Podcast Episode 14, 40 min
The Value Of Long-Term Pastorates with Rich Brown (EP 14)
Karl Vaters interviews Rich Brown, the author of Extended Stays: A Closer Look at Longer Pastorates. He has served for decades as a pastor and in Christian higher education. Currently he serves with IPM (Interim Pastor Ministries).

RB: As I’ve talked to young graduates, fresh out of seminary, they didn't care anything about longevity. They heard about how to candidate, they heard about how to put out their resume, but they didn't hear anything about how to stay longer.

KV: Hi, I'm Karl Vaters and I'm a small church pastor. And welcome to Can This Work in a Small Church?

My guest today is Rich Brown and the subject is long-term pastorates. Rich is the author of Extended Stays: A Closer Look at Longer Pastorates. He served for 24 years as a pastor. He's been in higher Christian education for 21 years and he serves currently with IPM— Interim Pastor Ministries.

In this conversation, Rich and I talk about the importance of long-term pastorates, why they're good for the church, why they're good for the pastor, and why they're good for the pastor's family and for the community that the church is called to reach. Don't forget to stick around when the interview is done. I'll come back with an overview of the content and an answer to the question “can this work in a small church?”

Before we get to the interview, one quick thing. In October 2021, we're holding our first ever support drive. Listen for more information about it at the break in the middle of the podcast, and now let's get to the content and an answer to the question “can this work in a small church?”

Welcome, Rich, to the podcast. I want to start with a simple question. You wrote a book and I read it a little while ago and really appreciated it—Extended Stays: A Closer Look at Longer Pastorates.

So how did you become interested enough in pastoral tenure to actually go through all the trouble of writing a very thorough book about it? You've got to be committed to a subject to write a book as thorough as your book is. So where did that idea and that passion come from?

RB: It started early in my own ministry life. You know, I looked at colleagues, I looked at friends, I looked at men I looked up to, I looked at the church at large. I looked at my denomination. And it just seemed like men were hopscotching around all the time. The back pages of our denominational magazine had transfers and changes and it was always a page or two long.

So I thought, i s this good? Is this right? Shouldn't shouldn't there be something different happening. So I started talking to pastors, interviewing them. I did some studying on my own. Anytime I picked up a book and read it, there was always a paragraph or two about longevity in there, but I didn't see much about longevity itself being tackled.

You see in my book that I quote a number of other resources, but they’re snippets here and there. And so I thought I'd try to pull it all together and make the case for longer pastorates that churches would become and pastors would become a bit more intentional. My first barrier, obstacle, to longer pastorates, is that we're just not aware of the benefits and churches aren't aware. And a lot of guys who ended up staying longer didn't quite know how it happened and churches sometimes don't know how it happens. And so I wanted to do something to encourage guys to stay longer, gals to stay longer and for churches to be a bit more intentional about longer patterns.

KV: Well, there's so many things in there that we'll get to unpack one piece at a time. There's so much in that from what are the obstacles? and what are the benefits? and so on. But before we get to that, are short-term pastorates normal?

They seem normal to me—that we run around really quickly. And almost every denomination that I am involved with has the same quick turnover or so it seems. So are short-term pastors the norm? If so, when and why did that happen?

RB: So my statistics showed that over 75% of churches have never had a pastor stay longer than 10 years.

KV: Okay. Pause for a minute because I remember reading that in the book and that was a big whoa moment for me. I knew it was bad, but I didn't know it was that bad. So say that again.

RB: 75% of churches have never had a pastor stay longer than 10 years and 20% have never had a pastor longer than five years. So that’s the malady of it all, that pastors aren't staying longer. And where did it start? You know I read an unpublished dissertation recently by a pastor here in Northern California who traces it back to the Great Awakening and the revivals in the 18th and 19th century, where size and size of crowd became a measurement for success.

KV: Interesting.

RB: Previously, it was longevity. I mean, the graduates from Yale—the statistic that I have in my book, that graduates from some of the seminaries of the east back in the 18th century, they stayed 30 plus years, or they were expected to stay a lifetime in their ministries.

So it may go back that far. Obviously there are denominations that popped up in America where they're circuit riding pastors or they changed every three years by design. And then more recently the church growth movement, as good as it is for America and for the American church, had some downsides to it, emphases, in my lifetime, in the American church, allowed men to begin thinking, you know, I need to find a place where I'll grow, where I can grow a church.

And there was a scramble to find that next place wher e this is where it's going to happen. In my own denomination, there was a double in a decade emphasis. And so I saw guys, you know, bail out of the smaller church, bail out of the rural church, try to go to a place that seemed more likely than not to grow. That combined with the fact that we hear very little about this in our seminaries, ministry training, or education institutions.

As I talked to young men, fresh out of seminary, they didn't hear anything about longevity. They heard about how to candidate, they heard about how to put out their resume, but they didn't hear anything about how to stay longer.

Denominational leaders—there's this mindset that you put a young guy in a church and then in a couple of years, he earns some stripes and makes some mistakes. And so it's time to move them up the ladder or to move him on.

KV: So you can either go deeper or you can go somewhere else.

RB: Yeah, Karl, it’s what James Glass talks about—the ecclesiastical hippy model of pastoral ministry—where the hippy brings his bag of sermons, his programs, his way of doing things, which is about a two or three year lifespan, and does it in a particular church. And when he's done, he picks up and moves to the next church and unloads his bag at the next church. And then after a couple of years, picks that up and moves on.

There's another model that he uses called the professional model. And this is where he takes words that pastors are sometimes known for saying like, well, I've done everything I can in this church. And so I'm going to move on to another.

And he takes those words and puts them in the mouth of a doctor who says , well, I've helped about as many people as I can in this location. I'm going to move to another location. that just sounds silly coming from a doctor or a teacher or any other professional that you can imagine. They feel like they’ve fulfilled, done enough, helped enough. And so they're going to move on to another place.

KV: It's interesting because obviously the contrast is there intentionally between the professional model and the ecclesiastical hippy. Those are intentionally contrasting metaphors that he uses and they ended up with the same results. Yeah. Either way

RB: And so that's kind of built into the mentality that there's this career path that begins with a smaller church for a few years. And what I've found, Karl, is that that early pattern. That if you're at that first church for a couple of years and you don't learn to work through some stuff—sure you're going to make mistakes and you may have to move on—but that early pattern of three or four or five years, you go to the next church and there's an ecclesiastical ceiling as it were, you hit the three, four five-year mark. You've been there, done that. So you're going to repeat it again in your life.

And I've found that in any number of interviews I’ve had with men that they started out with short-term pastorates and never quit short-term pastorates.

KV: It's like what we do in the early years of ministry builds muscle memory. And if we get into the pattern of moving a lot, we stay in the pattern of moving a lot. Does that seem to be what you found?

RB: Right. Right. In fact, I talked to a pastor who was in his late sixties in Northern Minnesota. I sat in his living room one wintry day, snow blowing outside, and we talked about his own lifetime of ministry, just a string of short-term pastorates. I don't think he was anywhere longer than five years.

And, in sadness, he talked about the wear and tear it was on himself, on his wife, on his finances, on his family, on the churches he served. And he wished he'd had established early on in his career what it takes, that muscle memory that you mentioned, to stay longer.

KV: But like you say it isn't taught, is it? We hear a lot about, you know, how to pastor, how to preach.

And like you said, we hear, you know, how to put out a resume, how to candidate for a congregation in denominations that do that. And of course other denominations people are placed by a bishop or someone else, depending on your denominational tradition. But there really is very, very little taught about, or even an awareness of, the importance of longevity.

So why would you seek something that you don't even—you've never even heard matters?

RB: The church growth and the church size and the career path tenants of what you hear in seminary, leave out some of the biblical principles that I talk about: relationships and reconciliation. Relationships are the strength, and can be the weakness, but they're also the strength of the smaller church. And relationships across the board—large churches, small churches—that piece, sometimes we don't bring to the table. We bring church growth and success and numbers. But we don't value relationships.

KV: Yeah. As you're saying this, it feels to me like what's happened in professional sports in the last hundred years. I'm in my sixties, but I'm still not old enough to remember—I can barely remember back in the sixties that there were a lot of players who went to a team and they were on that team forever.

Now, some of that was because they were held captive by improper payment systems and all that I get that, you know, free agency brought freedom to a lot of people who were underpaid and so on for a lot of years. I get that.

But nevertheless, way back then there was a sense of loyalty of a city to a team, not simply because the team bore the name of that city, but because the actual players would be there for an entire career. And today that has really shifted to where the jump happens real quick, and the idea of a player serving on a team for their entire careers as now, is something so rare as to make headlines.

And it feels very similar to me, that kind of a shift.

RB: So, I'm a fan of a particular baseball team that just acquired Anthony Rizzo a t the trade deadline, and it's really sparked the team and they're doing very, very well, but the bottom line for sports is winning. It's not the relationships. You ask yourself—what business is the church in?

The church is in the business of relationships: first vertical, second horizontal. And if you're in the business of growth, that's a whole different country you're living in when it comes to pastoral ministry.

KV: Yeah, it's a big difference. So we've talked about long-term pastorates. So one thing I've noticed we haven't done, and I know you do well in your book, is we haven't defined what makes a pastorate short-term and what makes a pastorate long-term.

So let's talk about that. We don't know if we've stayed long-term if we don't know what long-term means. So what is it we're aiming for here?

RB: I quote a number of sources that talk about what long and short might mean. And I arrived at nine years. That would be considered long-term. Short-term was anybody who hadn't stayed longer than five years or a church that hadn't had a pastor stayed longer than five years in the last three pastorates.

And pretty, pretty steady down through the decades has been between four and five years has been the average.

KV: With that idea, though, is there a time when short is good? When somebody does go in for a particularly short period of time? I know there are some because you address that in chapter three. And then one of the things I really love, many things I love about your book Extended Stays is you don't shy away from even the downside of the thing you're promoting.

For instance, in chapter four, you talk about the actual downsides of long-term pastoring. But before that in chapter three, you do talk about, there are certain situations where short is good, where somebody goes in for a period of time where they have a particular assignment, that assignment gets done quickly and then they go.

If you're doing it in the ecclesiastical, hippy, or the professional model way, then you've got a problem. But there may be somebody who's actually called to that. Can you talk through some of that? The intentional short-term?

RB: Yeah. As you mentioned, sometimes there's a specific task that can be accomplished. It might be a building. It might be a turnaround of some kind. Sometimes the church just needs a fresh start, a fresh face, and that person can come in. I have known church planters as well, which would be a specific task that could be accomplished. They go in and plant a church and sometimes church planters aren't built for the long-term. So they plant that church and then move on.

I personally, in my own ministry have benefited from three different church planters who blessed me with a church. They planted that church and then moved on and left it for someone who is much longer term. An advantage if you will, is, that pastor can experience new challenges. They feel refreshed when they move to a new church.

Now, obviously, the counter to that in my mind would be can they find new challenges where they are? And stay longer?

KV: Yeah.

RB: Tongue in cheek. I say, you know, churches that turn over pastors a lot, get used to having a lot of potlucks, you know, welcoming the new guy in, ushering the old guy out. And they become very good at that. In fact, one church I talked with said, we have had more fellowships as a church together in these turnover of pastors, which is a sad commentary, frankly, but that can be one of the “advantages.”

KV: Yeah. Would it be safe to say that while there may be—and I believe there are some pastors who are called to short-term ministry because they're going in to do specific tasks. so short-term could be a calling for a pastor—but having a series of constantly short term pastorates is probably never a call for a local congregation? Is there any circumstance in which that kind of turnover is healthy for a local congregation?

RB: I visited with one leadership in a church that was known for having short=term pastors. And they had developed a self-image that said, we're just this small church in rural America. And we're the first stop for a person out of college or seminary to kind of get their feet wet, make some mistakes, and then move on to better things.

And they had, while they didn't like that assignment, over time, they had accepted it and it had kind of become their identity. And that was not good for the church in the long run. Ultimately, they had a long-term pastor—I tell his story in the book—and how it changed that church dramatically.

KV: Yeah, I think the default needs to be long-term. I think it has to happen for the church and it ought to be the default for pastors. There will be a handful of pastors who are called to do short-term ministry.

In fact, one of them will be the intentional interim, and you're a part of Interim Pastor Ministry ministry, which the podcast that will follow yours is with Tom Harris, who you work with and who heads that up. So we'll be talking at length about the specific call of interim pastor ministry. And in fact, how in that ministry, you guys train people to do that well, to help both the church and the pastor to do that well. But aside from a very specific calling like that, we ought to understand the long-term is the default.


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KV: What are some of the benefits to the pastor and to the congregation of long-term? You list a ton of them. So give us just a quick flyover of a couple of benefits, both to the church and to the pastor, of staying long-term.

RB: Well, I think there's a community identity. The community gets to know the pastor, the pastor gets to know the community. It takes what, six or seven years for that to really happen. First couple of years of getting to know the church. And then in the next two or three years, they get to know the community.

I think stability of programs, you know, on the one hand, some people say, well, with the turnover of pastors, we get a refresh of programs, but the problem with that is there's no continuity. There's no momentum built. So with long-term there's momentum built for those programs that a pastor might bring.

I think long-term benefit is financially for the pastor. He's not constantly moving, changing the stability, for his family personally. His family is not moving all the time. I talked with one pastor, a short-term pastor who hadn't pastored longer than five years, and he deeply regretted the upset to his wife moving all the time. So stability for the family would be another advantage.

I think depth of program. I think spiritual formation of the people. Sometimes, when a pastor moves all the time and a church experiences short-term pastorates, he comes in and believes that he has to begin preaching the basics to the church again.

Oftentimes, you know, you hear pastors come in and their first sermon series is Ephesians to help people understand about the church. Well, if you have a constant turnover of pastors, how many sermons on Ephesians are they going to hear? And consequently, what the depth of sermons is the pastor going to preach if he’s moving every three or four years and re-preaching that sermon series on Ephesians.

So there's spiritual formation that happens. And I think one of the deepest ideas that I came across in all of this is that where the pastor pastors a church, that is his place of spiritual formation, he doesn't cut and run when things get hot in the kitchen. You know, he stays and practices what he preaches to his people out of James 1 about embracing problems as friends and learning to grow. So those are some of the advantages that come to mind.

KV: Yeah. Years ago I heard somebody talk about—they used the phrase, “pastors need to learn to transition without relocation.”

I thought that was a great way of phrasing it really simply. We can transition. We can grow, we can develop, we can get stronger in our faith. We don't have to go to a new place in order to have a spiritual growth transition in our lives. And the longer we stay, the deeper we can go. I've found that to be true in my own circumstance as well.

If I'd been changing churches every few years—it doesn't force you to grow. You can repeat the same stuff over again. It's not healthy for anybody.

Now. One of the questions that came up with me even as I was reading your book and then you came to answer it, but you actually took two chapters in your book to answer the question I had, which was—why aren't we better at this? What are some of the obstacles to long-term?

I've got the page open here at the end of the strategies chapter where you actually go through the list of seven of them. So I'm going to give each of them to you real quickly. And you give me a quick explanation of what this means. It's almost like an early lightning round from your own book here.

So, you call them seven obstacles to longevity. Just give us a quick fly over each of them. The first obstacle you list is lack of awareness.

RB: Across the board—pastor, church, denomination leader, educational institutions are not aware of the harm and the help that can come from long-term pastorates and short term pastorates. Just not aware.

KV: Go it. Second obstacle to longevity you list is lack of personal growth.

RB: The pastor who's continually moving is not growing. He's maybe learning some lessons, but there's not the opportunity to grow deeper in his own awareness of himself.

KV: Which leads to number three, lack of self-understanding.

RB: Yeah. Some pastors are not aware of how they respond to change, how they respond to challenge, how they respond to conflict. And not aware of their own tendencies that may be to cut and run.

Or may be to respond to pressure in ways that unintentionally shorten his pastorate. So they're not aware of their own tendencies,

KV: Which again, segues to number four: mismanagement of conflict.

RB: Church doesn't know how to handle conflict. Pastor doesn't know how to handle conflict, doesn't know his conflict style, and consequently, the church blows up or disintegrates.

KV: Number five: inadequate pastor-people relationship.

RB: The support of the church for the pastor. There are a lot of churches that are so attentive to the pastor when he first comes—help him move into the house, stock the shelves. Once he gets there, the attention to his needs, of his family, I recommend some kind of pastor-parish committee outside of the governing board that pays attention to their pastor. They don't take care of that pastor.

KV: Yeah, I have noticed a lot of pastors will leave just simply because they feel beaten up by the congregation. It's like, I'm tired of this. The challenge becomes if we don't know how to transition well, we end up moving from one bad situation to a different situation. And now we've compounded it by the move, which destabilizes things even more.

Number six is one we talked about earlier at the very beginning of this: faulty early patterns, the idea that if you transition a lot at the beginning, it just becomes part of your DNA. Right?

RB: Right.

KV: And, and then the last one that you mentioned is unsatisfactory pastoral transitions, which I thought was really interesting. Unpack that for us a little bit.

RB: Well, I take a whole chapter in my book, as you know, talking about this obstacle, and strategies for developing healthy transitions. Oftentimes, if a pastor leaves a church and it's not necessarily a happy or healthy leaving, they're really anxious to find their next guy quickly. And there are issues in the church that need to be addressed, things that need to be changed, adjusted. And they move too quickly to find the new pastor before they're healthier, happier, safer, and stronger for him.

KV: And then you do walk through strategies that addresses each one of these. So, you know, the lack of awareness you've walked through how to increase awareness. You walk through how to have a plan for personal growth, how to improve your conflict management, how to deepen self understanding. I love that you offer seven very real challenges. You offer seven very practical solutions to it. And then, like I say, an entire chapter on that last piece about doing pastoral transition better, including the intention, which again, we'll be talking about on the next podcast with your friend, our friend, Tom Harris.

Let's take a couple minutes to end on this. We don't need to spend a whole lot of time going specifically for the small church because all of this applies to small churches, but let's go a little specific on it.

Are there particular challenges that small churches especially face in, one, the need for long-term pastorates? And why is it that so many small churches seem not to have a long-term pastorate, but seem to have such transition? Is there a dynamic about the small church that has special challenges?

RB: I think an obvious one is finances.

Men often, unfortunately, leave a church because they need to support their family as their family grows. Secondly, some smaller churches have accepted the fact that they're just a stepping stone church for the guy to come in and he's going to go somewhere else when this doesn't satisfy him.

I came across a denomination that studied the longevity of their smaller rural churches. The average length of stay in those churches was 33 months.

KV: 33 months. So less than three years.

RB: In this particular denomination, that led them to say that if a person is born into a church, by the time they're 18, they've had six or seven pastors. That statistic alone says something to you about the challenge of a smaller church.

KV: Yeah. So, what then would be some of the advantages of a long-term stay in a smaller church? Let's look at it in three ways: for the church, for the pastor and the pastor's family, and for the community.

So, first of all, what are some of the advantages of a long-term stay in a smaller church for the church inself?

RB: I think programming for one, usually the pastor comes with his own program. Like an offensive coordinator who is hired every other year for a quarterback, he has to learn new plays and a new system. So I think first of all, you know, long-term programs.

I think the image and the community. I’ve talked to people who said, people in the community are saying, “oh, who's your pastor now?”

The idea is that there's this turnover and the community learns not to trust that church, as well as the pastor doesn't develop the kind of stability in the community that affords them the opportunity to serve the community in maybe civic roles or in other ministries in the larger community,

KV: The congregation that I've been in now for 29 years, when I first came, they had been through five pastors in the previous 10 years.

And so it took longer than usual for me to establish myself in the congregation, to earn their trust, to put out a big picture mission, vision, idea, let’s do this big project together—because they'd had five pastors in 10 years, all of them come in with big ideas only to leave the church before the big idea was barely lifted off the ground.

So I walked in and I saw a congregation that was exhausted, and I didn't even try to launch anything big because I looked at it and went, it's not going to stick. This soil is hard. And so we had to spend some time and it had to be time. One, I had to be trustworthy. Two, I had to do good pastoral work. But three, I had to do it for a very, very long time because nothing short of six or seven years minimum was going to change their attitude about it and go, oh, he might actually stick around.

In fact, I remember it was at about the seven year point that I proposed changing the name of the church because we had a bad reputation in the community. That name was connected with a pastoral scandal and pastoral transition and everything else. And it was like , okay, we've been here long enough now let's change the name. Let's launch it as a fresh start.

And I heard from senior members of the congregation that their kids who are now adults were saying, “really? Changing the name? Another pastor with another idea.” They had to remind them, “he's been here seven years.”

Like even at seven years, they were still under the impression that they were the place that people came and left really quickly.

And only after saying, “it’s seven years,” they went, it really has been seven years. Okay. Maybe now we can.

And seven was bare minimum. I was barely under the wire of trustworthiness there because of the constant transition thing. And in a smaller congregation that, like you said earlier, that really does then go to self identity as well. Doesn’t it?

RB: Yeah. I talked with one long-term pastor actually, who went to a short-term church. And after four years he sensed they were starting to withdraw from him. And some even were bolded up to say are, “when are you moving on?”

KV: Wow.

RB: That was their expectation. And he had to tell them, “I'm not moving on. I'm not moving on.”

KV: I've actually, because I've counseled couples who, if one or both of them come from homes where they experienced abandonment by one or both parents or by one parent who had multiple marriages and so on, they get to a certain point in their own marriage. And the longevity actually starts to scare them because they think—there's a subconscious thing that triggers them. This is the time dad left.

And the same thing can happen in a church, can’t it? It becomes a collective trauma that the church experiences and the only way to heal it is for us to work together with God, to find a place where God has called us for the long-term and then stay through the long-term through the difficulties.

And I remember very clearly that there was a point where we went through a very difficult season in the church after my first three or four years there, and I didn't jump and run, I didn't leave. And the fact that we had a hard season and I just simply stayed through it, I made a lot of mistakes through the hard season, but the fact that I was still there at the end of the hardest season, made everybody look around and go, oh, I guess he is serious. He is going to stay. So, that I did well or poorly was secondary to the fact that I stayed. That is the power of longevity, isn’t it?

RB: Yeah, exactly. And a lot of churches either have never experienced it or are not aware that that’s what’s waiting for them.

KV: Yeah. And a lot of pastors haven't recognized that staying—having a difficult season doesn't mean you cut and run. It's just like any marriage: for better or for worse. Now we're not married to the church. It is not a lifetime commitment that you must fulfill, but there is a parallel to that. When we stick with them through a difficult season, even if we make mistakes during the difficult season, the commitment of staying builds trust that allows you to build something else on it, doesn’t it?

RB: Right. I think I tell the story of Lief Anderson, who, after a couple of years, wasn't allowed to change something in the order of service, but 10 years later, they allowed him to redesign the front platform of the new building they were building. Trust. You build trust.

KV: Yeah. Yeah. And there are a lot of hurting churches out there. We want to look at them and we go, well, that church is stuck and we blame that church. But a lot of times they just simply need the tender, loving care of a long-term pastor who will walk with them through some very, very difficult seasons. And in many cases, the pastor themselves needs to see that they can walk through some difficult seasons and stick it out and do spiritual and emotional transitions in their own life without relocating. And at the end of it, look back at it together and say, we did this together. We accomplished this.

And then through that, it provides a foundation that the Lord can really build some wonderful things on. I think the bottom line is we don't stick around long enough in a lot of situations to see the long-term positive results that the Lord really wants to do to congregations.

RB: And in the pastor, what the Lord wants to do in the pastor as well.

KV: And the pastor's family and the community that they're ministering to. Right? It benefits everybody when it's done well. Yeah. I love it.

I appreciate all of this, but even though you've done well, you are still sentenced to undergo what everyone I interview is sentenced to undergo. And that is the lightning round questions.

So are you ready?

RB: I'm ready to go.

KV: Alrighty. Question number one. What are the biggest changes you've seen in your field of ministry in the last few years? And how have you adapted to it?

RB: I think—obviously my last 21 years plus have been in higher education, but before that I was a pastor. But over the years, I've seen a growing awareness, in fact, as I've talked about this topic and presented on it, I've had guys come up to me five,10 years later and say, “Hey, thanks for that. It helped me stay where I was and stay longer.”

So perhaps there's a trend it may have to do with the market. It may have to do with spouses working. It may have to do with maybe better awareness of better pay, but I see that as something that's good. I think more is being written about the smaller church.

There was a time when the demise of the smaller church was announced by some national figures. And I think we've now realized that that's not going to happen and books like The Forgotten Church, the stuff that you're doing, Karl, books, like Turnaround Strategies for the Smaller Church by Crandall . . .

KV: Yeah, I’ve got a shelf now. I wrote my first book because I couldn't find any. And now in the last eight to nine years, I've got a shelf of them. So there, there is a lot more being written.

RB: Yeah. There's one called Transforming Church in Rural America by O’Dell . . .

KV: Yep.

RB: . . . with the whole satellite dish thing that was really interesting. So I see the growing awareness, I guess, is what I'm saying in smaller churches about staying longer. And for 25 years or more growth was the mark of success in a church. And I think that we need to redefine success more in terms of the relationships / reconciliation piece that I talk about as a biblical principle to think about in terms of longevity.

KV: Yeah, which is still growth. It's just not numerical growth. There's numerical growth, spiritual growth, emotional growth. Right. And we've concentrated only on the numerical. When we say the word growth, we just assume the term numerical.

Okay. Question number two, what free resource like an app or a website has helped you lately that you'd recommend for small church ministry?

RB: I'll plug you again, anything you've written.

There's a website from Fuller Seminary called Growing Young, and I think a lot of smaller churches tend to get old and they need to figure ways to embrace, attract a younger audience and anything from Fuller, the Growing Young Institute and the Growing Young Inventory, which is free on the website. That's helpful.

KV: Oh, that’s great.

RB: I think Church Revitalization in Rural America by Cheyney is helpful. Small Church Checkup by Kotan and Schroeder, and then Leading the Small Church by Daman.

KV: Great. Yeah. A couple of resources I hadn't been aware of. We'll make sure we put all of those in the show notes for folks. That's great.

Next one, what's the best piece of ministry advice you've ever received?

RB: It was in a book by Laos Shaller called Change Agent, which is what every pastor is. Right?

And what he said was, “it is not the change that will kill you. It is the transition.”

There are a lot of pastors who come up with some great ideas, but they don't know how to get from here to there. And they don't know how to take their people there. And it's the transition that kills them in the process.

In one of the churches I pastored back when small groups were not as accepted as they are today, it took me two years to transition the church to small groups midweek, but we got there, but it's the transition that will kill you in spite of how great the change may be.

KV: Oh, that's great.

That reminds me of when people ask me—now that we can start traveling again, who knows how long that’s going to last—now they ask me, “do you like the traveling?”

My answer is always, “I like the being there. I don't like the getting there”.

RB: Yep.

KV: And that's exactly what that is. It's the same thing. The being in the new place is not the problem. The getting to the new place is where the challenge is.

RB: And one of the things I learned about longevity is that the profile of a pastor who tends to be short term is that they are impatient for change in the church. And that can drive them away.

KV: Which then perpetuates itself because the church that goes through continual short-term pastors, like the congregation I came to, then takes longer to change because they're gun shy.

RB: They're resistant. Sure.

KV: Yeah, absolutely. All right. Last question. What's the funniest or weirdest thing you've ever seen in church?

RB: Late in my years of ministry, it was an interim pastorate that I had in the Las Vegas area. We used churchstaffing.com as one of our places to find resumes. And one of the cover letters of one of the resumes, this person presented themselves as the perfect match, the perfect fit for this particular pastorate of a conservative evangelical church in Las Vegas area. And he touted himself as being the perfect fit because he was the founder and president of a Las Vegas wedding chapel.

KV: Wow.

RB: So, obviously, he didn’t make the cut.

KV: Oh my goodness. “I'm familiar with buildings of this shape” is basically what he was saying.

RB: Right. “I know the organ music.”

KV: That's amazing. Well, hey, thanks for that. That's great.

Hey, how can people find you online if they need more information? Obviously I highly recommend Extended Stays, your book, Extended Stays: A Closer Look at Longer Pastorates.

But how else can people find you if they need any more information from you?

RB: The best way is through Interim Pastor Ministries. They have a website: https://interimpastors.com/. And my personal email address: Rich@interimpastors.com.

KV: Right, and like we said, we're going to talk to Tom Harris specifically about the importance of interim pastoring, how you guys train interim pastors, how you guys work with churches to prepare themselves during the interim to be the kind of church that somebody wants to stay long-term at. So we're talking about real, practical solutions to the subjects we're discussing today.

Thank you so much. I really appreciate your time, Rich.

RB: Karl, thanks.

KV: I am so glad that people like Rich are finally talking about the issue of long-term pastorates and they're offering practical solutions that challenge and help to fix this revolving door that is hurting so many people when churches are constantly going through pastors. And when pastors are constantly going through churches.

One more time, I highly recommend getting Rich's book Extended Stays. It's helpful for churches that can't seem to keep a pastor, it's helpful for pastors that can't figure out how to stick anywhere. And I think it's really helpful for leaders who oversee a group of churches, like in a denomination or a particular region, if you're constantly dealing with the turnover that happens within churches and with pastors. If you want to help the pastors and churches you work with, I highly recommend Rich's book. It's so practical. It's so helpful. And it offers so many solutions. And get ahold of Rich as well if you need some help with that.

So, can this work in a small church? Is there a place for long-term pastorates in small churches and could it in fact help what's often chronically wrong with a lot of small churches and the challenges that they go through?

Yeah, the answer is a big yes this time.

Here's a couple of reasons why, yes, this can work in a small church, if we do a few things. First of all, we need to recognize the reasons why short-term stays can be problematic. As he said, one of the first things is self-awareness. We don't even know this is a problem, or we don't know why this is a problem. And so you can't fix something if you don't know that it's a problem.

Secondly, if we can offer and receive biblical training on how to make long-term stays effective for everyone. We don't want to overstay our welcome. And we want to be trained on how to transition properly while we are in a long-term pastorate, which leads to, I think the third big point, which is we need to figure out how to transition without relocation. As pastors, we need to figure out how to dig deep, how to walk our congregations through difficult seasons to the other side of it, because just the staying with it builds so much trust. We've got to learn how to go deeper in relationships, how to go deeper in our teaching, how to make disciples. And none of that can be done with a quick in and out.

We've got to figure out how to stay longer in churches. I know it's challenging in a smaller congregation, as Rich said, one of the initial challenges is the financial. Which I think is why the Lord is raising up a new generation of bi-vocational pastors who can come in and who don't have the financial burden, and so they can stay longer for it.

If that's you, I really encourage you to go deeper into this, to seek what it's like to have a longer term pastorate. It's going to be a blessing for the pastor, for the family, for the church,. and for the people we're trying to reach.

And don't forget, October 2021 is our first ever support drive. Check out the link in the show notes, or go to KarlVaters.com/support to help us keep these resources coming to those who need them the most. If you want a transcript of this episode, it will be available within a few days of the podcast air date at christianitytoday.com/Karl-Vaters.

You can find the link in the show notes. This episode was produced and edited by Veronica Beaver. Original theme music was written and performed by Jack Wilkins of JackWilkinsMusic.com. The podcast logo is by Solomon Joy of joyetic.com. And me? I'm Karl Vaters, and I'm a small church pastor.

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