Leadership through Longevity

Today’s time management tip is really a part of my big soap box rant about pastors staying long enough to make a difference in a local congregation.

The average tenure (meaning “ten years”) of a pastor in North America (across all denominations) is less than five years.

Back in 1954, a pastor could walk into a new pastorate and have all of the respect and “positional authority” to make a difference. Pastors were authority figures, often with much more education than anyone else in the congregation. They were recognized leaders in a trusted profession. They could make a difference in just a few short years.

That was then. Times have changed. Pastors no longer walk onto the job with positional authority. Pastors must earn that authority. Pastoral ministry is no longer a trusted profession. Because of this, it now takes much longer to become a productive pastor than it used to.

On average, it takes about 4 years until you get that kind of trust and authority in a local congregation. At year 4, leaders in the church will start testing your boundaries, seeing if they can really trust you, seeing if you’ll buckle (just like two-year-olds do with their parents). They don’t even know they’re doing it. But they’re trying to figure out whether they can trust you to become the real leader of the church.

Unfortunately, most pastors sense this pushback as an attack. So they start looking for other jobs. And they take the first one that looks half-decent (emphasis on half).

If you’ll just stay put for a year, you’ll get through the testing point. And you’ll finally have all the authority you need to start being productive.

Here’s a quote from the George Barna Group:

“Our work has found that the typical pastor has his or her greatest ministry impact at a church in years five through fourteen of their pastorate. Unfortunately, we also know that the average pastor lasts only five years at a church – forfeiting the fruit of their investment in the church they’ve pastored.”

So, if you want to be a truly effective pastor, you must stay put long enough to earn enough authority to actually become effective.

Not only that, just think of how much time you waste preparing your house for sale and finding a new house to buy in a new community. Think of the time you waste having to just get up to speed in a new congregation or new community.

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