I’m starting my 21st year as pastor of First Baptist Church, O’Fallon, IL. We celebrated my 20 year anniversary with a reception, some ice cream (woo hoo!) and thoughtful cards and gifts. It has me thinking about the value of longevity for pastors.
Let’s face it. Some pastorates are short term for good reason. Sometimes the fit doesn’t work. Sometimes financial limitations or inflexibility or unwillingness to play nice ends relationships. Staying long term isn’t always best for the church or the pastor. I get that. But let me offer some suggestions about the benefits of long term pastorates for those who can make it work.
1. It builds trust. Pastors, can I tell you a good way to build trust with your congregation? Be trustworthy. Earth shattering advice from Captain Obvious, I know. But building trust over a long time carries great benefits for the church and the work of the kingdom. The church of America sorely needs that kind of trust-building today. Perhaps the trustworthiness you exhibit as a long time pastor will carry dividends for the church long after you are gone.
2. It builds love. It is great to love your church and to be loved by your church. After you have been in a place as long as I have, you know they are imperfect as people and they know you are imperfect as a pastor! But when you love each other even though you know those weaknesses- well, that is a deeper kind of love. I love my church in a richer way now than I could 20 years ago. We love each other though we may not always fully agree and know the idiosyncrasies and foibles of each other. That is a rich sort of love and benefits the church and the kingdom.
3. It builds churches. Churches have a tendency to grow when pastors stay long term. It might have something to do with the trust and love mentioned earlier. It might be that they are willing to think long term instead of short term. It might be that they have a deeper understanding of the community and her needs. It might be that they can focus on outreach and not just on fighting each other.
Here is what I know after 20 years. I am praying and believing that our greatest days as a church are still to come. I’m praying for a great vision for the next 20 years and beyond. And I’m thankful for the opportunities that come as a long term pastor.