Why It Takes Five to Seven Years to Become the Pastor of a Church

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.

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.
  5. 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.
  6. 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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  • Matthew Collier says on

    Good words!

    As much as I wish it were different, we can’t really blame the churches for being hesitant to accept a new pastor. Pastoral turnover is high and often comes with the church being wounded in some way. I just began my third pastorate. I served 7 1/2 years in my last church, but the most fruitful years in terms of change were probably years 5 and 6. I had to earn their trust.

    Now I serve a rural church which dates to 1846. They are ESTABLISHED, but they have welcomed my family right into the fold. I’d offer two key points to supplement your excellent work:

    1) You have to love the people even before you know them. If you want to lead and effect change, you have to love and care for every member of that body with the love of Jesus.

    2) You have to give them the truth. While you can’t necessarily bring about major change in policy, you can definitely show them the duties of Christians and churches by preaching systematically through the Scriptures. An early expository sermon series through the Book of Acts would be a great way to show them how church is supposed to look. Apply God’s truth to your church situation, and trust the Holy Spirit to move their hearts toward the necessary change.

    As you love them and give them truth, and as you stick around through the difficulty, they will not only love you, but they will trust you to lead them.

    Thanks for the wisdom, Dr. Rainer, and thanks for providing this site for pastors to learn!

  • I believe earning and building trust is the most crucial and it is what takes the most time. When trust has been established only then will members begin to let the pastor into their established circle of relationships and into their lives. And integrity is fundamental to earning trust.

  • As I am a church planter I have not been through this however I watched an amazing transition at a Church here in Canberra where the previous Pastor spent ten weeks giving a short ten minute sermonette each week on ‘how to receive a new leader’ and what could be expected (how to handle changes etc).

    They also did an array of other things that were so good 🙂

    It was sooo good and the evidence has been seen in that Church hardly missing a beat.

  • I am in Year 13, and I agree this post. I followed a man twice my age who had been at the church for 17 years. He and I represented opposite ends of the spectrum on many issues. The church was slowly fading away and would have died without new leadership. When I was hired, I planned on preaching on Sundays (I lived an hour and a half away from the church at the time) and doing limited pastoral work. As the years went by, I stood with the church, and they stood with me. Some people left, but many more came once we began to engage the community. Around Year 5, people realized I didn’t plan on leaving even though I had finished school. I had a major health challenge in Year 6, but the church supported me throughout. Fast forward a few more years. I now live five minutes from the church building. I married a woman from the community. We have been blessed with numerical and spiritual growth. I know those things don’t happen every time, but if we quit before we really get to know and pastor the people, we for sure will not see the blessings that can come. I love this church, and they love me. We sort of saved each other in a way, and I know that the experience I have gained and the trust I have been given never would have come if I had quit at the first conflict.
    Blessings on your ministry.

  • Wayne Meade says on

    I am an associate pastor of a church plant (200 people attend) that is 7 years old in a rural community. I was bi-vocational until this year. I am now on staff full time with a transition plan when the lead pastor retires in a few years. Few churches fail to make a plan of training and transition for leaders /pastors in there church. We have had a plan since day one. Until a church defines its Core Values and vision no pastor will have a easy transition. I thinks its more about a fellowship having a clear plan of transition than it is about the time it takes for the pastor to fit in. Fellowships need to set a plan in motion to encourage any new pastor to be more than an employee of the church. They need to trust that God has called this person to be the shepherd to the sheep.

  • I agree completely. I’m 38, 3 years into my first senior pastorate after 18 years in youth ministry. I’ve discovered that churches with a high turn-over of pastors will only “give” you about 3 years of their life. Meaning, they won’t commit or invest in a relationship that will go deeper than 3 years. They don’t change their conversation to help you understand their lives. This all means that new pastors must mentally, spiritually, and emotionally commit to sticking around despite what seems to be a lack of interest in a real relationship with you. People just don’t want to get hurt when someone leaves and the relationship is broken. It’s really not personal. So, we as pastor’s must be prepared for relationships to be shallower until people are willing to really commit to it. This is always easier said than done, but it is what we are called to do. We are called to love all people as if we will love them until the day they die.

  • This is so true even in the best of situations. When the church had a good relationship with the previous pastor, it is best to celebrate the time he was there and walk through the change with them. Don’t try to undermine or criticize your predecessor. Love on them, and they will respond.

    In situations where the relationship with the previous pastor and the flock was strained or filled with conflict, there can be more difficulties. The trust level with the new pastor is already going to be quickly called into question when something does not suite the certain members. In other words, folk will quickly snap back into an old habit of distrust if that is what they have been accustomed to. It will take time and prayer. Continue to demonstrate Christ-centered conflict resolution. Love on them like they have never seen before. Stay close to your Savior no matter what. You are His under-shepherd to the flock.

    I am glad for this article as you can tell. Less and less men are answering the call to ministry. Churches all over America are dying. A lot of times the weight is thrown on the pastor. It is all his fault while some folk sit back in offices or positions of influence strangling the church’s ability to move ahead from behind the scenes through church politics. One pastor recently told me that the church he became pastor of had three rules. 1. You cannot do it if we never did before. 2. You must do if we did before. 3. You cannot spend any money. How sad. Interestingly, he has been there for ten years, and they are finally starting to open up. My heart goes out to pastors such as this one. How many men would give ten years of their lives with only seeing a few things take place? While sticking it out is praise worthy for the pastor, it is truly a sad commentary on churches today that refuse to follow their pastor. Some would rather close their doors through a slow death than follow him. While their is a definite need of time to develop a deep relationship with the pastor, the church should never use it as an excuse to stay stuck in complacency nor other sinful patterns of behavior. Again this a problem in many churches. It is one reason, I believe there are fewer and fewer men answering the call. Let’s pray for revival in our churches!

    • Is this long adjustment period of tight rope walking into the graces of God’s people a fallout of the complete reversal of “appoint elders IN every church”? Hire a stranger from somewhere else seems to be the opposite. Acts 20 tells us it took Paul 3 years in Ephesus to lead pagans to Christ, then to eldering, oversight, and shepherding and then entrust the full work to them. “Fully training” students to “be like” their teacher is reproductive leadership that continues to reproduce, just as every living thing God created does. Luke 6:40 Our current pattern is way off the base line the apostolic “example” that is to be “imitated”, not tweaked over the centuries to fit personal preferences. 2Thes. 3:6-12. The current concept of shepherding is not even reproducible to local men who work in the marketplace. It needs to be carved down to the simplicity as instructed in the NT, instead of the complicated solitary expert focused traditions we have received from men. Revelation ought to trump tradition.

  • Gary L Coleman says on

    Agree with all your points, but there are exceptions. 2 years ago we experienced an EF1 tornado that did over $2.8 million in damages. I was 1 1/2 years into my tenure here. Walking with them through that rebuild solidified my position. I am their pastor, without reservation. My point is that “trials by fire”, successfully navigated, can speed up the process. Final note: For all its numerous blessings, I would never want to repeat that grueling event.

  • Les Ferguson says on

    The corollary to Ken’s comment above (when congregation speaks well of previous pastors): pay special attention when the congregation doesn’t speak highly of previous pastors. I have (1) learned more about effective pastoring by hearing the errors of my predecessors, and (2) learned more about the potential pitfalls of ministry in this place. Sometimes it is in listening to the gripes about previous pastors that I can gain insights into the growing edges of the Parish – how to shine a light on their bias and misconception.

    • Don’t get me wrong; sometimes churches have very legitimate grievances against previous pastors. Still, when a congregation runs down its former pastor or pastors, it is cause for concern. It’s kind of like when the “check engine” light on your car comes on. It may not be anything serious, but it’s still wise to keep an eye on it.

  • Is this reality a good way to motivate pastors to bring a successor alongside of them throughout the “7 years?” To do it in a way that is openly communicated and authentic. Then the new pastor has the support of the existing pastor and an assimilation period almost.
    Or really is it counter-intuitive since the church is likely to feel the need to choose one or the other?

    • I wonder if this why some churches tend have a pastors that are related to one another such father and son or son in-law or maybe someone who has grown up in that church? It seem that the situation mentioned above lends itself easily to such a transition. Why is it that churches fail raise up the next pastor from within the local body?
      Some of the best churches the Lord has allowed me to be a part of have sent men out in the ministry and also have raised men up who are serving the same local church as a pastor.

  • Mickey Willard says on

    At 68 I am serving my 6th church after I thought I had retired 3 years ago. and thought I left the ministry over tens ago (lasted for 1 year). I have had tenures from 1 1/2 years to 10 years. The church I am now serving is a small rural church (and is 180 years old) that has accepted me as pastor almost from the beginning. This did not happen at any of the other 5 churches I served, two of which were over 7 years and never really felt accepted as their pastor but only a hireling. Of course I did pulpit supply and 6 months of interim for them. My intention was not to become their pastor but the Lord had different plans. We are now in a revitalization stage.

    From the beginning (even as interim) I have been asked for direction, opinion, etc. on how to do or what to do, including financial decisions. I have never seen a church, although I am sure there are many, that have such a respect not only for the office of pastor but for the serving pastor as well. I have said before, I feel like I have died and gone to heaven. I know this is the exception and not the usual. Feeling blessed.

  • My first pastorate only lasted 11 months. I was forced to deal with an issue 2 months into it. While I gained the respect of many, there was a strong clique that comprised 20 percent of the church and they were ready to run me away. Although I did not want the assignment of cleaning house, it happened. Now the current pastor is able to do things with a great deal of ease because those who want to move forward now have a voice.