UPDATED: Listen to the podcast episode about this post.

For more than two decades I have studied, contemplated, and written about the tenure of a pastor. Why is pastoral tenure relatively brief on the average? Does that tenure contain common and distinct stages? Is there a particular point in the tenure when more pastors leave the church?

The more I study the phenomenon of pastoral tenure, the more I am convinced there are distinct stages with clear characteristics. Certainly I understand that there are numbers of exceptions to my delineations. I am also fully aware that the years I designate for each stage are not precise.

Nevertheless, I have some level of confidence in my findings. Though I have attempted to name the stages in the past, I offer in this article the “why” behind each stage.

  • Year 1: Honeymoon. Both pastor and church have a blank slate and they enter the relationship hoping and believing the best about each other. Perhaps the pastor was weary of his previous pastorate, and perhaps the church was happy to replace their former pastor. For a season, neither can do wrong in the other’s eyes. That season does not usually last long.
  • Years 2 and 3: Conflicts and Challenges. No pastor is perfect. No church is perfect. Each party discovers the imperfections after a few months. Like a newlywed couple, they began to have their differences after a while. The spiritual health of both the pastor and the church will likely determine the severity of the conflicts and challenges.
  • Years 4 and 5. Crossroads, Part 1. This period is one of the most critical in the relationship. If the conflict was severe, the pastor will likely leave or be forced out. Indeed, these years, four and five, are the most common years when a pastor leaves a church. On the other hand, if the pastor and the church manage their relationship well, they can often look forward to some of the best years ahead.
  • Years 6 to 10: Fruit and Harvest. My research is not complete, but it’s more than anecdotal. A church is likely to experience some of its best years, by almost any metrics, during this period of a pastor’s tenure. Indeed, in my interviews with both pastors and members, I have heard this theme repeated. Both parties have worked through the tough times. They now trust each other and love each other more deeply.
  • Years 11 and beyond: Crossroads, Part 2. During the first crossroads era, the pastor decides to stay or leave. Or the congregations may make the decision. During this relatively rare tenure beyond ten years, the pastor himself will go down one of two paths. He will be reinvigorated as a leader and ready to tackle new challenges and cast new visions. Or he will be resistant to the change around him, and then become complacent. I have seen both extremes, but I am still struggling to understand why pastors go down one path versus the other.

Pastoral tenure matters. It is far too short in many churches. I do think it is critical for us to understand tenure, because the health of the church is directly impacted by it. I will continue to study the issue and report to you as I have more pertinent information.

So what do you think of these stages of pastoral tenure? What has your experience shown?


  1. says

    You are right on target with these stages. I’m in my 24th year and my ministry @ Bethany has followed that pattern.
    My tenure is directly connected to our prayer ministry too. When people are praying for you, it’s hard to take up an offence against you.

    • S. A. Morrison says

      Dr. Rainer,
      I must let you know that you are a great inspiration to me. I do read your articles very frequently. However, this is my first time to reply. I do believe that pastoral tenure is very important to any local church. I am going into my 22nd. year as the senior pastor of the local church. I have gone through all the stages you’ve mentioned, with the exception of the honeymoon. When I took over the pastorate the church was going through a difficult time. Therefore, the environment did not lend itself for a honey-moon. Nevertheless, The Lord helped me to weathered the storms. I have shown love, and has give leadership to the people, as best as I could. Despite those who may have put up some form of resistance. Within my 4th year I was able to lead the church in an aggressive and successful building program. The Lord helped us and we acquired a new property, sold the old building; did a massive renovation on the newly acquired building and within 5 years burned the mortgage. During this time I have seen tremendous increase in every area of the the church. God has given me some of the greatest praying people, and I love God’s people! It’s good to stay the course!

  2. Ben Creedy says

    I think you’re right. As a lay person, I’ve thought a lot about what the body can do to influence pastoral tenure. It seems to me that things like regular words of encouragement, frequent prayer for the pastor, acts of service for the pastor and his family and actually following his spiritual leadership with a joyful heart goes a long way. What else can the lay body do?

  3. Nancy says

    I love the content of your articles. However, I wonder why your pronoun use regarding pastors is always male. Is there a reason for this?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Nancy –

      Thank you for your kind words. I love the people who come to this blog. They represent men and women from a wide variety of doctrinal positions. I love the diverse interaction. Regarding my use of masculine pronouns, I hold to a complementarian view regarding the senior pastor. You and others disagree with me, but we can still dialogue and benefit from each other.

      • Terry Addis says

        Elpha, does the scripture you refer to from Timothy also disqualify an unmarried/single man from ministry? It would seem to based on your interpretation as a man must be the husband of one wife. Or is it perhaps that it speaks against polygamy, which was common in many cultures during those times?

        As per the article, the perspective is right on. I am in that first year honeymoon stage and enjoying the freshness and excitement of the potential. But having been through this journey before, I know that this phase will fade into the challenges of leaving the honeymoon period in order to establish a relationship that allows me to effectively lead the congregation forward.

  4. Lynn Gray says

    These seem spot on to me. My pastor is in his 2nd year with us and we have seen much conflict and a church spilt (three of our six deacons have left the body recently).

    However in the midst of this turmoil The Lord is still saving the lost, the Bible is being taught faithfully and new families continue to visit with us with some joining.

    • Mark Santillanes says

      That is exactly what happened to the church that I pastor, except the timing for the church split was at year 4 to 5. I am praying that we start to see fruit in year 6. Although I do not wish for any church or pastor to go through a church split, I am thankful for those who have experienced it because it shows that our church is not alone. May the Lord bless your ministry Dr. Rainer.

  5. Don Goforth says

    I’m now beginning my 12th year and with the exception of the honeymoon phase, which I didn’t have at all because of conflicts which came to the surface when I arrived, you’re right on target. We just baptized about 20 new members of all ages this year and received about 10 transfers. I’m now working at leading our 140 year old church into another phase emphasizing discipleship so we can continue to grow closer to God and fulfill our mission of reaching the lost. Thanks for the encouragement.

    • Thom Rainer says

      It is so refreshing and exciting to hear what God is doing in faithful ministries like yours. Thanks Don.

  6. says

    I think this is basically accurate. I wouldn’t want to put hard numbers on the years. My honeymoon period has tended to last longer than a year – even up to 5 years in my church plant. My last church I was there nearly 11 years and was at a crossroads when this new call came through. Have often wondered what would have happened had I stayed…yet love what I am doing now a lot!

  7. Loren Hicks says

    I completely agree with your assessment Thom. I too, am interested in pastoral tenure and wrote my MA thesis on the topic. As a pastor I have walked through the stages you described and am currently in my 8th year of pastoring an 89 year old church. Each stage has its challenges, but it’s good right now to be in the “fruit and harvest stage!” :) Love your blog!

  8. says

    Just finishing the 9 year mark at my church. My journey closely mirrors your list. It is also interesting that I find myself asking the “what’s next” question a lot.

    In addition to my personal journey, both my kids are now in college. That also has a bearing on “taking stock” of my life and ministry.

  9. says

    In my case, the honeymoon lasted about three years!! Add two years to every stage and that is where we are. At the crossroads phase, we began to truly cry out to God. Our prayer life took on a new life and God worked through that to take us to the next stage – fruit and harvest. We have seen so many people begin to follow Jesus in these past two years it has been remarkable!! I have been here nearly 10 years now and God is not finished yet!! I give him all glory and honor and praise!!

  10. Danny Gilliam says

    I really enjoyed this post and I believe it is very accurate. I wonder how the tenure of previous pastors affect those who follow. I was at my last church 10 years making me one of the, if not the, longest tenured pastors (the church was about 80 years old). I could tell at certain stages people kept “expecting” me to leave because it had become a part of the DNA of the church (or so I felt). Your thoughts?
    Thanks for all the encouraging articles you write.

    • Jennifer Taylor says

      My husband just resigned his first pastorate after 7 1/2 years. The church was 15 years old when we arrived and my husband was their 5th pastor. Some of the members never accepted us and others kept expecting us to leave. None of the previous pastors stayed longer than three years. It seemed we could not get past the conflicts stage. The stress of little to no followship eventually took it’s toll.

      • Ken says

        I’m sorry you and your husband had to go through that. However, it’s good that he “broke the mold” by sticking it out as long as he did. Maybe he’s helped pave the way for future success. My cousin is pastor of a church in Mississippi that’s known quite a bit of tension, and his two predecessors (one of whom is a friend of mine) really had their hands full. By the time my cousin became pastor of that church, the people were tired of the fighting and ready to get on with ministry. As a result, the church has seen fantastic growth. My cousin remains humble about it, though, and gives much of the credit to the work of his predecessors. As I said, maybe your husband paved the way for some future victories.

  11. Scott Hughes says

    Dr Thom,
    Very interesting article and I must say I have followed every single milestone you have identified. I just celebrated my tenth anniversary as pastor at Lakewood and was here for a year prior to that as minster of music. It has been a rewarding journey and I am so grateful for the tenure. However, that crossroads of the eleventh year is rearing its head. Currently praying for clarity of vision concerning a building program. Also, and most of all, praying for an outpourining of the Holy Spirit bringing new vision and joy. Please pray for us here at Lakewood as I know you are familiar with the ministry here. Blessings! And so thankful for your ministry.

  12. says

    As I long back on my 24 years as founding pastor, I can see (more or less) 7 year increments–both for my tenure and the development of the ministry. The first 7 years was highly evangelistic and entroprenurial. The second 7 was about organizing… This is the final block of time–succession to the next generation of leaders.

  13. Darrin says

    Good stuff, Thom! I would add that whatever you “plant” in years 1-3 will determine if you have a righteous harvest after 5 years. It’s easy to get stuck in the weeds after the honeymoon. Weeds lead to more weeds. And that becomes the downfall of many pastors.

  14. says

    Two questions on the above:
    1. Have you noticed any margin of error for church location? I.e. would this be different in a rural ministry vs. a suburban?
    2. What does it say about a pastor / church / ministry if they’ve moved through the first 5 years as described, but years 6-10 aren’t marked by much fruit and harvest? I suppose this assumes that “fruit and harvest” can be measured by conversions / baptisms, so did you have something else in mind?

    Full disclosure: I’m 7.5 years in my current (and 1st) pastorate

    • Thom Rainer says

      Aaron –

      Because my research is not precisely data-based, I’m reticent to respond to your questions of specificity. Regarding the Fruit and Harvest stage, I am indeed referring to metrics that can be measured such as attendance, giving, or conversions. But I am also referring to more subjective matters such as church unity, worship spirit, and selflessness.

      • Charlie McClelland says

        I am in my 23rd year here. The church is in a rural setting with an aging and declining population. While the visible metrics are discouraging, our congregation has grown more loving, open and supportive. In addition, we have moved from a teacher led Bible study to where each member reads seven chapters from the Bible each week and we bring our observations, questions and applications to share with the group.

        I struggle with the lack of new believers, yet am encouraged to see even 80+ year old believers grow in knowledge of Christ through personal study of the Bible, and experience the Holy Spirit shaping their attitudes and behavior.

  15. Peggy Ross says

    Our pastor and wife has been with us for 36 years and going strong.
    He is such a wonderful; man of God who preaches the
    word WITHOUT compromise. He not only preaches the word
    he lives the word. His ministry has touched and helped so
    many people to come to the Lord. You will not find him out
    golfing or fishing (not that there is anything wrong with these)
    you will find him seeking the face of God, fasting, and praying.
    I thank God for a pastor who challenges you with the word of God
    to move closer, examine yourself in the light of God’s word, to become
    a greater light and witness to those around us. There are
    so many more wonderful things I could say I will conclude with
    we are a blessed congregation.
    to have him.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Peggy –

      You are indeed blessed to have him and his wife serving your church. And your pastor is blessed to have you in the church.

  16. says

    I find your blogs very interesting. My ministry has passed through several stages similar to what you outline. Of course, there is no rigid structure in ministry or in marriage but generally speaking similar events will occur in every ministry. Right now, I’m in my thirty-six year honeymoon stage lasted three or four years. As time went by my wife and I settled roots in the community that have helped to keep us in place during the crossroads periods. There certainly have been more than two crossroads periods in my ministry and I sometimes considered moving on but chose to remain in place and make every effort to grow in grace and the knowledge of the Lord. I study more now than I ever have in my ministry because I want to be certain that the sermons I have left are real food for the soul. I pray for, and look for, leaders who will be sound emotionally and spiritually in order to take the church on after I’m gone.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Waylen –

      Incredible! 36 years. I salute you, sir, for your faithful ministry. And I am humbled that a hero of the faith like you would read my blog.

  17. Aaron Davenport says

    Have you noticed any difference in these stages between new pastors at established churches versus churc planting pastors starting new churches? And also if there are any differences between churches with a plurality of eders versus having a senior pastor over deacons?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Aaron –

      Again, because my research is subjective rather than data-based, I am
      reticent to make any conclusions about subset churches.

  18. Gary Showalter Jr. says

    I am seeing this right now. I just began pastoring a church that just meets for worship. I can tell its a honeymoon because in the 6 weeks me and my wife have been there, they have agreed to start Sunday School and people have stepped up to teach. The church has not done Sunday School in over 4 years, and most of the ones attending dont remember it. But I am anxious to see how it all plays out because the church has hit the ground running and planning events for evangelism and discipleship.

  19. says

    I think these stages are as accurate as any. But they are useless unless they are useful.

    (That just sort of popped out and no, I don’t really know what that means. But I’ll take a stab at it…)

    They are a little like the Beatitudes. They’re road signs indicating where you are, and useful when acted upon. If your stages are used when analyzing a ministry .. and more importantly, for making corrections, then they are useful. Otherwise, they’re just interesting, and even if correct, don’t necessarily apply to any particular individual pastor.

    One other thing … “complacency” might not be the condition of being complacent … it might well be a turning of a pastor’s interest to preservation of the institution, rather than being an organism effecting change in people’s lives.

  20. Ben Jameson says

    I just completed my 8th year at our church. My 5th and 6th years were brutal but only because of a few. I recently had one of those people come to me seeking forgiveness and now our church is doing great and I’m excited about the future. Thanks for your blogs. They always help me.

  21. James Hill says

    This is a really interesting read and I can see these patterns in my ministry. In year 5 in the present appointment with a few more years to go. It’s challenging but very exciting as well and encouraging to see God moving in the church. Thanks for your helpful and always timely posts.

  22. Bobby Blasingame says

    I enjoy reading your posts. I would love to see how you think this carries over into other pastoral ministry positions. Worship Pastors, Students Pastors, Associate Pastors and the like. I know most of your posts and readers are likely Senior Pastors, but what about the other pastors in the church? Is this list and some of your other posts pretty applicable to those pastors or do you think that changes depending on the role?

    • Thom Rainer says

      Bobby –

      This post is specifically about pastors, but I have addressed other staff positions in previous posts.

  23. Hope Deferred says

    Thom – excellent article. I’ve been at my church for almost 14 years. The church is nearly 180 years old and I am the longest serving pastor in its history. Our primary growth actually happened in the first four years. The last 3 years have been totally stagnant with just a few conversions (mostly from children of families within the church – a blessing to be sure – but we’re not impacting our community). Just over a couple years ago (at about 11 years in… after leading the church thru a new church building campaign), I felt totally re-energized with a fresh vision to take our more formal, traditional, and “fundamentalist” church to a more casual and blended ministry approach with the driving passion to see our church make a greater impact for the gospel and see more of our community come to know Christ as Saviour, grow as disciples, and selflessly serve our community. The last two+ years have been a constant spiritual battle with discouragement and despair as the church resists all attempts at change and any efforts to self-evaluate and address our spiritual lethargy and apathy. I honestly didn’t realize how entrenched some of our traditions, programs, & philosophies were to our church family. Definitely at a crucial crossroads. I feel like a failure. It has been too long since I or our church has borne any significant spiritual fruit, and as the pastor (right or wrong) I personalize and internalize the blame for that. It seems no matter what I say (in preaching, leadership meetings, or personal conversations), or how much I pray and plead with God to work in my life and in our church for His glory… nothing happens. I am so broken I don’t want to just leave this church, I want out of ministry. I had bold dreams of faith when I entered the ministry. Now all I have is a nightmare of regret and failures. Sorry to be the voice of gloom in this thread. Trust me, I never wanted to be “that” guy. You don’t have to post this and you probably shouldn’t. Not sure others really need to see or hear my public humiliation and personal pity party. You don’t need to either, Thom. Sorry. I just needed to vent. I’m at a point where my faith isn’t just shaken, it’s shattered. I had bold dreams of faith when I entered the ministry. Now all I have is a nightmare of regrets and failures. Hope deferred has left my heart sick… sick of ministry… sick of trying… sick of church. I’m sorry. I’ll stop now.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Hope Deferred –

      I hurt for you. I pray that, since you know you can’t do anything about your situation, God will intervene in a powerful and evident. Hope is not lost and God is not done with you. I am praying right now.

    • Jouneying says

      Hope Deferred,
      As I was reading your post, my heart truly hurt for you. I too am going through the same struggle. I left my church after much tears and prayer. My heart longs to return but I know that God will provide the desires of my heart. I had to realize that the church is not what makes me. As pastor I gave all I had to the church and left nothing on the table! When I left I too thought that I would just get out of the ministry. It has been five months now. I would like to say that all is well but it is not. This journey is very hard. Many days I just cry in my office alone. I know I am not alone but the hurt is that deep. One morning I decided that it was time to start again. I bought a new Bible and started reading in Genesis. As I read, I watched God move among his creation. I just finished 2 Kings and God is still moving. God has reminded me that He was with me before the church and will be with me after the church. I know this sounds so simple but until someone goes down this journey they will never understand the truth of this journey. I still cry and hurt but I know that God is not finished with me yet.
      I have learned through this journey that ministry is not where the church is but where God is with me. The church is not what makes me what I am, God does! Do not give up on ministry for this is what God has called you to. The church was where he had you serve for a season. Where will your God journey take you next?
      Thom please feel free to give Hope Deferred my email.

  24. Allen Calkins says

    Lyle Schaller talks about pastorates as chapters pastors are writing in a book. Chapters have different lengths. And they play a different role in the overall story of the book and the development of the plot. It is important for a pastor to know what the storyline is of his particular chapter and how it relates overall book. It is also important to complete the chapter whenever possible for the benefit of the pastor and the church. And when it seems the current chapter is wrapping up, it is important for the pastor to consider what the NEXT chapter needs to be about and whether he should be the one to write it. I have always found that analogy helpful in considering whether to stay or leave and how long to ‘hang in there’ or ‘hang on’.

  25. Dennis says

    I enjoy your writing and observations on the church and pastors even when I don’t agree. This is one of those “don’t agree” times. My experience, and observations, have seen the greatest fruit in the first 4 to 5 years and many who stay 10 or more seem to flatline for a long time. I am currently in year 8 and have experienced the greatest resistance pushback to the vision and mission of the church in the past year and a half. I am certainly evaluating whether I am to stay or go.

    Thanks for all you do for pastors and churches.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Dennis –

      What I love about this blog is the quality of readers like you. You readers, for the most part, have great discussions, and when you disagree with me or each other, you don’t do so in a disagreeable manner. In this case I have subjective data that points to one pattern. You have experiences that point to another.

      Thanks to you Dennis and all the readers of this blog who respond in a Christ-like manner.

  26. Jerry Schoenenberger says

    Good article. Entering my 14th year as pastor of this, my first church, I have experienced all those stages. I started as pulpit supply here when I was 55 years old. Called by folks whose pastor resigned suddenly for health reasons, and some had left the church because of personality conflicts. There were a couple of times I had to deal with individuals who were not willing to submit to pastoral leadership, but as a result of dealing with them, the church was strengthened. In an ideal world, a pastor wouldn’t have those experiences, but we know that can’t happen. I have to confess, I have arrived at a point where I am not as “gung-ho” about the work as I once was, but I can’t imagine life without the opportunity to proclaim the gospel Sunday morning, and lead a couple of Bible studies during the week. Thanks for your insight into these issues.

  27. Jan says

    I believe the stages you listed are fairly on target.
    But the fruit part I’m not sure I agree with. Communities and ministries are different.
    We are in an upper income hippie community. They are liberal, highly educated, most having several degrees, and seeking meaning through eastern religions, even ones I’ve never heard of like “Baab”.
    So, how do you quantify fruit? It’s taken us (my husband is pastor) 10 years to build any kind of trust in our community. We’ve faced much opposition to the gospel and to anything Christian at all. And our community is 1% churched.
    I get a little I hesitate to say disgusted, but it leans that way, with simplistic answers to how to reach unbelievers, fruit and what a “successful” church is defined as. I think really it comes down to, faithfulness to our calling, despite trials. I don’t think there are enough pastors committed to staying even if things go beyond tough. We are at the only church in our town of 2000, in a valley of 20,000. The average pastor has stayed a total of 2 years (since the 1960″s) and we have been her the longest. No wonder it’s taken 10 years for people to trust us. One woman told me that she hadn’t visited church because she was watching us to see when / if we would leave.

    • David says

      Those in Athens on Mars Hill needs to hear the Gospel as well. Acts 17. Your light is shining in the darkness and it cannot be hid. You are more productive than what you might realize. “The entrance of the word gives light.” Keep Shining!!!

      • Mark Santillanes says

        Hi David,
        I agree with you. Lately I have been questioning the “fruitfulness” of the church I Pastor. I have been teaching through 1 and 2 Kings. I noticed that Elijah was extremely discouraged after the Lord’s victory on Mt. Carmel when nothing really changed with Ahab and Jezebel. Then I started to think about John the Baptist (we are all familiar with the connection between Elijah and John the Baptist). Then I realized how John had doubts and discouragements when he saw little change (ie Herod et al). However, we must remember Jesus’ opinion of John as the greatest man (obviously apart from Himself). John had very “little” fruit and the Jews did not receive Jesus as a whole. So, if we look at two spiritual heavyweights (we can also look at Jeremiah), and see the lack of fruit (numbers) in their ministries, but then take in to effect how Jesus looks at them, it is quite encouraging. God bless!

    • Charlie McClelland says

      While the details of our community are different, my experience is similar to yours. I have struggled against what I call the “success trap.” Modern ministry is similar to a selling job. The payoff is in the sales made. The assumption is the sales are all related to the skill of the salesman.

      It seems to me that both Jesus and Paul experienced a fundamentally different reality. While Jesus fed thousands, there were only 120 in the upper room at the beginning of Acts. I think ministry should be compared more to picking fruit, than to selling. A fruit picker does not create the fruit, he simply finds the fruit. Given the same level of fruit on the tree, the amount in the basket is reflective of the skill of the picker. However, if there is not much fruit, even the fastest picker will have trouble filling the basket.

      God seems to be the one who calls people to Himself through the foolishness of preaching. As Paul writes, “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. And who is equal to such a task?” (2 Corinthians 2:15–16, NIV)

      Faithfulness does not always result in conversions, sometimes is results in condemnation as Jesus said, “Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe stands condemned already because they have not believed in the name of God’s one and only Son.” (John 3:18, NIV)

      Not a fun job, but many of the Old Testament prophets drew the same task.

  28. J. Ricardo Smith says

    Thank you for this Dr. Rainer! As I am half-way through my second year, this appears to be EXACTLY where we are as a church. I believed the honeymoon period would be extended, but as we continue to grow spiritually and numerically, growing pains have presented themselves. What has helped us tremendously is your “I Am A Church Member” writing. We ran out of books for the class and had to get more. These weeks have been a turning point for our church and prayerfully, we will move past the minor and minuscule conflicts and challenges. You don’t know how much you are helping churches everywhere!

  29. Mahlon Smith says

    Dear Thom: I trust your research and I think you’re pretty much on target. I had pastored for five years at my first church and experienced that crossroads, which God used to lead me to the church I am pastoring. I have been pastoring this church for nearly 3 years and hope for many more. Your insights bear out in my experience and I hope and pray for a long tenure. Question: Do you think the lack of long tenures in many of our churches is among the number one reasons for the decline of the American church? Thanks.

    • Thom Rainer says

      Thanks Mahlon –

      I do indeed think short pastoral tenure is a major factor in the poor health of many churches.

      • David says

        I do believe God does call some for shorter term ministry than others. But I believe most to longer term than what they stay. I was taught it takes about 5 years just to get to know your community (more city than rural). Get to know your people – then get to know your city. May the world around you become your parish. We shepherd the city not just the church.

      • Charlie McClelland says

        I know Paul was not a “pastor,” but he seemed to have a fruitful ministry with short tenures. I wonder if we have the cart before the horse. Our conversation reflects a cause and effect from the pastor to the church. I wonder if it isn’t possible the people cause the tenure, not the other way around. Or maybe both.

        I have known what I consider good pastors who have been abused by churches, and I have seen what I consider good churches abused by pastors.

        Rules of thumb are useful only when they support our conclusion.

        Visible metrics are attractive even if they have no relationship in the cause and effect.

        There is a possibility that something like “pastoral tenure” is more a coincidence rather than a cause.

        • Hal says

          None of us these days are really apostles, as Paul was. His ministry was unique–missionary and church planter. He planted, others watered and cultivated. As pastors, our ministries are more like the ministries of OT prophets, some of whom served for decades. And usually they saw little to be excited about during their ministries.

          One thing is certain: long term pastorates tend to bring stability to the church and community that short term pastorates cannot. While the world measures success in the superficial currency of numbers, the Bible calls for faithfulness.

          • Ken says

            Are there legitimate reasons for short-term pastorates? Yes, I believe so. Sometimes the circumstances are beyond a pastor’s control, and as one poster pointed out, God calls some pastors to lead the church through a transitional stage and prepare them for greater things. However, short-term pastorates can easily become a cop-out. Many pastors turn tail and seek greener pastures when they run out of sermons or when the honeymoon stage ends. Problems crop up in every pastorate, and you have to be willing to face them.

            I think Adrian Rogers said it best: “When you go to a new church, go for life. God may move you, but you plan on being there for life.” If God really is leading you to a new pastorate or ministry, then you don’t have to justify yourself to me or anyone else. Just make sure you’re following His will and not your own.

  30. says

    One thing I’ve seen that can greatly affect the “honeymoon” period is whether one is following a greatly beloved pastor or one is following someone the church had issues with. It doesn’t always follow this pattern, but often the “honeymoon” of a new pastor following a beloved pastor can be quite brief. On the other hand, when the new pastor is replacing one the church was glad to see leave, they may breathe one long collective sign of relief and have a peaceful period that makes for a much longer “honeymoon”.

  31. Jason says

    Reading your article, I too recognized these patterns or stages. However, having this knowledge now; do you feel that these stages are par for the course or that having this knowledge might help pastors and boards to find ways through these stages and on to greater things?

  32. Phil Wages says

    Dr. Rainer,

    I’ve been at my church 2 1/2 years and really need to read this post. I’m exactly where you say I am! :-) It has definitely been a time of challenges and conflicts. I had heard about these stages before but couldn’t find anything on the net to read. I appreciate you sharing. I’m grateful to read this. The first inclination is to run or become apathetic but I know that won’t accomplish anything. Thanks again.

  33. Kirk Olsen says

    Amazing post / blog, I play on the worship team my church that I got to say this is the best insight about pastors and their lives I’ve ever seen.
    A couple things I have noticed in the past few years. Pasters are some of the hardest working and underpaid people in our nation. Of late I’m learning about ” church culture” I feel very sorry for the pastor “hope deferred” Church has become an insidious click within its walls of the building, no room for a new searching seeking people… Shouldn’t all church be set up for unchurched people?

    • Charlie McClelland says

      I have always struggled with the conflicting needs of evangelism and discipleship. When I was a sales manager, we had two completely different meetings, one was a recruitment meeting attended by prospective sales representatives. The goal of this meeting was to get them to join our team.

      Much more time was spent on training meetings. These were open to new hires, but the goal was to help sales representatives sell more product. If the existing reps sold more, recruiting was far easier. Translating to church, Evangelism, like prospecting for sales, takes place where (prospects) sinners live, not necessarily in the worship service(training meeting). Discipleship should help believers live obedient lives. If this happens they will love each other more and love lost people more. This will help draw them to Christ. I never saw anyone make a sale in a training meeting. But the training meetings sometimes helped make sales.

      If lost people are attracted for any reason but the cross of Christ, there is a danger they will be addicted to an idol not the living Christ. However, idol worship in any form may create a packed house.

  34. Kendrick Palmer says

    Rainer, I am in my fifth year as pastor of my first pastorate. Indeed, this is a critical point in ministry for me personally as well as for the church. I am in prayer while standing at my crossroads, mainly due to things revealed prior to this pastorate and prior to accepting the call to the ministry of Christ. So I am grateful for your research because it has encouraged me to seek God’s guidance during this time. Thank you

  35. says

    Wow. Thanks Thom for the accurate insight. I’m a church planter in year 4 and we have just come through a really rough season after the first 2-3 years seemed almost easy in comparison. I have been long term in every position I have ever held, but recently wondered if there was an easier job out there. We are trying to stay strong and ride the wave as we have seen God do so much already. We are looking forward to an even more fruitful season ahead. Your article really helps confirm that we are not necessarily crazy or failing when these stages play out.

    God Bless! This was a huge encouragement to me today!

    • Ken says

      @Joshua: I felt that way when I was a seminary student and heard “horror stories” from professors and student pastors. A friend of mine said it well: if God has called you, you’ll be fine (you’ll still have difficulties, but He’ll take care of you). If He hasn’t called you, get out while you can!

  36. J. Michael Palmer says

    I came into my current church and there was already much conflict. My honeymoon was over after months. The call of God has sustained over the years; there were many times I wanted to quit. Thanks be unto the Lord for His faithfulness. I had THREE periods of unbelievable heaviness and stress which lasted for a good while. We have gone through three different sets of people and have grown a more gospel centered people (still MUCH more to do). After my twenty – fifth year I have announced that I will leave next year. The process has already begun to call another pastor. I will leave still wanting to “lead the charge”. But I also leave with the greatest satisfaction knowing that the Lord God has done some supernatural things over the years in people’s lives. And I leave knowing that the church is prepared for the next chapter of its life. There are many benefits to staying the course. Yes, I have wondered what might have been elsewhere etc. The crisis times haved aged me more than I would have liked. Would I do it again, YES, I had no choice. God called. And I am so glad He did. When people know that you are there because of the call of God and not their opinion of you that frees you up to speak the truth in love.

  37. Ken says

    I think your article is pretty much on target. I was in my first pastorate eleven years. After five years I was ready to bail out, but I’m glad I didn’t, because the next five years were some of my best. I’ve been in my second and current pastorate six years. The first two years were great, but the next three years had a lot of setbacks and trials. However, I’m starting to see things turn around now. The Lord’s been answering a lot of prayers!

  38. Jeff says

    I really enjoy reading you blog. I have generally found the timeline you present to be accurate. I have a question though. In my current ministry it seems as cross roads part 1 is taking a bit longer. There is little conflict between congregation and staff. However, it has been openly stated by some leaders within the congregation that there is a lack of trust in the my motives and methods to reach the community. This has driven me to my knees and although I love my congregation and community I am wondering if the door may be closing here.
    My question is what happens if you never leave the crossroads.

  39. says

    I am in year 6 as a bi-vocational pastor. This year has been a good year for our church. It has been a record year in financial giving. Although our overall attendance has not increased on Sunday, we have had several guests who have come to the church. The overall atmosphere is encouraging. One member even describes it as “hitting the sweet spot” right now. So, from personal experience, I fully identify with your observations.

  40. says

    I am praising God that I and the church I am currently serving have broken the mold. I have been here for two years and God is doing some amazing things in our presence on a weekly basis. Both myself and the church have had times of trials with others in the ministry but with that behind us it seems like we were both ready to focus on what God wanted from us instead of the distractions Satan was causing around us. Let me say though in my last ministry you were dead on target with the 5 stages. I would be interested in knowing if you have done this study with a regional mindset. I have pastored in two major South East cities, one suburb and one deep in the country church. I loved each and every church God has allowed me to serve but there was one that still haunts me a little…

  41. Dan Korzep says

    I see a lot of churches get trapped in years two and three. They go back and forth between honeymoon and years two and three. They never get out of the box. The pastor is forced out. The church starts over again. Everyone blames the former pastor because he is no longer on the scene. And for now there is peace in the church. I was forced out of a church plant after three years. In their minds the church was not growing fast enough. So it had to be my fault. It seems to me that Satan attacks at year two to three for a very good reason. If the pastor and church develop a good and lasting relationship this is an asset to God’s kingdom. In other words, the church’s ministry become a serious threat to satan’s work.

    • Charlie McClelland says

      I wonder if you put your finger on the real problem–not Satan, but our “expectations.” We view church growth in attendance and offerings as if it was in holy scripture. It seems to me that given Paul’s use of the “body” and “family” as pictures of church, continued growth in size should lose some of its attractiveness. The only reason it doesn’t is more people and more money usually mean higher salaries.

      As someone has pointed out, we look at “metrics” things we can count like “nickels and noses,” but once the gospel leaves the Jewish community in Jerusalem, Luke never again gives us a number of believers. Paul never once encouraged the churches to “grow in attendance.” Most of what Paul addressed was knowing and obeying the truth. We have trouble “counting” that so most of the time we ignore it. Maybe our ladder to success is leaning against the wrong tree.

  42. Chuck Stafford says

    I am a worship pastor (25 years) and have served in a number of churches for varying periods of time, and I find your analysis to be spot on based on my own personal experience. Not sure I can add to what’s already been said except to say that I have observed that “under-shepherds” (pastoral staff members), for instance, who cross the ten year mark are likely to grow complacent if they either are not given further freedom to dream, are not given the tools and resources to do effective and expanding ministry, if they are perhaps not allowed to expand and grow in their pastoral ministry role, or if they work for a pastor who is complacent who provides little accountability or visionary leadership. I write as someone who has departed from churches at both the 4 and 10 year marks for some of the above reasons. I have also observed in churches where I have served (as well as in churches of relatives and close friends) that pastor’s in their late 50’s or 60’s who have a tenure of 20+ years tend to grow complacent as they near retirement often failing to cast a compelling vision for outreach and church growth. Obviously, it’s not this simple and aged pastors or pastors with very long tenures certainly does not represent the truth for all. The reasons for ministry complacency are legion. For instance, sin, lack of discipleship, poor leadership training processes, and a disregard for the five fold ministries of the church can lead to complacency. Indolence or lack of emphasis upon service and outreach can lead to complacency. Other top-tier leadership reasons that possibly contribute to complacency are inefficient or dysfunctional administration practices which include poor hiring and placement practices. Poor hiring practices such as not hiring enough young(er), diverse, and fully qualified leaders who can help bring fresh perspective, new vision, and skills to the organization can lead to complacency among the pastoral staff and contribute further to the malaise and ineffectiveness of the church. Also, hiring the wrong people or hiring people that are the wrong fit will eventually lead to inefficient and ineffective ministry and unnecessary conflict. When the organization gets in a rut of mismanagement or ineffectiveness that goes on for years it can be demoralizing and frustrating to the point that an attitude of complacency blankets the entire organization because people realize that nothing is going to change until there is a change at the top. And since pastoral staff members have no control over those matters, most are simply not willing to rock the boat so they just go along to get along OR they leave the organization. Complacency literally kills. As someone once wrote the only difference between a rut and a grave is mere inches. Complacency leads to greater complacency over time and the rut becomes a deeper ditch that the church gets stuck where pulling out becomes very difficult. However, probably one of the greatest reasons for ministry complacency is the lack of compelling visionary leadership on the part of the leader. Not only do many leaders need to properly structure their church from an administrative standpoint, they also need to know where they want to go next. When they don’t offer clear visionary leadership they just wander aimlessly in circles. Where there is no vision the people perish.

    10 Things That Lead to Ministry Complacency:

    1. Lack of Compelling Vision
    2. Ineffective Church Administration leading to misalignment, mismanagement, inefficiency, and conflict and/or general apathy
    3. Poor hiring and ministry placement practices which result in a misaligned organization which results in mismanagement
    4. Long tenured pastors more focused on retirement than the church’s future
    5. Lack of church emphasis upon the 5-fold ministries of the church (Acts 2:42) or the development of a holistic approach to ministry. “A healthy church is a growing church” (R. Warren)
    6. Lack of discipleship. ‘My people perish for a lack of knowledge.”
    7. Lack of service and outreach ministries which leads to complacency and even indifference
    8. Lack of accountability – routine processes of evaluation and analysis, both organizationally and individually
    9. Repressive culture where freedom of thought, speech, and ideas are discouraged and even chastened
    10. Complacency begets more complacency.

    Thanks for the opportunity to feedback and for the insightful article!

  43. Roger Haber says

    Article is right on. Of course I experienced a slight chapter revision in my last ministry. Honeymoon, conflict, growth–yes. However after 8 1/2 years, those snipers continued their work and a forced exit happened that terrorized my wife and children. (We were in a parsonage with nowhere to go.) Denominational leaders were of little help; basically they abandon the pastor and stay with the church. Peacemaker Ministries was more help. Now, three years later I am at another church, having the time of my life. Sadly I still have a “gun shy” wife and two adult children who have nothing but disdain for the church. They are constantly in my prayers.

    • David says

      Let the church know they hired you and not your wife. She should be free from any expectations that might be placed upon her. She should be free to do or not do what ever ministry she feels “God wants her to do or not in the church as any other woman in the church. Free her up and she may not be as ‘gun-shy.” Let your children be taught that church people are just as imperfect as the world around them is. They will see imperfect people at school, work, or any other place. So in he church too. The church is not a perfect place but a hospital to heal the needy where they are at. I tell our people and visitors that if you are looking for the perfect church you have come to the right place. We are” the perfect church for imperfect people.” Pastors kids need to learn to love an imperfect church because they will always be living around imperfect people. But inside the church and outside the church they will find respectful and decent people as well. Conflicts within and conflicts without are the reality of life. It is how we teach our children to see them and relate to them.

  44. says

    Thom, you are right on target. My last pastorate lasted 10 years and I now look back and realize I failed to push through with a new vision for the next decade and ended up leaving. I am finishing my 6th year of my current pastorate and am SO excited about where we are and all that God is doing that I can’t imagine repeating my last experience by becoming complacent. Thanks for your helpful insight and glad you are at Lifeway.

  45. Dan says

    Such a well timed article for me. I came to my new position assuming a honeymoon period. I walked into a storm of conflict and challenges, many of which were waiting beneath the surface and came to light because I came in with an outsiders perspective. A lot of what happened was not of my own making, but some of it was. I am learning what those things were, and owning them, and repenting. While I am glad that that phase is over, there is no doubt in my mind that God has used that time to further sanctify me, and for that I am grateful. A further impact of the conflict period was that my wife has struggled with seeing me opposed so much, add to that she has been shoved aside. I am becoming more accepted, welcomed, and respected, but she is still on the outside. I don’t resent the people for this, but I don’t know how to fix it. So I just pray. I am trying to lead her through this the best I can. The challenges have caused me to have to grow as the spiritual head of our home. Sadly, I believe that the sanctifying process has prepared me for something different while the ministry is poised for a season of growth that my wife and I will most likely not see. It has made me different. I am praying over how to lay the groundwork for the next leader to enjoy fruitfulness, and also about wise timing. I know the Lord is sovereign over His church and over the times and seasons of life, but I want to cultivate the ground for fruitfulness to the best of my ability. The article has helped me to put things in context, for that I am also grateful.

    • David says

      As stated in a previous comment: Let the church know they hired you and not your wife. She should be free from any expectations that might be placed upon her. She should be free to do or not do what ever ministry she feels “God wants her to do or not in the church as any other woman in the church. Free her up.

      • Harold says

        Great thought. The reality is the church does consider the wife in a call. After 51 years as pastor of 4 churches (now retired) I believe freedom is found only in Christ. I am thankful for a wife that felt called by God to be the best pastor’s wife as God would allow. Very simply….she was not called to be like any other woman in the church. On my part she was free to decide where to serve in the church. I appreciate your post, but, in my opinion, it doesn’t pan out.

        • Ken says

          I understand your point, but people tend to put unrealistic expectations on a pastor’s wife. Too many church members regard the pastor’s wife as his personal assistant, and that’s not fair to her. Besides, every pastor’s wife is unique, just as every pastor is unique. She shouldn’t be expected to fulfill a certain role just because that’s what other pastors’ wives do. She has her own unique gifts and abilities and should be allowed to minister according to those abilities.

          By the way, when a church starts to attack the pastor’s wife and/or family, that’s a good sign for the pastor to move on. A congregation that stoops to such levels clearly has no sense of ethics or fair play, and that’s a battle no pastor can win.

  46. Barry Proctor says

    I am currently in my 4th pastorate. My longest pastorate has been 5 and a half years. To have a honeymoon period that lasted longer than 2 years would be so nice. My current pastorate arriving in Nov 2011, the conflicts arrived within 6 months of me being there. I am so tired of being beaten down that I am just ready to walk away from the ministry. I cannot just simply walk away because God called me. I loved the article and always appreciate the words of encouragement from Bro. Rainer to all pastors. Please keep my wife and I and my ministry in your prayers. Thank you

  47. says

    Thom, thank you for the valuable input you pour into all of us in ministry. This post has been very interesting with the many different responses. After twenty years, I love our folks more than I ever have, and enjoy preaching more than I ever have. I continue to pray that God will keep my heart hot to see people come to Christ,and an unquenchable desire to study His word. To the pastors that are in a season of frustration, hang in there!

  48. Don Sprinkle says

    Do you see “personal growth” in any of this? In other words after 5 – 7 years will the pastor outgrow the job or will the job outgrow him?

  49. says

    Dr. Rainer,
    Your article is right on point!
    Currently I am wrapping up my 10th as pastor and am excited about the 10-20 years. I am firmly committed to investing my life here in this congregation. Thank you for writing such an encouraging article. I clearly see myself walking on the path of reinvigorated intensity, facing new challenges and casting new vision. To God be the glory…

  50. Dave says

    Hi Thom,
    thanks for the awesome article. And as far as I can see from my own experience, the stages seem spot on, excepting the years as you noted. Just a question – I know tenure is important but what about the pastor who is called to perhaps to only ‘set things in order’ for the next pastor? I ask because I feel my calling is described by Paul to Titus – I left you in Crete to set in order the things that are lacking and to appoint elders. My first church was in Europe – I took over as head pastor from the founding pastor (I was also his assistant for several years), was pastor there for 7 years or so and during that time trained and discipled a young man from within the fellowship and then handed the church over to him. He now is head pastor of that fellowship and is going strong after 5 years and the church is exploding – tripled in size and impact. My 2nd church was in another part of the world and I also took over from the 2nd (or 3rd?) pastor. I trained and discipled a man (one of the deacons of that fellowship) for about a year and a half and then handed the church to him. He is now head pastor and is going strong after almost 4 years and that church has grown tremendously – from about 15 to almost 200 – but also spiritually. I am currently at my 3rd church in yet another part of the world, which I again took over from the founding pastor, who had to leave after about 5-6 years. I have been here for about 4 years now. My question – again, I know that tenure is important for a local body – it give security and stability. But is there such a calling for a pastor NOT to stay? I ask because my wife and I are torn with this 3rd church – we would love to finally be able to stay put and see the fruit of our labors (it seems that we only get to see fruit AFTER we leave)!. But at the same time, we also want to do what God wants us to do. So do we stay and carry the baton a while longer or perhaps even permanently (well, until the Lord calls us home)? Or do we hand the baton on to another and move on – again. We are truly torn between the two! Any feedback would be most appreciated. Thanks!

  51. JWin says

    Good analysis. I completely agree. One additional thought… you said, “I do think it is critical for us to understand tenure, because the health of the church is directly impacted by it.” My experience says that it is critical for the health of the pastor and his family too.

  52. Joe Pastor says

    Wow! No shortage of responses! This is one reason I love your blogs, Thom…both for the quality content, and also for the many insightful and honest responses. Now I add mine to the llist…

    I am a pastor in year 11. While I think that all that you said is very accurate, I find myself in another “interesting” stage: It seems like most of the things God sent me to do in this particular setting are now complete. Things are good in my church in many ways. In fact, things are good in MOST ways, and yet, I am sensing that it may be time to leave. Can there be a fifth stage in ministry, “MISSION ACCOMPLISHED”? While I am still seeking God for his will and direction, that is my feeling about my present tenure.

    • Hal says

      Does your church know you feel this way, “Joe”?
      This is really another whole can of worms, but, is there some ethical compulsion for us pastors to notify our congregations when we’re considering leaving? Personally, I have never thought that was a good idea, since churches are such hotbeds of rumor. But I have known other guys who felt it was the only way to be honest and ethical.

      • Joe Pastor says

        Excellent question, Hal. The short answer is “no.” The church does not know of my feelings. Here is my thinking: At this point, I do not KNOW with certainty what the will of God is on the matter. Notice the phrases “it seems like” and “it may be…” While this is what I am sensing at this point, far more confirmation from God is needed. And until God confirms such feelings as being from Him, it would be silly and problematic to share such feelings with the church. In fact, it might be that this would hasten my departure…but not in a good way. So for now, I will continue to pray and seek Him. In the mean time, I have a calling; I have a ministry that still needs my attention; and to the best of my ability, I will continue to do it.

    • Allen Calkins says

      Sadly, it is problematic to let the church know anything until you are pretty sure you are going. I recently changed churches and many of my fellow ministers thought me bold if not foolish to let the church know I was going in view of a call to another church. I know if the vote had not gone well or some other red flag occurred it would be tough to stay. But for me to have done anything else would have felt like deception. PERHAPS key leaders can be told earlier, but only if you know they will not blab what they know.

      BUT Joe, let me also ask, have you considered what this church needs next? You may be God’s man to lead the church from this victorious point forward to greater things….A victorious general is easier to follow into battle, especially a tough battle, than a new one. God may have given you an opportunity to build up a bunch of good will so you can invest it in some change that would be very good but hard for most to do.

      • Joe Pastor says

        Thanks for your thoughts, Allen. I am not in disagreement with anything you’ve said. So while I admit to having a sense that my time in this church may soon be over, I need God’s confirmation. I have no desire to make a move just to make a move (been around the block too many times to do that). We shall see…

  53. Duane says

    I totally agree with your assessment of the tenure of a pastor. But, I am a youth minister and I am experiencing this same pattern. My two previous ministries and I parted ways after the 2 to 3 year mark. This is one is moving past that phase and is likely to be affected by staff change soon. I am curiius as to whether you have noticed a similar trend in youth and children’s ministry as well? I have many friends who have seen this trend for their youth / children’s ministry. Thanks for the article!

    • Joe Pastor says

      I am now a senior pastor in my 11th year in this location/church. But previously, I served for 17 years as a youth minister in various churches. There is an additional factor related to the tenure of a minister who is not the senior pastor: And that would be (drum roll) THE SENIOR PASTOR! Two of my tenures in youth ministry were cut short when a senior pastor moved. The next guy came in, and everything changed (not for the better in either case). If the “marriage” with the senior pastor does not work (for good reasons or for bad), then you will quickly be looking for another job. That’s reality.

  54. Charlie McClelland says

    There is another complicating element to this discussion–that congregations are not static. Someone noted the membership of the church had rolled 3 times during his time as pastor. With a changing congregation, it seems possible to exist in a variety of “stages” at the same time. For those who have been a part of the church for 1 year or so–there is a type of “honeymoon.” for those who have been with the church/pastor combination for more than 10 years they are at a crossroad. Some of the members may choose one path while others choose the other path.

    It still seems like this characterization is simplistic and applies only to those who feel it mirrors their experience, which of course decreases its validity generally. I have been the pastor of my current church for 23 years. The multiple “stage” at the same time seems to describe my experience better.

    • says

      There are many factors involved when looking at the life-cycle of the church fellowship itself, as a whole. The article above seems to address the mental and emotional stages for the pastor specifically. I’m sure there’s a similar cycle for members (since they will often leave too: some after a short time, and others after a long tenure). I’ve served our fellowship as pastor for almost 11 years now, and we are a very different group than when I started. Some people are new and excited to be there, but I’m still in a crossroads stage where I’m wondering what else I have to give this church…

  55. Bob says

    Is there any research for patterns that take place after a long-tenured pastor leaves? I am from a denomination that does not use interim ministers after long tenures, and now I wrestle with how to best lead my church after a 32-year pastor left.

    • Ken says

      That’s a real toughie. I know Steve Gaines has had some struggles since he’s been at Bellevue, and I don’t envy anyone that had to follow Adrian Rogers! Some men, such as W.A. Criswell, have done well at following long-time larger-than-life pastors. Others have not.

      I hope Dr. Rainer will offer some insights. I’ve never had to follow a pastor who’s served that long, but I am curious to know how pastors handle that situation.

  56. tom nothstine says

    Our church changes pastors every 3 to 4 years on average. No one stays long enough to to realize the fruit and harvest years. As result the church spends it’s entire life adjusting to different leadership and all that that entails.
    One thing that troubles me about the ways most pastors go about finding a new church is the lack of transparency in the whole process. In fact, I would go so far as to suggest that deception and dishonesty are innate to the process for this reason: once a pastor has decided to leave they are engaged in clandestine meetings with higher church leadership, other church boards, traveling under false pretenses, making housing arrangements, etc all behind their congregations back, so to speak. Only after all arrangements are finalized with the other church, do they spring their surprise announcement – upon the church board first, then the congregation – that “God has called us to move on.” “oh, ….when?” “Four weeks.” There should be open transparency from the very beginning with the pastor involved in the transition process and staying until he has helped the church in finding someone to replace him. This clandistine way of doing things with the sudden “were leaving” leaves churches feeling abandoned, betrayed, deceived and unloved.

  57. steve says


    Who is responsible for oversight of the church of Christ?

    First let us establish that Jesus Christ is head of His church.

    Colossians 1:13-18…..18 He is also head of the body, the church……

    Ephesians 5:23…as Christ also is the head of the church….

    The question remains who are the men responsible for the oversight of the Lord’s church?

    Did God put a pastor, a bishop, an elder, or an overseer in charge of shepherding His church?

    Pastor, bishop, elder and overseer are the same office.

    Men were given the oversight of each, local, church of Christ.

    Acts 14:23 When they had appointed elders for them in every church, having prayed with fasting, they commended them to the Lord in whom they believed.

    Elders (plural) were appointed in each church congregation.

    Titus 1:5-7 For this reason I left you in Crete, that you would set in order what remains and appoint elders in every city as I directed you…..7 For the overseer must be above reproach….

    Elders were appointed in every city where there was a church of Christ. Elders were also referred to as overseers (some translations use the word bishops).

    Acts 20:17-28 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called to him the elders of the church…….28 Be on guard for yourselves and for all the flock, among which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to shepherd the church of God which He purchased with His own blood.

    Notice: Elders (plural), and overseers (plural). Elders and overseers are used interchangeably and are told to shepherd the church.

    1 Peter 5:1-2 Therefore, I exhort the elders among you, as your fellow elder and witness of the sufferings of Christ, and partaker also of the glory that is to be revealed, 2 shepherd the flock of God among you exercising oversight…

    Note: Elders (plural), were told to shepherd the flock of God. Peter said he was one of the elders. Peter did not say he was the Pope or the Head Elder.

    Ephesians 4:11And He gave some……as pastors…..

    The word pastor means shepherd.

    Elder, bishop, overseer and pastor are all the same office and they are to shepherd the local churches of Christ.

    The oversight of the local church is to be a plurality of ELDERS (overseers, bishops, pastors).

    There is no mention in the Bible of one pastor ruling a single church. There is no Scripture indicating one man should rule a world wide church. There is nothing in the Bible that tells us to set up a church board to oversee the local church. God never set up different denominations to be ruled by groups of men. There is no office of Pope or priest mentioned under the New Covenant church of Christ.


    (All Scripture quotes from: NEW AMERICAN STANDARD BIBLE


  58. Jim says

    Thom, Thank you again for tackling tough questions and allowing needed discussions. I would offer some reasons why the different path coming from one who feels incredible pressure and burden over the lost. 1. During growth years, leaders, friendship and a comfortable pattern of ministry emerges. Those leaders have become synonymous with those ministries and have maxed out their singular potential and volunteer or paid time. But they now get their identity from the title rather than purpose or effectiveness. Other members have burned out and taken time off. These leaders then forget that they fumbled when they started and make the entry bar too high for newer people to join and feel welcomed. On the pastor’s side, he loves those leaders but feels conflicted on many levels. He wants to see evangelistic growth, but fears the collapse of the ministry if he doesn’t know the next step for that leader and how to motivate him or her.
    2. During growth years, the community is in flux but because of “success” the church discovers 10 years later that it is out of step. Finding a new connecting point is hit or miss and members become complacent about ministering outside the walls. They ask what’s the point?
    3. The members lives change. The move to a new neighborhood and many start commuting to the church. The most viable mission fields, the local area sees little of the church body during the week. Hard to build new relationships etc…
    In all this, with limited time and or staff, a pastor can get bogged down.
    That is why I am thankful for our State Convention staff who are taking active roles in coaching our pastors through these transitions. Coaching needs to be ongoing. Thank you for always being a coach as well Thom,

  59. says

    Dr. Rainer,

    Thank you for your research. I don’t know why I had not read it before, but I am in the doctoral program at MBTS and the required reading is ‘Breakout Churches.’ Your research is phenomenal and has had real-world effects on my ministry. Please, keep doing what you are doing. Thank you for your blog and thank you for your books. We pastors need you.

  60. JOHN STONE says

    Now in year 14 in two rural, yoked churches. Our greatest blessing and greatest difficulty is the family led paradigm of the church. We are in a non-growing county of high unemployment, and in the countryside of a small town which has seen better days. I am 66 going on 67 and wrote my D Min on the topic of smaller church pastors (RTS 2013). I am still excited about God’s Gospel and that’s the one main factor in my being here. We do have younger families and children, we are in the Evangelical Presbyterian denomination- I think Jared Wilson’s book on THE PASTOR’S JUSTIFICATION is a healthy antidote to pastoral church hopping and would recommend it be read by everyone. But then, a pastor who reads widely stays and has something to say. That’s my 2 cents worth.

  61. says

    Hi, I’m Michael, and I’m a stage 5 pastor. I’ve been serving our fellowship for 11 years and I am definitely at a crossroad. I would love to feel invigorated and rejuvenated, but I don’t. The other path I see before me, however, is not a resistance to change–I would love to see things change and grow. My other option feels more like, “What more do I have to offer this fellowship? Is it time for a new leader who will take them to the next level?” I don’t feel spent of ministry and message…I just feel used up here. I’m not at all frustrated or resentful of anything in particular in this church, it’s a wonderful group of people. I just feel at a loss for what else to do.

    Recently, someone I was talking to made a contrast between a pastoral pastor and an apostolic pastor: A pastor who cares for and nurtures versus a pastor who mobilizes and sends. It made some sense to me. I’m more pastoral, and though I try to emphasize engaging the world around us, it seems like more of a struggle for me than strengthening a foundation in people from which to send them (if that makes sense…still working that out). Maybe this church fellowship needs a more apostolic voice new? …This is my crossroad.

  62. Elisabeth says

    I’d like to present a differing opinion about this. Always, always, it seems that articles like this assume that the pastor’s motives, work ethic, and spirituality are above reproach, and the same articles cast the congregation in an unflattering light. Sometimes congregations have legitimate, serious issues with a pastor, and the number of years he has been there do not affect the problem. Nor should he use the number of years as an explanation for why his church is in turmoil.


  1. […] Thom Rainer, President of Lifeway, has an excellent post describing the life cycle of a pastor’s ministry. While he doesn’t cite specific data harvested from research, those of us who have been around the local church for any period of time can attest that Rainer is pretty accurate in his evaluation. You can find the article by CLICKING HERE. […]

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