10 Factors that Help Long-term Pastors Stay at Their Church

In my second pastorate, I stayed at the church for just over eleven years. At the time, more than a decade at one church was almost unheard of. I’ve paid attention since then to pastors who stay at their church for at least ten years, and here are some traits I’ve seen in these pastors:

  1. They cannot deny their calling to that church. In some cases, the calling was so dramatic that the pastors could not ignore it. In other cases, the calling itself was not so dramatic – but the pastors know in their hearts that they are where God wants them to be.
  2. They learn not to get focused on the loud, but few, voices. Veteran pastors have learned that the opposition may be louder than it is widespread. Loud voices often die down when they learn they have little support.  
  3. They build a strong team around them. A great staff and strong, supportive lay leaders are usually enough to keep pastors focused even when difficulties develop.
  4. They leave work at the church as much as possible. Ministry is not an 8-5 job, of course, but these pastors have learned how to let their burdens go as much as possible when they come home.
  5. They make sure they’re serving through their giftedness. That is, they do whatever they most love to do in ministry while not neglecting tasks that don’t bring them as much joy.
  6. They love to preach the Word. It’s amazing how many headaches go away when a preacher gets to preach the Word – and that responsibility comes around again every weekend.  
  7. They realize that many conflicts are temporary. The fire that seems so large and hot today is often gone tomorrow as long as you don’t keep fueling it.
  8. They live in the Word and pray a lot. That sounds far too basic, but it’s reality: pastors who are faithful in their spiritual disciplines don’t give up easily. They keep an eternal focus on their work. 
  9. They put wise boundaries around their life. They don’t make dumb choices that make them vulnerable to sin. They have accountability in their lives. Their tenure in one church is connected to their commitment to godly living.
  10. They learn to laugh in ministry. The work of ministry is intense, but it’s often funny, too. When pastors stop laughing, they’ve lost some of the joy that compels them to stay faithful.

What other traits would you add to this list? 

15 Comments

  • Ted Schroder says:

    Chuck, This is a good list. I am in my 17th year and spent 14 years in my last church. I would add: 1. More can be accomplished over the long term than in the short term. 2. Choose which battles are worth fighting. 3. Be gracious and give others space to use their gifts. 4. The parable of the sower reminds us that our task is to keep sowing the Word and leave the results to the Lord. Not all hearts will receive it. 5. Lead a balanced life between work and rest. Don’t feel that you have to be needed all the time. Don’t be a hand holder. You are not to be an enabler or the answer to all problems. 6. Practice benign neglect by not allowing some issues or problem people to preoccupy you. Let them wither from inattention. 7. Guard your prayer and study habits. Make prayer central and a first priority. Read, read, read deeply and widely so your preaching is fresh and interesting. You will be respected for your devotion and your depth of insight. 8. Maintain your passion and zeal for the Gospel. Ted Schroder

  • Seth Polk says:

    This is a great word Dr. Lawless. I’m in year 15 in my current pastorate. God has been gracious to me. #s 1,6, 8 and 9 have kept me anchored.

  • Charles Frazier says:

    Thank you Dr. Lawless for writing this article. I have been at my current church for 12 years. God has blessed in so many ways. This year, I have been reading the Word aloud in my devotions. Seeing and Hearing the Word is a new experience that God is using.

  • Mark says:

    After 12 years where I am now and 20+ years as a pastor I am still learning in many of these areas. I think #4 may still be one of my greatest struggles. Thank you for your encouragement and challenge.

  • When they find a note left on the podium, or slid under their office door, the FIRST thing they look for is to see whether or not it is signed. If so, read on, but if not, it goes to the round file unread.

  • Mike Routt says:

    “If you will be a servant to these people today, and serve them, and answer them, and speak good words to them, then they will be your servants forever.” I Kings 12:7

  • Donna lobs says:

    My husband has been a priest for 49 years. Your list nails it and Ted Schroeder has added much of value as well. As a clergy wife,let me say how important our support is for the ministry to flourish. It may be old fashioned but I have always believed the clergy wife needs to be a partner in sharing and discerning Gods call to a new church. And I have found God calls “out”as well as “to”
    Yes Damon, toss correspondence unread that is anonymous.

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