Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Pastors Who Stay...

Another local pastor is leaving his church.  No, make that two.  No, actually it’s three local pastors that are ‘moving on.’  In the last six weeks at least three local pastors have announced their resignation.

The average stay for a pastor is 24-36 months.  The average stay for a youth pastor is 12-18 months.

Can you see a pattern here?

Most of the time it is detrimental.  Here’s why:

1. First, it is harmful to the individual churches involved. Church members suffer during the interim period. They often have strife over the selection process in acquiring a new leader. The immature in the faith often become discouraged and drop out, sometimes joining the congregation down the street, but often quitting church altogether.

2. People fail to establish deep relationships with their pastors. As a result the pastor and his family are viewed as outsiders, visiting for a time to fill the need of the congregation. If the people like the minister and his family, they guard against becoming too attached because they know that he will in all likelihood in a few short years break their hearts and leave. If they dislike him, there is no need for them to become overly upset, for no doubt he will be replaced before too long.

3. The minister's roots into the community are severed, making him ineffective in reaching unchurched people. If he doesn’t stay in one community long enough to actually become part of the community, it is very difficult for him to build trust with irreligious people.

4. It's harmful to the minister's family. Many ministerial wives never feel that they can settle down and nest. Many children of relocating ministers suffer, being regularly uprooted and replanted. Moving, after all, is quite traumatic. Ministers themselves face the repeated frustrations of starting all over again, never finding out what it is like to pastor a people whom they really know.

Speaking for myself, I want to last in the ministry as long as God will allow me.  As long as possible.  I don’t want to be packing up and moving from church-to-church every couple of years either.  I’ve been at PCC for fifteen years, and, God willing, will be here fifteen more.

Let’s talk about pastoral longevity.  Shall we?

Church HEALTH is almost always associated with pastoral LONGEVITY. Of course no pastor is perfect, and no church is perfect, but pastoral longevity provides stability to a church. A pastor may not be setting the woods on fire, but if he is willing to devote his entire life to a certain flock, he's a rare breed indeed; and most of the time that church will be a healthy church. The church is a family and all families need stability. Less turnover translates into deeper, long-term relationships.

With the average stay of a pastor at 24-36 months, it’s no surprise that kingdom work is thwarted.  This is an extremely short amount of time when trying to provide care to the flock of God and developing disciples because not very much can be accomplished in such a short time. Departing after a brief tenure leaves spiritual orphans in the wake.

When a pastor stays long term, your lives are being shared together. Over a lifetime he will be with you in fair weather, stand with you in crisis, dedicate your babies, baptize your children, marry those very same children when they have grown, and bury your aged loved ones. He’ll be there to teach and preach God’s Word every week pointing you and your family towards Christ. And should life become difficult for him and his family one day, you will be there for him in his hour of need. After a lifetime of his influence on you and your influence on him, you will have built a lifetime of memories together. In short, you know him and he knows you.

FOR EXAMPLE:  In the last three weeks I have dedicated the babies of two families, conducted a wedding on Pensacola Beach, spent time at the hospital waiting room late into the night, prayed for the family of an accident victim, and coached two men who served as fill-in speakers for me.  Last Sunday morning after the message, nine people came forward to speak to me about issues in their life.  One family had experienced a death.  Another couple spoke to me about their desire to be baptized.  Another man asked my counsel about taming the tongue.  Then there was a young Christian couple (early 20s) at the back of the line who waited the longest; they asked if I would perform their wedding ceremony in June of 2014 and were delighted when I said yes.  In the space of 20-30 minutes I was engaged in multiple conversations with sheep in this flock about matters that were important to them.  Last night I was at the funeral home visiting a family.  This morning a commercial airline pilot (who attends PCC) stopped by my office to ask advice about his upcoming marriage.  Today at 2:00 p.m. I am conducting a funeral at Barancas.

None of these things would be possible if not for being a long-term pastor.    

Oh, yea.  That young couple who wants me to perform their wedding in June 2014?  They are assuming I will still be here that far into the future…. and they based that assumption on the fact that I’ve been here all their life since they were little kids.

Just look around in our own community. The strongest, healthiest churches are most often those whose pastor has been there a long time. There is less conflict, the congregations are typically larger, are full of growing disciples, and the church maintains a good reputation in the community. In contrast, think about the churches that are known for fights, turmoil, and have scattered sheep all over the place – there is usually a high turnover rate of the both the pastor and sheep. It's not too hard to connect the dots.

Imagine a dentist or physician who set up a practice in a certain town. Then about every two or three years he uprooted and moved across town to establish another practice. What would the end result be after twenty years or so? The landscape would be dotted with failed or struggling practices and none would have a loyal customer base. The same is true for pastoral ministry - after a lifetime of hopscotch service the landscape becomes dotted with struggling unhealthy churches and spiritual orphans. This is not very commendable for a lifetime of work.

I have made a lifetime commitment to PCC. I usually communicate this in our membership class and mention it from time-to-time in the Sunday services. In return, many of the sheep in that flock have reciprocated the same to me. It appears that a goodly number of us will be together for a very long time.

I am incredibly grateful for the LONG TERM MEMBERS of PCC who have nourished me and my family in love.  We have been sustained with spiritual blessings, practical assistance, solid friendships, and brotherly love.  Those expressions have contributed to my longevity. 

As I look to the years ahead, I know much more fruit will be born in our lives together, our children, and grandchildren.

I think this is how God would have it.

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