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“I wish I had stayed.”

I’ve heard that sentence from many pastors. Given the perspective of several years, they wish that had not left a church as soon as they did. Indeed, I was one of those pastors.

For certain, there will be times that pastors should move on after only a few years at a given church. This post does not apply to all pastors.

And other pastors can’t help their short tenure because they were forced out of their churches. In some cases, they were appointed to another church by a judicatory authority.

But this post is about the rest of them.

The more research I do and the more I hear from pastors, the more I am convinced. As a rule, longer-tenured pastorates are better. Let me share six of the main reasons.

1. Our research continues to show a strong correlation to pastoral tenure and church health. Of course, correlation is not the same as causation. Nevertheless, the evidence is strong, if not overwhelming, in favor of long tenure.

2. The breakout years of pastoral tenure typically begin after years 5 to 7. In other words, the best years of a pastor’s tenure, both for the pastor and the church, do not begin until at least five years have passed. Unfortunately, the majority of pastors in America do not stay at a church for five or more years.

3. Relationships take time, particularly in church leadership. Keep this perspective in mind. When pastors begin ministry in a church, they are the newest people at their respective churches. Relationships are already established among the members. That is why I’ve heard from many church members that a pastor did not seem like “their pastor” until about five years passed.

4. Nearly nine out of ten churches in America are in need of turnaround leadership. Turnaround leadership is most often methodical and incremental. It can’t be accomplished in just a few years.

5. Community relationships and impact take time as well. In most communities, pastors are not considered a part of the locality until they have been there at least five years. A church, to be effective, must have a positive presence in the community led by an accepted pastor.

6. Pastors and churches will have had time to go through a crisis or conflict. The typical period for significant conflict is in years 2 to 4. The longer the pastorate, the greater the likelihood that the church and the pastor have gotten to the other side of the conflict.

The issue of pastoral tenure has so many implications. This brief post touches upon just a few of them. I look forward to hearing your perspectives on this important matter.

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Bob Weger

commented on Dec 10, 2015

Thom, great points. Its been my privilege to serve my dear folks here in Oklahoma for what will soon be 19 years. One of the things I have noticed in many pastors whom I have watched come and go is many try to accomplish in their ministries what it has taken season pastors years to accomplish. You know in our personal lives, when we married we saw all our parents had acquired, well that took them years, so it is with ministry as well to many come into the ministry thinking they are going to make changes, they do so with out having the complete trust of their people. When I first came here, I had some in the church in a meeting stand and as we were discussing some matters, they said " We can't trust you that much." I thanked them and told the whole church that day that I had no problem proving myself and that I would earn their trust and I believe now I can say humbly I have earned their trust and confidence. You know when it comes to making changes I believe there are some principles that we need to keep in mind briefly let me share them: 1. Does it compromise scripture. 2. Does it lessen the demands given by the Gospel. 3. Does it weaken sound doctrine. 4. Does it honor the local church. 5. Does it strengthen passion to win the lost. Change is a challenge for everyone including pastors, may pastors rethink things before they just run off to another ministry but stay and love those people God has given we pastors to care for. Thanks again for your encouraging ministry.

Joe Mckeever

commented on Dec 10, 2015

A friend told me (years ago) of the beloved John Claypool. He resigned the church in Fort Worth to move to one in Mississippi. In between, he took several weeks to rest up. At the end of the rest, he said he was ready to go back to the Fort Worth church, but unfortunately he had resigned there when fatigued and had no choice but to move to MS.

Lance Hostetter

commented on Dec 10, 2015

I stayed for 10 years in my first ministry and I saw the most growth in the 2-7 year. As you said at the beginning of the article there are times to leave. When I was considering leaving most of the articles and people I talked with recommend staying for the long term. You were made to feel disloyal and greedy for wanting a better opportunity and challenge. There are many reasons for a minister to move on and use his/her God given talents in a way that benefits the Kingdom in the greatest way. Without the right leadership and support you could spend years of your life accomplishing very little.

Gary Holt

commented on Dec 11, 2015

I believe most ministers would like to stay in one place for a long duration. Often times a Church wants a preacher, but then they want to kill the preacher. I am thankful to be at a loving Church today.

Charles Gibbs

commented on Dec 11, 2015

I told the good folks in my current church not to call me if they didn't expect me to stay a while. That was 20 years ago this past May. A couple of years ago I was thinking that maybe it was time for me to do something else. A wise, Godly pastor from Baker, LA told me that i had better stay with the last thing i knew for sure God had told me to do and do it until God told me otherwise.

John Mc Duff

commented on Dec 12, 2015

I spent 9 years at one church and it had a very bad split that I saw coming but could not stop. I spent 13 years at another church that ended again in a split, I tried all I knew to stop it. In between the two churches I spent several years where the church was very successful and splitting at the seams, at least two churches started off the main church. When I retired I was asked to preach at 3 different denominations in one month and I accepted, making me the only pastor I know that had preached in 3 denominations in one month. I believe in long term until God taps you and says it is time.

Suresh Manoharan

commented on Aug 27, 2019

Thanks Brother Thomas. ..a very relevant article. Longer the tenure, more the impact a Pastor can create on his congregation for good by virtue of His personal testimony (extent of his sacrifices for God's glory) and preaching. I have been serving in my Local Church in the capacity of an Associate Pastor for close to 15 years now . Given the fact that familiarity breeds contempt over a period of time (Hmmm. ..Prophets are not honored in their "own towns"), it is indeed tempting to move over, the moment one senses "proper respect" is not coming one's way from "some sections" of the Church. However the factors that ought to be weighed in before taking the call are... 1) Will the majority in local "Body of Christ" be adversely affected or be benefitted by my move. The welfare of the "Body of Christ" is more important than a Pastor's personal "comfort". The Lord’s will in this matter would always be inclined towards the "benefit of His body" rather than an individual Pastor's comfort... 2) Is the Lord teaching me more and more of patience and perseverance in "adverse" circumstances...for aiming to serve the Lord in ideal, "utopian" circumstances (bluntly put) may be possible only in the imminent "Millieunium"...

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