Yesterday, I celebrated 5 years as pastor of Baptist Temple Church. This is a significant milestone. A LifeWay Research poll found the average pastoral tenure is currently 3.6 years. When I entered the ministry in 1982 it was widely believed that the average pastoral tenure was 1.5 years.
Further research indicates that churches tend to experience success when a pastor sticks around. George Barna writes: "...studies consistently show that pastors experience their most productive and influential ministry in years 5 through 14 of their pastorate. (The Second Coming of the Church)" It is encouraging to know that our best years lie ahead.
There are five factors that lead to longer pastoral tenures.
- Church size. Pastors of larger churches (250 and up) have a longer tenure. Larger churches can be more selective in hiring a pastor. On the other hand, smaller churches can be more selective as well. Simple criminal and financial background checks are now very affordable. Churches that lack experienced interviewers can lean on denominational leadership or sister churches.
- Home ownership. Parsonage life made it easy for pastors to move. A pastor facing pressure could easily move on to another church which provided a parsonage. Home ownership allows a pastor to set down roots. This forces pastors to work through issues from which they might have run away.
- Personal growth. A pastor ought to be well-read, continue his education, network and grow. It is in a church's best interest to provide funds for this. A pastor who is exposed to new ideas and challenged by peers will be refreshed and lead his church to deeper expressions of faith.
- Loving the pastor. I feel very cared for and appreciated by my church. I receive kind words, encouragement and support. Conflict and a lack of support will cause pastors to seek another position. Some will leave the ministry.
- Picking the right battles. A pastor must discern between those things that can and should be changed, and things best left alone. Patience and a loving attitude will trump energy and political maneuvering. A pastor must, also, protect the church from those who would destroy it from the inside.