In Praise of Long Pastorates

My orientation to pastoral ministry is bent toward long pastorates.

My father served the church I grew up in for more than forty years. My adopted dad has also served his congregation for forty years. My own pastor has served his congregation for thirty-five years. And most of the men who have shaped my faith, theology, and ministry philosophy have had long pastorates.

Of course, not every man is cut out for long pastorates. The calling of the Lord on each person’s life is unique. And some men are not divinely wired for long pastorates. Some pastors are called to serve different congregations for relatively shorter periods of time. And there is nothing wrong with that. This is exactly what is needed at certain times and in certain places.

Some men serve in denominational structures that do not lend themselves to long pastorates. For instance, I have colleagues who serve in the Methodist church. And each year the bishop determines where each pastor will serve. I have been invited to preach by Methodist brothers and by the time the date arrives a few months later they have been moved to another church. I definitely would not want to serve in that kind of system. But it seems to work for those who are a part of it.

There are some occasions in which long pastorates are detrimental to the soul of a pastor and the health of a congregation. In some instances, long time members of a church develop a sinful sense of ownership of a church. “This is our church,” they think. And their attitude and actions become detrimental to the mission of the church. But pastors who serve a local church for a long time can also adopt this corrupt and corrupting mindset, which is not healthy.

Still there are times when it is just not possible for a pastor and congregation to serve Christ together for a long time. Division and turmoil may arise that make it best for a pastor and congregation to part ways, rather than damaging their witness for Christ with infighting. The Lord may call a pastor a way to another place of service. Or sometimes a pastor is just the transitional guy that God uses to get a church through a difficult period.

Yet I still believe it is best for pastors and congregations when a man plants his flag and determines to serve a local church for the long haul.

It is usually a benefit to have stability at the top of an organization. Churches are no different. Unhealthy patterns develop when there is constant pastoral turnover in a local church. It usually means that people who are not called to be pastors are actually leading the church from the pews.

But there are more important, spiritual reasons why long pastorates make a difference in a local church. It takes time to nurture a healthy congregation. You can attract a crowd in no time. But a crowd is not a church. A church is made up those who trust, obey, worship, serve, give, witness, and suffer as they grow in the grace and knowledge of Christ, not just people who show up on Sunday mornings. To nurture a Christ-centered, biblically functioning congregation requires teaching and patience. A mushroom can grow in hours. But it takes longer to grow an oak tree. What are you trying to grow?

I praise God for the pastors and churches that hang in there together as partners in the gospel and maintain the unity of the spirit in the bond of peace. The Lord’s blessings are on those men who maintain their integrity and preach the gospel faithfully year after year. Many serve without any acclaim. Yet they do not allow their place of obscurity to be an excuse for not giving God their best. May their tribes increase!

One final word…

Brothers, churches are not stepping-stones. It is wrong to pastor a church looking out the window for a bigger or better opportunity to come a long. The souls over which the Lord has made you an overseer deserve your best. For that matter, the Lord demands your best.

Be faithful right where you are. Work on the depth of your ministry and trust God to work on the breadth of your ministry. If the Lord intends for you to be somewhere, believe me, he knows how to get you there. Until then, plant your flag. Preach the word. Love the people you have been called to. Count it a privilege that the Lord would use you to lead his people. And serve the Lord with gladness.

Feel free to comment. 

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

  • Christopher-April Betner

    Thank you!

  • sayitwell

    I’m just reading this, and I have to agree with the benefits and detriments to long term pastorates. I’ve heard many of pastors tell their congregations they (congregations) received the best of their (pastors) years… now they’re (congregations) forced to put up with the worst of their (pastors) years… When I hear such statements come from the pulpit, to me sends the wrong message…

    maybe you could do a piece on retirement for pastors… because some have the beliefs they’re to pastor until God calls them home…

    • http://www.hbcharlesjr.com/ H.B. Charles Jr.

      You are right. There are some brothers who have a wrong attitude and mindset about the pastorate, as if the congregation belongs to them. I don’t know if I am the right one to right about retirement. But you have a good idea. I will be on the lookout for someone who can write a helpful guest post on this subject.

  • http://www.mutamwenya.com Muta

    This is an encouragement and wake up call to young ministers as well. Love the piece at the end that the church is not a stepping stone. In these days of book writing and the conference circuit it’s so easy to become enchanted by the thought of “strive for wider reach”. May we truly understand that our call is to people not platform.

  • Travis H

    Fantastic word, brother!

  • James Tollison

    I’m all for long pastorates myself, but so many churches have a self-appointed boss that eventually makes the place so toxic that the man has to leave.

  • SPURGEON

    Thanks H.B. And although Spurgeon’s tenure was cut short by death (he still logged four decades of ministry) two of his predecessors at New Park Street (John Rippon and John Gill) totalled 117 years between the two! Spurgeon’s comment on it: “Those who are given to change were not numerous in the community.” I guess not!
    Best to you, KJA

  • Errick Gaffney

    Thank you Pastor Charles for this post as well as the blog. This is such valuable information to me as an associate minister and the youth pastor of my church. God has allowed me to preach and teach to the youth (13yrs-18yrs) for about six years now, and sometimes I wonder will the Lord ever use me in another capacity. After reading this post I had to do a personal inventory to make sure I am working on the depth of my ministry and trusting God to work on the breadth.
    On another note, the interviews/conversations with the pastors are inspiring, motivating and much needed for our generation of preaching and preachers today. Keep up the great work, God’s work!

  • Keaton Brown

    If I may add Pastor Charles, this goes for associate ministers like myself as well. I think too often us young guys are overly ambitious too soon trying to “hit it big”. The Lord has blessed me with small beginnings and I have seen him reward my faithfulness. As we all try to make full proof of our ministries we should never be using where God has placed us as a stepping stone. There is something special about a man that stays faithful to his pastor and where his pastor is using him.

    I too look up to men who despite struggle have stuck in there. My pastor and my father have been at their churches 20 and 25yrs respectively. Having known them both for a long time, it certainly says something about the man who doesn’t pack up and quit. I’ve seen people at my father’s church who 15 years ago were stubborn and some of his greatest opposition but through the Word and The Spirit with pastoral nuturing and love have grown immensely. I’m convinced, that only came through long suffering with one church.