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Home > 2013 > April Online Only > Just Ten More Years …

Twenty people assembled on the faded tile floor of an aging school gym. We were a wobbly church plant, launching a congregation we hoped would blossom in our budding suburb of Bloomingdale, Illinois. This facility was our only rental option in a new community short on assembly spaces. I wondered to myself (never to our flock of course) if our group would grow and ever worship in a more appealing place. Not having to drag in our equipment every weekend, or wonder if the janitor had remembered to turn the heat up this week would be nice too.

One day in those early months of our church plant, I attended a pastors' conference. An older pastor made a passionate pitch for pastors to make a long-term commitment to the congregations they serve. "Be the faithful shepherd to the church you serve right now" he said. "Make it a goal to stay at your first church for at least 10 years."

Ten years seemed like a really long time then, especially since I was only 25. As I sat there, I wondered, If I do stay, will we still be meeting in the gym 10 years from now? Do I have the endurance and the skill to lead us for that long? But in spite of my doubts, the "stay-10-years" challenge inspired me.

It also seemed to make a lot of practical sense. Ten years would be enough time to grow the congregation, forge caring relationships, and begin to raise up a sturdy lay leadership. Ten years would be enough time to cultivate a good reputation for the church in our community. Ten years in the same place would also foster a more stable life for my family.

So, my wife Marina and I stayed. For ten years … and then some.

Long-term benefits

Of course it hasn't always been easy. There have been tough seasons. Some issues intensify in the longer pastorate.

For me, staying personally healthy and keeping our church moving forward in its mission over the years has required me to rethink my leadership style more than once. The changing phases of a church's size and life-stage demand this flexibility. The take-charge, pioneering mentality that works for a church planter usually does not continue to work well in a young congregation that has formulated its own DNA and is growing strong lay leaders. Pastors must adapt their leadership styles in order to lead well in the same church as it changes size and develops.

Staying in the same church long-term has also forced me to challenge my assumptions about ministry. I've had to learn how to navigate change and our church's growing pains. Never learned about that in seminary.

For example, the multiple building projects we've undertaken have taught me how to get people to see the need, settle on a shared plan, practice tangible faith, sacrifice as a community, and then endure that unpredictable, protracted stage called "the construction phase." Thankfully, our church did make it out of that old school gym … before it was bulldozed for a super-sized drug store. In that first decade our congregation built a sanctuary.

Many years after that first project, I can point to pastoral battle scars as a survivor of four church building programs. They have been worth it, though they probably took longer than they should have, cost more than I wanted to believe they would, consumed more energy than I wanted to give them, and served as a public means of my personal sanctification.

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Related Topics:AmbitionPerseverancePurposeRenewal
Posted: April 1, 2013

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Displaying 1–4 of 4 comments

Randal Kay

April 05, 2013  2:08pm

I have prayed, since the Lord called me into ministry that I would be one of those pastors who stayed long and watched generations, (physically and spiritually) grow and flourish. Having been part of a church plant (9 years) and now being part of a church where I had served as youth pastor (1977-1982) I have been back here for over 15 years. Sometimes I would if I should move on, and yet there are blessings and some painful departures, which made me glad I have stayed and learned more of God's grace. Will I be here 20 more years (I would be 77) I don't know, but I am willing to listen and stay of God desires. Thanks for the encouragement not to give in or give up too early! May God bless you for your faithfulness to His flock.

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Karl Anderson

April 02, 2013  3:50pm

It's wonderful that you were able to stay in the same congregation for twenty years. Yet I see many assumptions here that need to be challenged. First, the entire argument for a long term tenure is built entirely on pragmatism. If it works it must be good. What is the Scriptural foundation? I don't see either short or long tenure prescribed in Scripture. Second, the needs of the church at large are ignored. I know of no army in the world where officers are assigned to the same unit for their entire career. Some denominations make it a policy that pastors are re-assigned every three to five years so that the ministry is built upon doctrine and practice, not upon a single leader's personality. Third, as congregations mature and as pastors mature their needs and abilities change. Part of a good denominational leader's job is to play matchmaker, putting together congregations and pastors in the right combination to facilitate the most effective current, short term and long term ministry.

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April 02, 2013  3:31pm

Lots of humility in that post. That's the key to the long term success - listening and caring and humility.

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Kristin Ruther

April 02, 2013  2:08pm

Kudos! Great article on endurance and calling. Wished Aspen could have been part of your building journey, but God directed you in other ways. Enjoyed this short read.

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