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How Long Should You Stay? The Magic Year for Ministry Success

I was curious about pastoral longevity in the Wesleyan Church. A more comprehensive and correlational study should be done, but last week I called the 25 largest churches in our denomination to find out:

1) When the church was founded.

2) How long the present senior/lead pastor has been at the church.

3) How long the previous senior/lead pastor had been at the church.

What’s your guess?

Senior pastors in the 25 largest Wesleyan churches have been serving in their position for an average of 17.8 years!

The previous pastors of these same churches had been there an average of 15.2 years. And four of the churches are being led by their founding pastors, who have been there an average of 18.2 years.

Of course, it may be demotivating to imagine being in a church where you see no likelihood of a growing ministry or influence. But why not have faith that there is sufficient opportunity where God has placed you in that church and community … and your task is to tap into it?  

Don’t fall for the myth that greater ministry is somewhere else! When you plan to stay where you are for the next 20 years, you will approach your ministry with a commitment that will be unshaken by the winds of change, challenge and time.

But …

If you’re thinking, “Well, that’s good advice for most pastors, but … ” don’t let these excuses masquerade as reasons to move:

  • More money. Human nature is always dissatisfied, however much we make.
  • Conflict. Another characteristic of human nature: Conflict is anywhere there are people.
  • You’re getting stale. Commit to being a life-time learner. It will keep you and your church in touch with today’s issues.
  • Boredom. To quote Rick Warren, “It’s not about you.”
  • Burn-out. Whether you have reached that point or not, take time to retreat and renew.
  • An exploratory call. We all like to be liked. But just because a church is calling doesn’t mean God is.
  • You’re out of sermons. If that’s your reason for moving, I suggest you shouldn’t be in the ministry.
  • Too much pressure. So your next church will be without pressure? If your motivation to move is to avoid pressure, see the response above.

If you are a lay church leader, the next time you look for a new pastor, make intended longevity a criteria. If you are a denominational leader, encourage pastors to remain faithful rather than abandon their church in difficult times.

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Charles Arn is Visiting Professor of Outreach at the new Wesley Seminary (Marion, IN). He has written twelve books in the field of congregational health and growth, including What Every Pastor Should Know (2013) and Side Door (2013).