than the previous four. All the points you mentioned in this blog, I did indeed practice, although I am sure not to the fullest potential.

    Tom, some churches, a lot of churches in fact, are just plain bad churches. In my case, anytime or almost every time someone didn’t get what they wanted in the congregation I pastored, they dropped an emotional Atom Bomb on this pastor. That last issue was over a Pot Luck that one group wanted at the church. As usual I was thrown in the middle of this issue, and in fact I had little to do with the whole facility thing. Ever since they built the new facility, before my pastorate, they fight over the facility.

    My Elders didn’t step in, my staff didn’t step in, my deacons didn’t step in – although they are all the individuals who make the policies for the facility – nope I was thrown to the lions. Meetings where held behind my back, Bible studies where invaded to announced perceived unfairnesses, and elders where contacted. The very same elders who set the facilities policies.

    It was the last straw. From having to call 911 when an individual in my church who stood at my door and physically accosted me, to shutting off our phones to prevent forty phone calls on the same night from the same angry individual.

    Want to know one constant in all these lives? There is gross hidden sin in their lives. Adultery, fornication, cheating, stealing, gossip, and the like. Interesting.

    I guess I should have known better when I heard over fifty times the beginning of this year, “We don’t need all these new people coming to our church.”

    Many congregations don’t deserve a pastor because they really are not churches but social clubs and should be ran accordingly. I don’t think what I see in American Christianity is the Rock Christ will build His Church upon.

    The pastors who I know in rural American, many, feel the same way that I do here.

    Forgive me for the emotions here.

    Thanks for your ministry.

    • Thom Rainer says on

      I hurt for you. I am praying for you. It is my prayer that God will heal the wound and give you a greater future than you have ever had.

    • Don,
      I am sorry you had to go through that. Having experienced much the same thing at another church, I agree with you. It is sad. I want you to know all churches are not like that. Been pastoring a church for 10+ years now after being in a church like you described. Our present church welcomed us in when they called us and it has been good for us and for the church. God has been glorified in this position. Keep your head up and be encouraged, God has a place for you.

  • After 23 years of pastoral ministry, with the same church, I would suggest your consideration of two additional items that may have contributed significantly to my longevity. 1) They have the attitude of a life long learner, and 2) They regularly set and revise ministry goals.

    I don’t have all the answers so reading, studying, and learning from others through coaching and mentoring–even going back to school–has been a life saver for me. In addition, I have regularly set personal and ministry goals in annual as well as three to five year increments. Each year I will take time to review, revise, and update those goals and lead the congregation to adopt any goals that are pertinent to the overarching vision and direction of the church.

  • Bob Braxton says on

    #2 is important. I am the spouse of a senior pastor who served 27 years from age 40 to age 67. Other perspectives: Myers-Briggs – Extravert iNtuitive Feeling J; appreciate and rely on Introvert Sensing Thinking J – who keep eagle eye(s) on the church finances (while projecting Vision); knowing the names of every member 600 to 700 and their not-yet-confirmed children; boundless, unstoppable energy; being genuine; having a flair for theater (one never knows what to expect from the pulpit Sunday to Sunday). Thank you for this list. By now (age 70) we are beginning our fourth year of retirement. Some people are “born” leaders – I am a “born” support person (behind the scenes).

  • Rev. Cheryl Parris says on

    Respectfully, I really have reservations about this article. You cannot pastor effectively without a solid base of support in the church and the diocese if you have one. You cannot be a healthy pastor in an unhealthy place. You are blessed if you leave with just a few scars.

    • Cheryl, I hear some pain in your post, and I am sorry. But the truth is is that MOST pastors today are called to be healthy pastors in unhealthy churches. It is a critical, even crisis, time in the Church in America. I am serving my third church, and all three have been unhealthy. And yes, bringing health in to these situations created tensions and even fights. But it has also brought new converts, repentance and new life. Blessings…