When I was in seminary, Dr. York advised me to “plant your life in one church and stay there.” After thinking about this advice many times (especially when I’m tempted to quit and go somewhere else), I’ve come to the conclusion that he is right. In general, by staying long-term at one church, a pastor increases his ability to bring about lasting change. After reading Dr. York’s helpful post (reinforcing the advice he gave to me years ago), I wanted to humbly offer five more encouragements to stay long-term at one church.
1. Staying long-term strengthens our faith. Perseverance is sanctifying, and to stay planted in one church will require seasons of rugged endurance. In those seasons of trial we are driven to Scripture for perspective, direction, wisdom, and help (consider David’s time in the cave). Trials in the pastorate push us to focused prayer and fasting. The weight of our opposition cause us to “…rely not on ourselves but on God who raises the dead” (2 Cor. 1:9). Struggles in the church make us humbly confess, “Who is sufficient for these things…our sufficiency comes from God…” (2 Cor. 2:16-3:5).
2. Staying long-term better enables us effect change on others. I’ve learned that the process of discipleship generally takes extended periods of time. For most, sanctification involves a long and slow process (it’s lifelong). Toiling to bring Christians to maturity takes time and consistency. Furthermore, think of the lasting value of relationships forged through discipleship (Paul had plenty of these, evidenced in Romans 16:1-15). These kinds of relationships often take regular face-time to develop.
3. Staying long-term helps pastors effect change on their congregation’s extended families. Over time, you come to know extended families by growing closer to committed members of your church. Thus, a pastor is more able to evangelize them. A new pastor every 3 years will probably never really know (or earn credibility with) extended family members. Most church members have extended family who are not Christians, or who are out of church for a variety of reasons.
4. Most churches have unbiblical or problematic practices that pastors need to address. Challenging or removing old traditions (the ones that need to go) will probably require the relational capitol only time can bring. Established structures become ingrained over long periods of time and we would be naive to think they will change with the preaching of one sermon (add to that the general human resistance to change).
5. History provides a long list of pastors who changed their communities and world by staying at one church for an extended period of time. Living examples could include exemplary pastors like John MacArthur, John Piper, and Mark Dever. Church History brims with examples that fit into this category: Luther in Wittenberg and Calvin in Geneva especially come to mind (think you can’t have an impact from a smaller town?).
These are five of the reasons I’m striving to follow Dr. York’s advice.
Grace to you,
Pastor, Bayou View Baptist Church, Gulfport, MS (only 8 years in)
Not every pastor has the option to stay in the same church for a long time. God might call him somewhere else, a church filled with unregenerate or unresponsive members might force him to leave, or health needs of family members might dictate a move. I do not mean to lay false guilt on those who have legitimate reasons to leave a church or go elsewhere. I do, however, mean to encourage pastors to default to staying rather than leaving, even in the face of problems. Here’s why:
1) The longer you live in community with people, the more credibility you will have—unless you simply don’t earn and have credibility. Either way, they will know it. There are no shortcuts to credibility, but every day presents plenty of shortcuts to its loss. The pressure to maintain credibility with people is a sanctifying grace that one forfeits with a pattern of short pastorates.
2) Only when you stay for a significant portion of time can you know for certain what the church has been taught and intentionally plan your preaching, alternating between testaments, genres, law and gospel, and homiletical lens so they learn a strategic grasp of the Scriptures and it’s redemptive-historical framework.
3) Nearly every pastor will face a crisis of leadership in the church at a 1-year, 3-year, 5-year, and 9-year mark (give or take a year at each point). If a pastor survives his 1-year crisis but decides at the 3-year crisis that he’s not going to stay (usually saying something like “I can’t put my family through that again,”), then he has to start all over again somewhere else. And he’ll have a 1-year and a 3-year crisis there, too. He may be in danger of one day claiming to have 30 years experience in ministry, when in fact he has 3 years experience ten times.
4) The temptation to preach old sermons at a new church setting is too great for some to resist, but rehashing old, familiar stuff will lead to spiritual dryness. Preaching old sermons leaves more discretionary time, but it’s time that a pastor doesn’t usually want anyone to know he has (who wants your congregation to know you spent less than thirty minutes looking over an old sermon?). Consequently, he’ll fall into a pattern of looking busy when he’s not, at best wasting time on silly things, at worst spending time on illicit things. Sin usually flows in the direction of discretionary time. The necessity to be fresh and preach books, sections, and texts that your congregation has never heard before is a tremendous grace and discipline in a pastor’s life, but that necessity is only there when he stays someplace for a longer period than he has sermons for.
5) Moving is tough on families. I certainly applaud those men who do it out of the necessity of a calling, but I pity the families of men who do it out of personal ambition, laziness, or greed. A pastor’s wife, for instance, has enough challenges facing her in developing meaningful friendships and having ministry impact without also having to start over every three years.