Pastors seem to be staying in their churches longer now than they did in previous generations.
That’s on purpose.
I know, because as of this month I’ve been ministering at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship for 26 years. When our family arrived here, our prayer was that the Lord would let us stay and plant roots.
Certainly there are challenges to staying so long in the same place. Keeping fresh, not settling in too comfortably, and not repeating the same ideas over and over are constant battles to fight against. (I address those in my follow-up article, The 5 Biggest Dangers Of Staying In A Long-Term Pastorate – And How To Avoid Them).
But if you can avoid those pitfalls, here are 8 advantages to investing a big chunk of our lives in one church body.
1. There are some lessons it takes a lifetime to learn – and teach
Recently I heard an art history expert say that the reason the great painters of history are called the “old masters” isn’t because they painted a long time ago, but because it takes decades to become great.
It’s the same in ministry.
When you move every few years, you never get past the preliminary stages of relationships and ministry.
It takes years, even decades to get into the truly deeper aspects of any discipline, including pastoral ministry.
2. You get to see generational results
Spiritual growth is long term. Not only is it about an eternity in heaven, it’s a about how we spend our lifetime here on earth – and how we affect the generations that come after us.
Spending decades of thriving ministry in the same place allows you to have that kind of long-term impact. Today, there are adults with kids in our church who were kids themselves when we started ministry here.
That kind of consistency creates a long-term impact, and it’s worth the time invested.
3. You can slow down a little
We live eight miles from Disneyland. For our tenth anniversary at the church, the congregation blessed our family with Disneyland passes for an entire year. The first time we used them, we did what we’d done at every previous Disney visit. We showed up early, ran to the best rides before the crowds showed up … and wore ourselves out in just a few hours.
Then we realized “Wait a minute! Why are we rushing? We have annual passes, and we live just a few miles away. We can come back whenever we want, so there’s no reason to rush.”
For the rest of the year, we’d head over for an evening, an afternoon, or just a couple hours to people-watch.
When you pastor a church for the long-term you can do the same. There’s no feeling of having to rush everything through and get it all done now.
When you’re expecting to be back next week, next month, next year and next decade you can take your time, build principle upon principle and work on strengthening relationships.
4. Longevity forces everyone to grow deeper
Preaching to the same congregation week after week for decades has its challenges. Like staying fresh.
But that’s a good challenge to face. We need to keep fresh anyway. It’s important to always be learning, growing and trying new things for our own personal and spiritual health, so being nudged into it by the fact that you have to preach again this Sunday helps you do what you should be doing anyway.
5. Consistency breeds trust and confidence
Gary Garcia and I have been together on the pastoral staff of this church for 26 years (he was here when I arrived). We’ve become “the guys who are still there.”
Even when people have moved away – either from the community, or just from the church – it’s interesting to see how much it means to people to come back and see the familiar faces of pastors they know and trust.
In the last few years we’ve had several experiences of people in crisis who didn’t know where to turn, but came knocking on our door – either at home or the church – wondering, hoping and praying that someone they knew would still be there for them to talk to.
Certainly, if we’d been gone there would be another pastor who could meet with them and help them. But the fact that we already knew them, their history, their family and their circumstance gave them a level of trust that helped us get to the meat of the issues, and find a place of hope and healing, in a way they had greater confidence in.
6. The church truly becomes family
It certainly is possible to love the people you’ve only been pastoring for a few years, or even a few months. But when you’re moving on to a new pastorate every couple of years, it’s not possible to truly become a spiritual family – at least not in anything but the “see you in heaven!” sense of that word.
A true sense of family in the church takes a long time to truly establish. But it’s worth it.
7. You get to outlive your critics – literally
There were some folks who really didn’t like the way I pastored when we showed up. And there have been a lot of folks come and go through the years with similar complaints.
Some of them were right, and I learned from them. Sometimes I was right and they either adapted or moved on.
After a few decades here, we still have the occasional disagreement. But now it’s almost always over with a conversation or two.
The chronic critics are gone. Either because they’ve moved on, or because we’ve become friends.
8. It gives you a perspective on what really matters
Remember when you were the new pastor and you had to go through three contentious board meetings and a congregational vote to replace the ugly carpet? Well, that carpet has been replaced twice since then without a ripple of concern.
Serving for decades in the same church changes your perspective on how much time and energy to give to petty disagreements like that.
Longevity builds trust, which gives people a better perspective on what does and doesn’t really matter.
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