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04 Nov '13

When pastors stay too long at the detriment of the church

Posted by T.J. Addington
This will not be a popular blog among some pastors. It is possible for a pastor or any leader to stay too long and in the process to allow the ministry they lead to grow stale. I have watched it on numerous occasions and often to the detriment of the ministry they led well for many earlier years.

The symptoms for the church itself are usually a lessening of its missional energy, and a slow loss of people, often key people over time. Often at this stage, church leaders are restless and both leaders and people cannot identify with clarity where the ministry is going or how it is going to get there. 

The challenge is that the senior leader often does not want to leave even when church leaders start to put pressure on them. After all they are in their fifties or sixties and they know they are not very marketable in another senior pastor position. Thus they push back and the church itself often suffers. The longer the church moves into decline, the harder it is to renew its vision and missional life. In the meantime it is the very people that are needed to revitalize the church that quietly exit one at a time.

When do long pastorates become a liability?

  • When the senior leader gets stuck in how they have always done things and continue to do the same thing as the world changes around them.
  • When the senior leader has taken the church as far as they can take it and are frankly out of ideas or skill to take the ministry to the next level.
  • When the senior leader does not bring in a new generation of young leaders who bring a different generational thinking, new ideas and new energy. This includes the development of a preaching team so that the needs of a younger generation are met.
  • When the senior leader does not continue to grow in their latter decades and lose their ability to lead well. 
Not every pastor can go the long route in one church and keep the ministry vital. Often they too need a new challenge in new circumstances and certainly they should not stay when the church has plateaued or gone into decline - in numbers, vision, missional vitality, energy and spiritual vitality. Those who can go the distance in one place must intentionally grow and change along the way.