Why the Best Years of Pastoral Ministry
Come After the First Four Years
Many experts have noted that the best years of pastoral ministry often do not kick in until the 5th through 10th years of a pastor’s tenure at a church. Unfortunately more than half of pastors do not stay at a church long enough to experience those most productive years.
Church growth expert Chales Arn, writing in the “Enrichment Journal,” stated about 75% of growing churches are led by pastors who had been there more than 4 years, and about 66% of declining churches are led by pastors who had been there less than 4 years. He advised pastors:
“If you are a pastor, personally and publicly commit to staying for at least 7 years. You may get an itch to move after 3 or 4 years, but if you stay until the 6th or 7th year, you will begin to experience unsurpassed effectiveness and fruitfulness. Once you get past year 7, there is a good chance you will want to stay much longer.”
There are many reasons why things get better for pastors after those first four years:
There are some obvious stages of a pastor’s tenure within a church. Those stages, stated simplistically, are:
It is easy to score some early victories.You lead in making some much-needed changes.You can be successful in trying some
things.Some people prefer you over the previous pastor.People are happy with the appearance of progress.
You have come to recognize your church’s weakness; your congregation has come to recognize your weakness.Some of the things you
tried, which worked so well at previous other churches, have failed at this church.Both the pastor and the congregation become vocal about
their disappointments and expectations.Complains usually arise during this period.
When reality sets in, the pastor and church can respond in one of two ways. One way is to begin fussing and fighting. When the “storming” begins, disillusioned pastors usually decide to leave, finding another church, and start the whole process all over again.
The other choice is to stay. Tough it out! It is noteworthy to listen to people’s complaints in love. This is a time to work together to identify problems, solutions, and perhaps compromises. It is also a time to show people what patience and perseverance looks like. Pastors who choose to “tough it out” can emerge from the “stormy period” to enjoy a strong position of productive ministry.
It is reasonable for members to take a “wait and see” attitude during your first couple of years at the church. Before they invest themselves fully in you, they want to get to know you, see what kind of leader you are, and to see how long you plan to stay.
Also, the longer you stay, more of the members (newer members) are the ones who came after you did. They are your best supporters. They are the ones who consciously picked you as their pastor when they joined your church.
There are so many things for a pastor to learn about a church and a community. Every church has its own culture: its history, traditions, expectations, and politics. It takes time to get to know your people: who they are, what they are capable of, who can you count on. If you have moved into a new area, it takes time to learn the regional culture.
After a pastor has been in a church and community for a few years, he or she is no longer navigating in unfamiliar territory and their ministry becomes more successful.
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