Monday, November 5, 2012

How Long Should a Pastor Stay at a Church?

Recently Harvard Business Review published an article on "Ten Reasons to Stay in a Job for 10 Years."  It was an interesting read and they included reasons like leadership opportunities, stability, self-improvement, flexibility, perseverance and a say in the company’s future. These are all good reasons to have a longer stay at a job.

I thought through this and believe that they are right on in their advice.   There were other reasons that were financially motivated such as home-ownership, increased benefits and seniority.  But outside of these I thought many of the reasons to stay at a job for a long time are also true of a pastor’s tenure at his church. Though I am far from an expert on the subject, having only gotten a little past my first full year at my church (which is my first call), I have wondered how long should a pastor stay even at his first call.  Or taking it from another angle: should a pastor stay longer rather than shorter in most cases unless there are rare exceptions?  Harvard Business Review would say yes.  But I also want to look at some passages from the word of God to see if there is any advice.  There are three principles that I see apply:

The sovereignty of God is the first determining factor in how long a pastor stays at a church.   James 4:13-16 warns us about making plans without considering God’s sovereign control over our lives. James calls it arrogance when we say definitively that we are going to do this or that. So the first principle would exclude going to a church and saying "I’m staying___ number of years just to get experience."  With that said I think there is room for some general planning/ ideas but we need to remember that God is sovereign.  He keeps people and moves people. I have found it true that when I begin to presume on God’s will, that he ends up doing something rather unlikely in my life (like moving me to small town Iowa!!)

Staying longer may be healthier for the church.  I find it interesting that in two of the pastoral letters, the apostle Paul gives advice to stay.  In 1 Tim 1:3 Paul tells Timothy to remain in Macedonia. Likewise he reminds Titus that he left him in Crete (i.e. he had to remain somewhere longer) for the health of the church.  I know that I’m dispensable and that if I died in a car wreck today the church I serve would carry on.  But I have a hunch that if I jumped from church to church every few years it would cause more damage than good for the health of the churches.  People are relational by design and the more frequent the turnover of the shepherds the more difficult it may be to solidify unity among the sheep.

The church is to grow with the pastor. This may the single factor that would keep me in one place for a long time. Paul reminds Timothy of some things and tells him: “Practice these things, immerse yourself in them, so that all might see your progress. (1 Tim 4:15).  Paul trusted that the church was to see evident growth in the life of Timothy their spiritual leader.  I've grown a ton going into this second year at my church.  I hope that others have been able to see it in my life.  I've made many bad calls and decisions this past year, and will still continue to do so.  Through this God has humbled me and continued to show me my need for the gospel.  I trust that by his grace I will have slow, progressive, gospel growth as a shepherd. But this progress/ growth can only be measured over a decent period of time by my church.

Finally, of the pastors I look up to, both local pastors and men like John Piper and Tim Keller, all have stayed in one place for a decent amount of time. Not all are called to die in the place of their first call, but I wonder what many churches would look like if their pastors stayed a little longer.