How Long Should a Pastor Stay?

Several years ago, I asked Lyle Schaller why a specific local church had grown so successfully.  He replied, “The church you asked about, like most American megachurches, has been built on the foundation of three basic cornerstones: The first cornerstone is, a long tenured,
personable, creative, exceptionally competent, and reflective pastor.” (Letter from Lyle E. Schaller to Dale Turner February 28, 2003).

So, I asked myself, “what does long tenured mean?”

Dr. Charles Arn, who is considered one of the leading authorities and spokespersons in the field of church growth, wrote the following in a blog,

“Several years ago, a study by the largest Protestant denomination in the country found a startling relationship between the length of time pastors had been in their churches, and the growth or decline of those churches.  Their finding?  Approximately 3/4 of their growing churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church more than four years, while 2/3 of their declining churches were being led by pastors who had been in their church less than four years.  Their conclusion (with which I agree):  Long-term pastorates do not guarantee that a church will grow.  But short-term pastorates essentially guarantee that a church will not grow.”

I believe there is a relationship between the three following statistics:
1.  A pastor’s most productive time usually begins in years 5, 6, and 7;
2.  The average pastoral tenure in Protestant churches is less than 4 years;
3.  Nearly 85% of today’s churches are not growing.”

(Dr. Charles Arn, Son of Win Arn and President of Church Growth, Inc. Blog post 11/4/2012.)

It was my privilege to study with the well-known psychiatrist Dr. William H Holloway former president of the International Transactional Analysis Association and former Chief of Staff in psychiatry at Akron General Hospital in Akron Ohio. Dr. Holloway described a theory of group process that can be applied to all sizes and types of groups including businesses, educational institutions, hospitals, churches, and all forms of organizations. According to Dr. Holloway whenever a group of people comes together they transition through four stages of interaction that he describes as, Norming, Storming, Performing, and Mourning.

Norming is the initial interaction of people working together for the first time. Together they explore core values, personality styles, goals, and skills, as they work to develop a common mission and working plan for their group or organization. This may take a period that is impacted by the size of the organization. When several hundred people are involved, as in a local congregation, this process might take several years. Sometimes we call this the organizational honeymoon.

Storming is the intermediate stage of interaction through which people express individual opinions and work out conflicts, differences, and leadership roles. In the local church the pastor is assumed to be the leader, but in fact it may take five six or seven years for an appointed pastor to be recognized as the leader. At this stage we sometimes say, “the honeymoon is over.”

Performing is the productive stage of interaction that follows norming and storming and is characterized by a period of working together successfully and producing successful fruit from their labor. This can be a time of substantial spiritual, missional and numerical growth. Dr. Stephen Covey calls this process highly effective habit number six – Synergize. To synergize is to combine the strengths of people through positive teamwork, to achieve goals that no one could have done alone. (From the Seven Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, Habit number six.).

Mourning is the stage of interaction when the pastoral leader announces that he or she is moving or retiring.  Following this announcement, a grief process follows through which mourning takes place. This process may take several years as a congregation adjusts to new leadership and begins its transition through norming storming and performing once again.

Observation number one. If pastors move in less than 4 years they and their congregation never move through norming and storming to performing.  The result is perpetual chaos and decline.

Observation number two. If a pastor’s most productive year is after year seven then pastors, congregations, and judicatory leaders should make seven years plus pastorates a goal!

Opinion number one. Longer pastorates may not translate into growing churches but since pastorates shorter than four years do translate into declining churches longer pastorates should be a goal!

Opinion number two.  An ideal pastoral career of 40 years could be divided into three periods. One 19-year pastorate. One 2-year interim pastorate. One second 19-year pastorate. Note that I said ideal!  The actual experience seems to be ten 4-year pastorates.  Question: Which of these choices makes the most sense and produces the greatest success?

Please let me know what you think about this article. You my respond to Dale Turner at  dale6@roadrunner.com

21st Century Renewal Ministries Newsletter Volume1 Issue2.
Author: Dale R. Turner, September 26, 2017, http://www.daleturner.org

See newsletter Volume 1 Issue 1, “Church Growth Books Are Not Silver Bullets” by clicking the following link:

http://daleturner.org/growth-books-and-silver-bullets/