How long should a pastor serve the same church? The Bible doesn’t answer that question. The average length of service for pastors in Protestant churches in America is down to about four years. For that to be a true average, think about how many pastors must serve far less than four years. There are plenty of situations and circumstances where a short-term ministry is completely legitimate, such as the Apostle Paul’s short ministries in various places in the Book of Acts.
Certain pastoral blessings happen best in shorter times. An interim pastor, for example, can be greatly used of the Lord to bring needed health and stability to a church during a difficult time of transition, saying important things that an outsider can express easier than an insider.
Although there are true blessings for pastors that serve four years or less, there are other blessings that really begin to accumulate after five years.
The number one qualification for serving as a pastor is to be above reproach according to 1 Timothy 3:2 and Titus 1:5. This means a man has to have a faithful track record among the people that he serves to even be qualified to be a leader in the church. While there are certainly benefits in checking the background references of a new pastor, it will take time before a congregation experiences his character, and can personally affirm it.
The Bible always assumes leaders will serve in the context of their community. The vast majority of qualifications for ministry in those sections of 1 Timothy 3 and Titus 1 are about character qualifications like humility, discipline and not being greedy. The man’s family is also up for examination. How has he led his wife and children? Are his children faithful and respectful? Paul even mentions the man’s reputation with outsiders in the community. The way a man treats those in town that he does business with will say a lot about the kind of man he is.
When a man only serves for a few years in a place before moving on misses out on doing ministry out of the overflow of godly life lived out before a congregation.
A man who lives among the same people for decades will have an entire gallery of character sketches that have been drawn for the church and community to observe. While no pastor is perfect, all pastors are called to make visible spiritual progress. “Practice these things, devote yourself to them, so that all may see your progress” (1 Tim 4:15). Even when pastors fail, they can provide a good example of repentance and forgiveness.
The Christian life is caught as much as it is taught.
A proven pastor shows people how to live rather than just preaching about it from the pulpit. Example is huge in the Bible. Paul says to the Philippians: “What you have learned and received and heard and seen in me—practice these things, and the God of peace will be with you” (Phil 4:9).
The longer a church has her pastor the more example there is to follow. It is one thing for a pastor to prove that the Christian life can be lived for two years in a row, it is another thing to prove that it can be lived for 10, 15 or 30 years in a row. It is one thing to show a group of Christians that you can be a young married man with no kids and manage to pray and study the Bible and seek to live it out, it is another to do that with multiple children at different stages of life. Can a man live for Jesus after his kids all leave home? Can a man serve the Lord even as he gets close to retirement age? A church with a long-term godly minister will get to watch an example of all of these things in flesh and blood.