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Fifteen years ago, our men’s group went to our first Promise Keepers event in Boulder, Colorado. During the closing session, pastors were called down to the stadium floor and honored. When I returned to my seat, the men of our church gathered around me. They prayed a prayer of commitment to Christ, to our church family, and to me as their pastor. Moved by God to reciprocate, the following Sunday I stood before our small congregation and made this promise: I would not leave Intermountain Baptist Church for another church unless they or God, in no uncertain terms, told me to leave. In the years that followed, most of the men who traveled with me to Boulder that year have stayed true to their word. And, by God’s grace, I have been privileged to remain with my church family for twenty-two years. It hasn’t always been easy. On a few occasions, I’ve come close to convincing myself that it was time to leave.

There are many reasons to change churches: a sense of God’s calling, the presence of conflict, frustration with lay leaders, stagnation, the opportunity to go to a larger church and lead a more “significant” ministry. Even so, during the past two decades I’ve learned there are also good reasons to stay. Do you find yourself thinking that it’s time for a change? Before you make a move, I hope you’ll consider some of the benefits of not changing churches.

First, staying with your present church models what Christian commitment means.

In practice, our culture has little or no regard for commitment. Divorce is easy. Being a biological father and being a dad are often two different things. Couples commonly live together without taking vows. Executives feel little responsibility for their employees’ welfare. Few employees find reason to be loyal to their employers. Unfortunately, our cultural disregard for commitment has infected the American Church. As pastors, we loathe the consumerism and the “what’s in it for me” attitude that causes many to drift from church to church, seeking “God-honoring music,” a better youth group, or a place where they can finally “be fed” (whatever that means). But in a day when pastors on average change churches every five to eight years, is it possible that we’re part of the problem, too? Where can believers see what long-term commitment looks like if they can’t see it in the example of their pastors?

I believe a pastor’s calling to model Christian commitment is rooted in the example of Christ, the Good Shepherd. In John 10:11-13, Jesus says, “I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand is not the shepherd who owns the sheep. So when he sees the wolf coming, he abandons the sheep and runs away. Then the wolf attacks the flock and scatters it. The man runs away because he is a hired hand and cares nothing for the sheep.”

As the Good Shepherd, Jesus demonstrates what commitment means. And sometimes it means laying down our lives—our personal dreams, ambitions, and goals—for the sheep (the people in our present congregations). In contrast, those who minister with a “hired-hand” mentality are quick to run to another congregation when frustrations arise or a “better offer” comes along. This is not to say that God never leads a pastor to change churches; He clearly does. Even so, if we find ourselves continually on the move—never pledging ourselves long-term to a single congregation—how can we, and the people to whom we minister, experience the blessings that long-term commitment ultimately brings?

A second benefit of not changing churches, especially in the midst of strife, is spiritual growth. 

James 1:2–4 says, “Consider it pure joy, my brothers, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith develops perseverance. Perseverance must finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking in anything.”

It’s easy to preach perseverance; it’s far more difficult to practice it when things go sour in our churches. Even so, James tells us that the fruit of persevering in the midst of trials, including the trials we endure in our churches, is spiritual maturity. What happens, then, when we habitually respond to congregational strife by changing churches? Don’t we rob ourselves and our churches of the opportunity to grow spiritually?

In Colossians 3:13, Paul is addressing a local church body when he says, “Bear with each other and forgive whatever grievances you may have against one another. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.” As pastors, we are members of the local body we serve. We are not exempt from this command. When wronged, “bearing with” one another doesn’t mean sending out our resumes. Only by staying with our churches and working through conflict do we learn to persevere and forgive like God forgives us in Christ. As painful as the process may be, anything less strips us of an opportunity to grow.

A third benefit of not changing churches has to do with preaching. Longevity enhances the effectiveness of a pastor’s sermons. 

Haddon Robinson writes, “Obviously, one advantage of a lengthy ministry is that the pastor has a better chance to bring perception and reality together. The long-term pastor is judged more on his pattern of behavior than on a specific appearance. People are more likely to say, ‘The pastor not only talks love; he gives love. He was there in our family crises when we needed him.’ A pattern of care can cover a multitude of less-than-stellar sermons.” Staying with one church for an extended period of time allows the reality of Christ in us to deepen the impact of our preaching.

A fourth benefit of not changing churches is the opportunity longevity provides to minister at a deeper level. 

The opportunity to minister to someone in an intimate way is almost always “by invitation only.” Few believers are willing to share their secret struggles—the scars of abuse, a battle with pornography, homosexual urges, a failing marriage, or doubts about their own faith—until they feel safe. A sense of safety requires trust. Trust takes time. That’s why long-term ministry with one church almost always brings greater opportunity to minister to people at deeper levels in more intimate ways.

A fifth benefit of not changing churches is the privilege of seeing God transform families across generational lines. 

When we first came to Salt Lake City to plant Intermountain Baptist, God brought our real estate agent and his family to Christ. Today, I rejoice at seeing their oldest son, his wife and their two children following Christ and serving Him in the church. His younger brother serves in the military and is considering going into full-time ministry. He sometimes calls me to encourage me and to thank me for being his pastor.

On the other side of the church sits another young couple. She grew up in a dysfunctional family and came to the church as a pre-teen. Now she and her husband are training up their children in the ways of the Lord. The privilege of watching God transform families across generational lines is one of the greatest blessings I’ve known. If I hadn’t stayed at Intermountain, I would never have seen the children of believers raising their children to believe, too. This joy is something I wouldn’t trade for a “bigger” or “better” church.

A final benefit of not changing churches is one we should take care not to ignore. Staying can enhance our prospects on the day God calls us to give an account. 

In Hebrews 13:17, believers are instructed, “Obey your leaders and submit to their authority. They keep watch over you as men who must give an account.” If we are accountable for the spiritual well-being of those we shepherd, we must put their eternal welfare above our own personal desires or “career” goals. Whenever we consider a move, we must evaluate the impact our departure will have on our present congregation. We must ask ourselves if our departure will ultimately benefit the flock we presently serve or if it will damage them. Again, this doesn’t mean we can never leave one church for another; it does mean, however, we shouldn’t be quick to do so. Because we are accountable for the welfare of God’s people, much prayer and an honest examination of our motives are prerequisites to leaving one church for another. If we damage God’s people through an ill-advised or selfish move, He will hold us accountable. When deciding whether to stay or go, we should keep eternity in view.

There are many reasons to change churches. Some of those reasons are praiseworthy; some aren’t. In any case, before you make your next move, don’t just consider the benefits of leaving. Consider the benefits of staying, too.

Dean Shriver obtained his M.Div. from Western Seminary and his D.Min. at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary. Dr. Shriver is founding pastor of Intermountain Baptist Church in Salt Lake City, Utah where he has ministered for 20 years. Dr. Shriver lives in South Jordan, Utah with his wife Nancy and their three children.

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David Buffaloe

commented on Dec 12, 2011

The benefits of leaving a Church: 1. God is calling you somewhere else, and as pastors we need to model Christ's obedience and not humanism. If God is closing the door where you are and opening one somewhere else and, after much prayer you feel He is telling you to move, you need to move regardless as to what others think. 2. If you are marching and no one is following maybe the next Church will follow you. Pastors are called to lead the Church. But some local Churches are so hardened and self willed they will never grow. Like Corinth, they reject the clear teaching of God's Word and strive to drag the pastor to their way of thinking. Rather than drown with the crowd it may be time to move on down the river. 3. Many pastors stay where they are because - though the Church is not doing well - they are comfortable. Step outside of your comfort zone and grow. Step away from salaries, parsonages, and articles written by one dimensional pastors and ask God where HE wants you to go - then go there. Be Spirit led, and grow spiritually. 4. Those sermons that your present Church yawn through have taken you hours and the Lord hours to build. Perhaps the next Church will appreciate God's Word and God's man. Remember that Moses died on this side of the Promised Land because he let Israel suck the life out of him. Pray that God will open the door to a receptive Church that will want to build His Kingdom. Ask God where it is, knock the dust off of your feet, and hit the road running. Write Ichabod on the door, and let the dead bury the dead. You'll not sit down on a Monday morning feeling like many pastors feel, disillusioned and drained. As Pastors we serve the Lord Jesus Christ and do so by discipling a Church, not a clubhouse. Honor your God and do as He says.

Dennis Schwarm

commented on Dec 12, 2011

Well said, David. I was bothered by Dean's article that made no mention of God's calling in a Pastor's life and ministry.

Keith B

commented on Dec 12, 2011

Good article. Don't buy into the hype that you have to be bigger and better. Nothing wrong with plugging away and growing the flock that God has given you.

Matt Krachunis

commented on Dec 12, 2011

Why is there always a group of people on these articles that insist on finding the negative? The title of the article is "6 benefits to not changing churches" not " how to decide if you are supposed to stay at a church". Yeeesh! I think the article articulates a great perspective and benefit of staying at a church for an extended period of time. Good job. I was encouraged by it.

Dwight Plett

commented on Dec 12, 2011

Thanks for your example of faithfulness. Moses, by the way, would have given up long before they got to the promised land if he had been looking for the usual signs a pastor might look for when he feels the "call" to leave. Forty years leading a rebellious, stubborn and ungrateful flock - that's faithfulness that God rewards. You're half-way there Dean (though it sounds like you have a much more cooperative church than Moses did). Congratulations and God bless you for your commitment.

Theodore Weegar

commented on Dec 12, 2011

There is always a pro and a con of looking at every situation. We must be balanced in our view of any and every situation when we make claims to the leading of the Holy Spirit. Paul says in 1 Cor. 6:12 and 10:23 ?all things are lawful but all things are not expedient.? I thank God for a pastor like Dean who doesn?t just look at the lawfulness of shaking the dust off our feet and moving on, but also considering the expediency or timing of doing so. I believe sometimes we move too fast; we become like that disciple who in the Garden of Gethsemane took the sword which was lawful to be used in such situation but not expedient at that time. We must pray, we must listen, we must seek council and we must allow the Holy Spirit to truly lead and not allow our emotional condition at a particular time or desire for a better situation to dictate our decision.

Trevor Payton

commented on Dec 12, 2011

I agree, Matt. I appreciated the article too, though it made me uncomfortable (not always a bad thing!) because I recently left a congregation where I had been attacked quite a bit. If I had stayed there, would I have grown (and would the church have grown?), or would I have burned out and left the ministry altogether (I was beginning to slip into serious depression)? It was fundamentally a vision issue, where it became clear that my vision for ministry was very different than the congregation's. In the end I was absolutely sure that God was calling me out, and to another church...but it was a real dilemma. Having said that, David makes a good point too: "As Pastors we serve the Lord Jesus Christ and do so by *discipling* a Church, not a clubhouse." I hear echoes of Reggie McNeal there, and I affirm them. I've found that many churches (and certainly my former church) function more as clubhouses than as churches; some people are gifted and called to lead a church to change from the former to the latter, but we've gotta recognize that not all pastors are capable of that, nor are all churches willing to go in that direction. This is a really good discussion starter...thanks Dean! :)

David Moore

commented on Dec 12, 2011

Excellent article. He does state that changing is sometimes a good thing, but the emphasis of the article is the other side of the coin - staying. I would add one more benefit to staying: the value to your family. As pastor's we also have another flock to consider - our own family. Assuming God is leading you to stay, the staying says so much and models so much to your children. It provides a stable environment: growing up in the same town, schools and friendships. It allows the children to see how to persevere in the tough times and celebrate in the good times. Also, your wife has developed friendships which are important to her. She "knows" the people and can be an excellent guide and helper to you in a variety of very important ways.

Don Workman

commented on Dec 12, 2011

As my wife and I approach our 20th anniversary at, we can say a full "AMEN" to all that is written as it is a mirror image of our experience here. By God's grace we now have an excellent mood and spirit in our church which continues to gain momentum. And though the sixth benefit mentioned is very sobering and should not be overlooked, I have found the fifth benefit to be one of the most rewarding blessings in my 33 years of vocational ministry. Thanks, Dean.

Daniel Moore

commented on Dec 12, 2011

The key is understanding our call. Some believe they are called to serve God and go from one church to another ministry to a church. The Apostle Paul was a model of this as he did not stay long in any church. Others view their call to serve in one place. I like this article as I believe when we see that we are called to a congregation - we should come with the view of family and stay for the long term. When I came to my present congregation to serve as a pastor, I had studied the folks enough to realize that it was going to take at least 20 years to undo the damage of previous conflicts and bad habits. I have been at my present work for about 16 years by God's grace and His Calling.

Don Workman

commented on Dec 12, 2011

Well said, Daniel - you are defining the difference (in a sense) between a "church planter" and a "pastor" in the full sense of the terms. I have discovered long ago that I am really not a church planter, though I admire those who are and if necessary, could at least try. And in my current church our experience was much the same, that it would take many years to restore good health. God seems to have given my wife and I this kind of "healing" ministry if one calls it that - and many in the two churches we have served for about 29 years total would agree.

Gene Escoe

commented on Dec 12, 2011

I liked the article. Yes we should stay until God tells us to leave. My first pastorate lasted only 52 weeks. I am convinced that I arrived when I was called to be there and I left when God released me to leave. My next pastorate did not start until 2.5 years later. In the interim I served as a corporate chaplain, seminary student and I filled pulipts all across the middle of the United States, anyone who called and needed someone to preach whether it was for one Sunday or a longer stretch. The thing that God showed me during that period is the differences in the four basic callings for being a pastor. Each of you who have responded have made good points. None of us have a right to point fingers at the others. Jesus spoke to His Apostles about when to stay and when to leave, and yes He did speak about when it is appropriate to leave a church. The key is remembering that some are called to plant, some are called to grow, some are called to maintain, and finally there is even a group that is called to bring a church to it's close. In the end we should follow the leading of the Holy Spirit to know when it is time to leave or stay. We also should refrain from being so negative with each other. I am sure there are those who would frown on someone staying only 52 weeks at a church, however it was one of the longer pastorates in that churches history. I know I stayed the amount of time that I was called to stay. I appreciate the author's encouragement and look forward to many of the benefits he mentioned if it is God's will for me to stay here long enough.

Rhett Topliss

commented on Dec 12, 2011

I agree in principle to the benifits of longegivty; and Paul's encouragment to 'give no offence to the church of God' however after 16 years in an abusive and controlling fellowship, who brands anyone who leaves (for whatever reason) as rebels and backsliders - we realised that we could no longer support the dictatoral leaders and left finding a place within a great fellowship to continue our service to God. this was confirmed as the will of God later, but we had to move in faith first. I repudiate the doctrine of leaving a church as unbiblical - we must draw a disctintion between 'a' church - a localised body of believers or a movement of churches; and 'the church' -the universal body of christ. Movement between local churches at times is allowable

John Rajendra

commented on Dec 12, 2011

I really liked your article because it reinforces the underlying theme of the Bible: "Leaving a church is unbiblical". I agree because: First, Jesus prayed for the unity of the church (both at that time and in the future) 3 times in John's gospel before he went to the cross (John 17:11,21,22). To practice anything that promotes disunity of any church or church body is to go against the prayers and will of the Lord himself. Second, the article is excellent reinforcing the importance of obeying leaders in the church. And this is absolutely crucial to unity in the body of Christ. Dissension and division are Satan's tools (Gal. 5:20 - dissensions, disputes and factions are placed on the same level as adultery, idolatry and witchcraft or sorcery). Third, Christ himself deals with churches that have problems (read this as - a. bad doctrine, b. scandalous leadership, c. poor teaching, d. rampant sin) without asking anyone to leave. Jesus himself in Revelation clearly still names churches in sin(Rev. 2:5), churches with terrible doctrine (Rev. 2:14; 20) and churches with poor leadership(Rev.2:2) as churches. Jesus Christ himself gives clear guidelines on how to deal with these issues in the church (Matt. 18:15-17). How can anyone observing people leaving churches truly believe that God exists in the midst of division (John 17:21) or give glory to God(Matt. 5:16)? What happens in the church should be dealt with in the church and by the church. Jesus' reference to tolerating "Jezebel" - reinforces that when you have false teachers in the church, correction should come within(2 Cor. 11:15-20, Matt. 18:15-17). The church has means and ways to discipline or deal with sin/problems internally (Matt 18:15-17) and if all else fails (1 Cor. 5:13) to effect correction and bring the person in sin to correction and restoration. There's no reference or biblical directive to leave the church. God commands discipline and restoration(Heb. 12:7-9), but nowhere commands for a church to split or divide. God has called those who recognize poor leadership, poor teaching, poor management of funds etc, and ineffective resolution/repentance of sin in their church to deal with it directly in that church body and to minister in correction in that church(Matt. 18:15-17). Leaving accomplishes very little. Unity accomplishes the command of Christ. The only exception is this: leaving with the express permission and blessing of your pastor (e.g. moving to a different geographical location, being ordained to go into ministry into a different church, etc).

Nathan Robertson, Jr.

commented on Dec 13, 2011

I agree with the principles of this article, a pastor should not change churches for selfish reasons. You may be "jumping out of the frying pan into the fire". But as I read the New Testament, I see the early leaders moving as lead by the Holy Spirit. There are times when one assignment is over and a new assignment begins and it may not be at the same local congregation. We must follow the lead of the Spirit Acts 16:6-9.

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