by Joe McKeever
One month before I was to begin a new pastorate, I spotted the longtime former pastor and walked over to introduce myself.
He put his big arm around me and said, “Joe, 20 of the most miserable years of my life were spent in that church!”
Such was my introduction to this new ministry about which I had been so excited.
I was 46 years old and was figuring I had 20 years to offer that church before retiring. I stayed three.
My next pastorate was a broken church where the previous pastor had stayed less than a year. Soon after my arrival, a little group began meeting in the foyer to plan my departure. I stayed 14 years and remained as a member another 12 years.
It’s hard to figure these things. Some churches keep their ministerial staff for decades. Others install a revolving door.
The First Baptist Church of Columbus, Mississippi, where I served 12 years, has had five pastors in the past 94 years. I expect each of us would agree that our lengthy tenure had more to do with the maturity of the congregation than our good traits and great plans.
Churches that keep their pastors and staffs seem to have several traits in common such as mature, stable leadership among the laity, a good pay structure, and a deep appreciation of those called by God to lead His people.
The pastor of a Bible church near my house spent 37 years shepherding his small congregation. During that time, they built a new sanctuary and changed their name, but with hardly a ripple. The pastor told me, “Not once did our church have a serious disagreement in my years here.”
A half-mile down the highway, however, the nearest Baptist church went through a half-dozen pastors during his tenure.
I know one church that has run its pastor off every 30 months, just like clockwork. No matter how serious the new pastor may be about a long tenure at some churches it’s not going to happen apart from the intervention of the Lord Himself.
That being said, there are some things a pastor can do.
Recently, I spent a day doing a Bible study for the First Baptist Church of Long Beach, Mississippi, where Pastor LaRue Stephens is in his 21st year.
That happened to be the final day in the office of their worship leader, who was retiring after 22 years. The educational minister is in her 20th year, while the student minister—a relative newcomer—is in his 10th.
“How is this possible?” I asked Pastor Stephens. His answer stressed three things: 1) the importance of building relationships and learning to love the difficult people; 2) the necessity of empowering the members of the fellowship and earning their respect; and 3) patience.
“Plow around the stumps,” said Stephens, “and let God rot them out.”
David Crosby will retire this summer after 22 years shepherding the First Baptist Church of New Orleans. In the first few years of his ministry, they relocated the church to an entirely new campus several miles away. Then, in his 10th year, Hurricane Katrina blew through the area and devastated much of the community.
I asked Crosby for his philosophy of ministry that has allowed him to remain so long in this church and weather these great challenges. He cited three things.
1) Have a clear sense of God’s call to help you stay committed to the people and the community. The knowledge that God sent you here keeps you in place when tempted to leave. It gives contentment.
2) Have a realistic understanding that there are no green pastures out there. Wherever you go, people are the same, just with different faces.
3) Always work on new initiatives. His 22 years have not been 22 years of doing the same things over and over, but trying many different things.
Crosby says, “A long tenure provides opportunity for greater stability, deeper friendship, generational relationships, and greater impact in the community. After all, it takes a while to learn who the players are in any setting.”
During his ministry, Crosby worked with three mayors and four police chiefs, as well as three Catholic archbishops of the Catholic community (which in New Orleans is a sizeable portion of the population). He adds, “Long tenure builds relationship capital.”
More from Joe McKeever:
- What Small Church Pastors Wish Others Knew
- Seven Days of Prayer for Your Pastor
- 10 Surprising Reasons to Pray for Your Pastor
- 13 Tips Every New Pastor Needs to Know
- A Pastor’s Greatest Regret After a Lifetime of Ministry
- 13 Things a Pastor Should Never Say to a Congregation