At our research department meeting yesterday we decided to study the many statistics that define church life in America today and try to select one that seemed to be most strategic. Each of us agreed that one number seemed to be more critical than all the others. It was a 100% survey.
Of course, our research department is Harriet and me, and our policies and procedures manual is just a gut check. Still our passion for pastors and spiritual leaders is such that we're in touch with many colleagues and have opinions about the many statistics that define pastoral demographics today. Many of the studies are dated and the figures somewhat obsolete. But, one seems to be more current and it touches what we believe is the most strategic statistic affecting churches today. It is ministry longevity or tenure: how long pastors stay in their kingdom assignments.
In the June18, 2014, posting to the Thom Rainer Blog site titled The Dangerous Third Year of Pastoral Tenure, Dr. Rainer, President of LifeWay Christian Resources, fixed average pastoral tenure at between three and four years. It may be urban legend but I had always heard that genuine pastoral effectiveness usually occurred after five years of service. This means that a great number of pastors are leaving their assignments before they realize full traction. You can read Dr. Rainer's entire post from that day by clicking here. it's a good article and worth the read.
My true passion is for pastors and spiritual leaders to reach the finish line of ministry, whether it is retirement, a next chapter, or a God-directed call to a new place of service. These, of course, would be celebrated. Far too many of these short pastorates, however, are abrupt endings, the result of unreasonable and therefore unmet expectations, conflict in the church, dissatisfaction in the early direction a new pastor places before the congregation, or just the discovery of a poor fit. In any event, Dr. Rainer affirms how these short-term pastorates undermine the health of local congregations. In this regard, perhaps the most significant of all the statistics about church and spiritual leaders, the most crucial may be the short tenure that is so prevalent today.
OK, God directs ministry placement and speaks to churches through the pastor search process. Just the same, there are fine-tuning adjustments that may be made in our processes to hopefully lengthen pastor and staff longevity.
1. Consolidate resources to support pastors in church crisis.
We are most gifted as a denomination. There are resources at every level of
denominational life to support pastors and spiritual leaders in the joys and
hardships of church service. Whether the support is local or distant is really
a hard one because pastors are often difficult care receivers. Still, there are
many gifted people who could spearhead this kind of effort.
2. Develop new models of church transition for use by interim pastors/leaders.
Many congregations never heal from prior conflict. What is more, much of the
transitional/interim pastor training utilizes out-of-date training materials and
church models. These should be constantly updated and revised to meet the
demands of twenty-first century church life.
3. Provide updated pastor search committee materials.
The other day I saw a questionnaire that many churches are using to screen
pastor candidates. It was long and antiquated, asking questions that should
be asked in a personal interview. Many churches will continue to use
traditional pastor church processes as a means of finding God's person to lead
the church. But, the process must be revised and updated to facilitate a more
thorough process in these fast times.
4. Study and recommend viable succession plans for churches.
Many congregations are employing written succession plans for developing
pastoral leadership. Succession is a biblically attested process and should be
examined and utilized in replacing pastoral and spiritual leaders in the church.
5. Continue to emphasize & prepare pastor accountability/support processes.
Material about the effectiveness of small group pastor mentoring is abundant.
Our current concentration on this avenue of pastor support should continue
with greater urgency.
To personally escort more pastors and ministers to the finish line of ministry is my passion. Lengthening tenure in local churches is but one step toward that end.