Some time ago, I posted, “Ten Factors that Help Long-Term Pastors Stay at Their Church.” Since that time, I’ve also worked with declining churches whose pastors have, in my opinion, stayed too long in their current place of service. Here are some of the clues that move my thinking in that direction:
- The church is in continual decline, and the pastor always blames the congregation. I know there are many troubled churches–and decline cannot be attributed to only one cause–but long-term pastors leading churches into decline must take some responsibility for the problem.
- The pastor no longer has vision for the church; he lives in survival mode. Everything is about paying the next bill and getting through next Sunday. Any sense of future life is long gone.
- If anyone would offer the pastor a new job, he’d likely take it. He might even be looking, but few churches want to interview a leader whose church is in constant decline. If they do talk with him and he blames the church, they have even more reason to discontinue the process.
- The church has lost any sense of passion for what they do. Often, a church in a state of decline follows the lead of the long-term pastor into pessimism and hopelessness. Nobody takes needed steps toward change because everybody’s just tired of the struggle.
- The only people left in the church are long-termers who will die as members of the church. They don’t like what’s happening to their church, but they’re also not moving their membership. They’ll wait out this pastor like they’ve waited out others.
- Paying the bills takes priority over everything else. As the church declines and givers decrease, the bills nevertheless remain the same. This problem is especially acute if the church is still making building and property payments.
- The pastor is willing to let the church die on his watch. You’d hope that would not be the case, but I’ve seen it happen. The pastor guides the ship to its death and blames the congregation all the way.
Leaving a declining church is seldom easy for a pastor, however. Nobody wants to feel like he is “abandoning the ship,” and no pastor wants to look back on a seemingly failed ministry. Rather than condemn any pastor, let’s pray for all pastors today who may be wondering about God’s will for their lives.