You are the new pastor of the church. Expectations are high on your part and on the members’ part. Perhaps you celebrate with some type of installation service.
You are ready to lead and move the church forward. After all, you are the pastor. Right?
In most established churches, there is a prolonged period before the church members as a whole will truly embrace you as pastor. When that time comes, most pastors enjoy their greatest and most joyous years of ministry.
But the majority of pastors never make it to year five, much less year seven. So why does it take five to seven years to be embraced as the pastor of most established churches? Here are seven common reasons.
- It takes a long time to break into established relationship patterns. Many of the members have been around for decades. They have their friends, family members, and relationship groups. Pastors will not meaningfully enter into many of those relationships for several years.
- You are creating new ways of doing things. You may not think you are a major change agent, but your presence as the pastor changes things significantly. You lead differently. You preach differently. Your family is different. The church has to adjust to all the changes you bring before they begin to embrace you fully as pastor.
- Most relationships do not establish fully until they go through one or two major conflicts. The first year or two are your honeymoon years. The church thinks you are absolutely great. Then you do something, lead something, or change something that goes counter to their expectations. Conflict ensues. You are no longer the best. So you have two years of honeymoon, one to two years of conflict, and one to two years to get on the other side of conflict. Then you become the pastor in five to seven years.
- The church is accustomed to short-term pastorates. Many churches rarely see a pastor make it to the fifth, sixth, or seventh year. They never fully accept the pastor, because they don’t believe the leader will make it past the first major conflict.
- Previous pastors wounded some church members. There are many reasons for this reality, some understandable and some not. In either case, a previous pastor hurt some church members, and the members take several years to accept a new pastor and learn to trust again.
- Trust is cumulative, not immediate. This reality is especially true in established churches. Regardless of how the ministry unfolds, it simply takes time before church members are willing to say with conviction, “That is my pastor.”
I know. I wish we could snap our fingers and enjoy immediate trust. But, in most churches, it just is not going to happen quickly. It will take five to seven years.
Are you willing to stick around to enjoy the fruit of a long-term pastorate?
Posted on August 21, 2017
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 am pastoring my 4th church. Took it 18 months ago at age 60. Followed a pastor who founded the church and had been there 20+ years. The church was in a survival mode due to last few years of last pastor he was sick and absent.
Early in first few months I had to deal with losing a staff member. Then the church had a large debt. I had to lead church early in opportunity to buy some needed property beside the church . There were also lots of things had been just neglected due to the pastors absence.
It has been a very difficult 18 months and made a toll on me physically causing me to have some health issues in my early tenure there. In spite of all that we have enjoyed the blessing of God. We lost quite a few people and several key leaders. But we also have seen a good number of new folks come to our fellowship.
Through all the challenges and obstacles little by little I am becoming their pastor. Most of the congregation has accepted me and they are beginning to trust my leadership. I told the leaders and still remind them it will take 5 yrs for me to get established. I ask God like Hezekiah to give me 15 yrs but will be happy with 10. I don’t think I have time to get the church where I would like to see it go but I hope to,prepare it for the next man and give him a growing healthy Scriptural church for him to lead in reaching the next generation. Good article .
You sound like a loving, caring Pastor with wisdom and understanding. People are people and change is hard – no matter who you are or what the circumstances. We going through that now after 30 years with founding Pastor…
It’s rough….any advice for older saints trying to adjust with new Pastor that is not so wise?
I am a ruling elder in an established congregation. Our pastor will have been here for six years in November. This was his first pastorate, and he was ordained here. His preaching ability is excellent, and his preaching has steadily improved during his time with us. Our congregation has experienced substantial growth. The median age of the congregation has dropped, and some have begun to assume leadership roles in the congregation. We have reached a threshold in which some things must change if that growth is to continue. Our pastor realizes that various aspects of church life need reorganization, and some new activities need implementation. Our pastor went through a very difficult time over a year ago with several members, and I temporarily feared that he might resign. It would have been catastrophic if he had. He stayed the course, and he was faithful to his pastoral calling. That had the effect of solidifying his standing with the congregation. There are some who do not care for the needed changes because it isn’t the way that things have been done in the past. Our pastor has also been helped because he has a good relationship with the previous pastor who often attends when he is not preaching as a guest or in a retirement facility. I have seen some of the stages discussed above in the life of our congregation. I appreciate the insights of the article and the many responses.
This article is right on target. The insight you shared about shepherding through conflict and then gaining trust on the other side of it is especially helpful. For my first 5 years at the church I serve, my biggest goal was simply to become the pastor. The Lord has been gracious!