Pastoral Tenure

Greg Strand – December 16, 2015 6 Comments

One of the things that has changed over the course of years I have served in  ministry is that the tenure of pastors has increased. I think this has been a good shift. Many pastors are called to local churches desiring to make that their final call. It does not often work out that way, but the desire is good. There is much to be gained from longer-term pastoral ministries in the same local church.

In my understanding of calling, gifting and pastoral ministry, any ministry move is lateral. There is not a moving up or a moving down in ministry. Seeing it in those terms is more secular and carnal than it is biblical and Christian. And size is not a determiner of whether or not it is a move up or down. All moves in the kingdom of God and in the church of Jesus Christ are lateral – we continue to serve as a joyful slave of Christ, while the location where we do that shifts.

Thom Rainer recently addressed the longer tenure of pastors and gives Six Reasons Why Longer-tenured Pastorates Are Better

  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.

A few questions:

  • How long have you served where you are?
  • What are your thoughts about the tenure of pastors serving in the same local church?
  • What are the strengths and weaknesses of a longer-tenured pastorate? What about a shorter-tenured pastorate?

Greg Strand

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Affectionately called “Walking Bible” by his youngest daughter, Greg Strand has a ministry history that goes back to 1982. Since that time, he has served in local church ministry in a variety of ministry capacities: youth pastor, associate pastor of adult ministries and senior pastor. He is currently the EFCA's Executive Director of Theology and Credentialing. Greg reads voraciously and never stops learning — a passion reflected in the overflowing bookshelves that spill from his library to multiple offices. And he could tell you about each of those books! His hunger for learning pales in contrast to his great love for God and for teaching the Word of God.

6 responses to Pastoral Tenure

  1. I have been ministering in a small town for 30 years. In towns like mine, while people are welcomed warmly, it takes 10-15 years to really be considered a “member” of the town. A reputation built over many years gives you great “street cred” and many outreach opportunities. Also with long term ministry church bosses and factions tend to lose their power. It requires great patience, but you can build a genuine mutual love that is rather uncommon, but certainly biblical.

    • Thank you for the good word, Bob. You share out of personal experience and many years of faithful ministry. May the Lord continue to prosper you, the ministry and his people, by his grace and for his glory.

  2. My childhood Pastor and later a mentor once said to me, “Unless you are really gifted, a 12-15 year is probably best. After that amount of time you probably need a change and the church probably needs a change.”
    It is amazing how his words of challenge unfolded in my career. I served one church for 12 1/2 years, a second church for 12 years and as a Chaplain in an EFCA care center for 14 years!

    • Thank you for sharing the counsel of your childhood Pastor and mentor, Highland, which became your ministry experience.

  3. Like Bob above, I have also heard 10-15 years to get “over the hump” of being part of a church where people accept you as a pastor. I think I can verify this number in my experience as well.

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