Monday, July 18, 2016

Are you sure God is calling you to another church?

As many of you know, I served my church as pastor for 20 years before leaving to accept a new ministry with our judicatory. This is one reason I am supportive of long pastorates. Another reason is that research consistently finds it takes 3-11 years for a pastor to effectively lead his or her church. Few small churches enjoy those kinds of pastorates, and that is one reason many of them struggle. It's hard to be a healthy, growing church when you're looking for a new pastor every couple of years.

In a 2004 survey I did of bivocational pastors I found the average tenure was slightly over four years for these pastors. That's still not long enough. It took me about seven years to earn the trust of our congregation before I was able to become a leader in that church. I have found that the smaller the church and the more frequent pastor turn-over they have, the longer it takes for a pastor to become a leader in that church

In my judicatory ministry of 14 years there were churches I helped find pastors 2-3 times. This was frustrating to the church and very demoralizing to their self-esteem. They couldn't help but wonder what was wrong with them that no pastor would stay. In some cases, the church was as fault, and in two of those situations I refused to help the church search for another pastor until they addressed the problems in their church. However, in most of these situations the church was not dysfunctional and was calling pastors who were always looking for the next open church that was a little bigger and offered better salaries.

These pastors always began their new ministries claiming God had brought them to these churches, and then 2-3 years later, when they announced they were resigning to accept another church they again claimed God was leading them. I'm sorry, but I don't believe God is that confused! I really question whether God leads people to jump from church to church every time a larger church becomes available. I wish these pastors would stop with the religious speak and just admit they want to move to a larger church. Stop blaming God for your decisions!

Certainly, God does call people to new ministries. There are times when a pastor is serving in a situation that is so toxic that the pastor needs to get out of there. There are also times when a pastor has done all he or she can do in a church and needs to step aside so a new pastor with different gifts and skill-sets can come in. However, this will seldom happen in 2-3 years.

Don't leave a church because things aren't going your way. Don't leave because some people oppose what you're trying to do. Learn to work with them. You need to know that whereever you go you will find people who will oppose new ideas. These people have family members in every church! I've read that the average pastor leaves a church because of seven people in the church who do not like the pastor or what he or she is trying to accomplish. This is regardlesss of how many other support the pastor. Don't let seven people control your ministry.

Smaller churches need long-term pastorates who will help them pursue God's vision for their church. If you will commit to being that pastor you will reap tremendous blessings.

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