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Pastoral tenure and healthy churches

For as we share abundantly in Christ’s sufferings, so through Christ we share abundantly in comfort too. If we are afflicted, it is for your comfort and salvation; and if we are comforted, it is for your comfort, which you experience when you patiently endure the same sufferings that we suffer. Our hope for you is unshaken, for we know that as you share in our sufferings, you will also share in our comfort.” 2 Corinthians 1:5-7 (ESV)

It is not uncommon to hear pastors lament the spiritual state of the church within contemporary culture. Concerns range from wealthy members who have too much control over the church’s finances to a large family who wields too much influence over what decisions are made. There are a multitude of other problems that cause churches to struggle.

When problems become entrenched within the history of a church, there is no simple answer. When facing significant problems, churches need to have a consistent leader who is willing to endure the various challenges that arise. 

Affliction in ministry

In my own ministry, the Lord has often used the book of 2 Corinthians to strengthen me. Each of the eighteen years that I have pastored my current church has brought times of rejoicing and times of sorrow. However, years of tenure have wrought several benefits to my capacity to lead the church through various seasons of ministry. 

Some form of the word “affliction,” either as a verb or a noun, occurs twelve times in the book of 2 Corinthians. Though Paul is honest about the affliction that he feels, his focus is not upon his own struggles. Rather, he views his struggles through the lens of God’s working out salvation in the life of the Corinthians believers. 

As pastors, we often have our own seasons of affliction. We can be tempted to turn inside ourselves when a disgruntled church member spreads gossip, a deacon undermines our leadership, or a matriarch questions our motives. 

I would urge pastors, though you face multiple afflictions, take heed to the words of Paul: “If we are afflicted, it is for [their] comfort and salvation,” (2 Cor 1:6). God’s means of spreading salvation is often through the afflictions of a pastor who is willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel. Pastor, your suffering for Christ’s church is never meaningless.

God’s means of spreading salvation is often through the afflictions of a pastor who is willing to suffer for the sake of the gospel. 

How can lengthy pastoral tenure strengthen churches?

1. Pastoral tenure produces a greater trust between pastor and congregation.

One of the most critical issues between a pastor and the congregation is trust. Trust is especially critical when significant changes within the ministry need to be made. There is typically a higher level of trust given to the pastor when he has walked with the congregation through difficult times. Those pastors are often given more leadership capital when it comes time to change some aspect of the ministry. 

2. Pastoral tenure develops greater effectiveness for outreach and evangelism.

A healthier church is a more vibrant church. A church that has a great deal of unity and is confident in their pastoral leadership exudes a certain quality of maturity that is attractive to those who are seeking after God. 

Paul often appealed to his own struggles in order to demonstrate his commitment to Christ. He hoped that his willingness to suffer for the gospel would compel others to be faithful in their witness to salvation through Christ. 

The pastor who matures through experiences of suffering will impress upon the congregation that one of our greatest witnesses is a deep faith that grounds us when others may be tempted to quit. 

Pastor, your suffering for Christ’s church is never meaningless.

3. Pastoral tenure helps establish ministry for the future generations.

The silent victims of a lack of pastoral tenure are the children within the church. When the church changes pastors every 2 to 4 years, the children are affected. They go from elementary through high school, go to college, and enter the workforce without ever being able to say that they had a pastor who has served as a mentor in their lives. 

This only promulgates the problem of “church-hopping.” Those children who have never had a pastor pour into their lives see no reason to seek a pastor when they become adults. “Church-hopping” becomes much easier to replicate when it is the model that has been set by the pastor. 

4. Pastoral tenure produces a greater joy in worship.

Long pastoral tenures tend to produce congregational unity. Granted, there are exceptions to this rule. But is there anything more joyful than a unified congregation that comes together to worship? 

A unified congregation walks with one another throughout the week as they seek to uplift each other through various struggles. They rejoice with one another as a new baby is born into the congregation or a young couple becomes engaged. The struggles and joys they share throughout the week come together in the moment when the people come before the Lord in unified worship. 

5. Pastoral tenure provides better opportunities for individual members to develop and use their gifts.

As a result of consistent leadership, people are more encouraged to serve. As a matter of fact, according to Ephesians 4:11-12, the pastor is a gift to the church for the express purpose of “equipping the saints for the work of service.”

The task of “equipping” is not an overnight sensation. Rather, it is a work that requires consistency. Let me encourage you, Pastor: stay the course. Finish the race. Fight the good fight. There is a crown laid up in heaven for you. Do not exchange eternal treasure for temporary pleasure. 

Dr. John B. Mann

Dr. John B. Mann is the Pastor of Gracepointe Church in Springtown, Texas, and an Adjunct Professor at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.