One staple of pastoral ministry is this business of tenure. Early on in my first pastorate a layman in my church commented on the pastor of another church, “They liked to never got him out…”, a crude way of saying that the pastor, according to the church members he talked to, stayed too long. A pastor I know is going through some considerable difficulty. He has been at his church for around eight years, which is above the average. Is it time for his tenure to start wrapping up?
I was once asked, “Haven’t you been at that church long enough?”, a question I answered in the negative but which got my attention.
How long is too long? Tough to say. Differs with the particular situation.
Here are a few people who have tried to approach an answer to the question:
10 Signs the Pastor or Church Employee Has Been There Too Long; this is Joe McKeever, one of the best people I’ve read on such subjects. Note number ten: they’re willing to destroy the church in order to hold on to their position. We’ve seen that one. All ten of McKeever’s signs ring true to me.
7 Ways God May Tell A Pastor To Leave a Church; This makes the error of, seems to me, assuming the pastor is golden and the church trash. Every situation is mixed though some may be heavily weighted by an especially toxic church or flawed pastor.
9 Reasons Some Pastors Stay Too Long; Chuch Lawless of SEBTS has this. I don’t dispute any of these although there’s no checklist that determines if the pastor has stayed too long.
There are many more. The phrase “just hanging on” is troublesome in this context.
We’re deep into subjective stuff here, brethren and sistren. There is no bishop to move us around. The surest way to know it’s time to leave is if the church fires you.
I’m drawn to little things here.
- the pastor who has been around for a long time and seems to always include something in his sermon, the text or subject doesn’t matter, about events decades ago. The value of hearing the pastor’s ‘how we left family, loaded our U-Haul, and went to seminary years ago’ loses value after the first few tellings.
- repeating the same sermons, illustrations, or personal anecdotes
Most church people who are attuned to things and attend regularly know it when they see it.
Manifestly, denominational workers, entity heads, DOMs, and other non-church employees stay too long. I know that when I see it.