Negatives of Long Pastorates

What are the downsides of pastors who stay in one place for 10, 15, 20 years?

These are the problems I’ve heard about, some I’ve seen, but most of them I disagree with:

  • the pastor may run out of spiritual insight or spiritual energy over the long haul
  • the church may stagnate and won’t change under the pastor who won’t change (‘we tried that n years ago, didn’t work’)
  • it makes it hard for the next pastor to follow in the footsteps of such a long ministry
  • it is unfair for people to be ‘stuck’ with one pastor for so long
  • people need a diversity of pastors to learn new or different things
  • the people are transient and will move around anyway
  • long ministry may tend to be more inward looking rather than evangelistic

Any others?

Ministry Transience: How Does Our Training Prepare Us?

A great article by Jodie McNeill on the problems of ‘uprootedness’ caused by Bible college placements at different parishes: Stolen generation of church planters.

Let me give you the theoretical Anglican Diocese of Melbourne scenario (in reality there is much more flexibility and diversity): Say you are a committed lay leader in your Anglican church for 10 years. You are encouraged to go to Bible college and join the ordination stream. You will then go to a different church every year for your four years of college as part of your field education training. You then graduate, get ordained, and do a two year curacy in one place, and then a two year curacy in another place. Then you are given a PiC (Priest in Charge position), in your fifth year after graduation/ordination (typically).

So by the time you are running your first parish, for the past 10 years you have been gone to 8 different parishes (incl. the current one). Imagine all the moves that your spouse and family have made in that time. Imagine all the committed ministry relationships which have been started and stopped suddenly this whole time. How does this prepare you for a long term pastorate? Surely this only feeds the culture of not putting down deep ministry roots?

Certainly this model does give you a good introduction to the diocese and exposure to a wide range of ministries, and helps you to build some good mentors and ministry networks. There are some real benefits. In fact one of the reasons I got ordained was because I wanted the benefits of this model.

In our own experience we have put the brakes on the system by doing longer student placements, and three year curacies instead of two. The diocese have been very supportive of my training and pastoral needs, year by year. We have deeply loved every parish we have been involved in and tried to give of ourselves sacrificially in every one of them. But at the end of the day, we feel very hungry to care for God’s people in one place for a long time.

Are we training for a church culture of ministry transience or ministry longevity?

Long Pastorates: Phillip Jensen on Ambition and Tenure

Though not exactly on the topic of the value of staying in one ministry a long time, the below quotes from Philip Jensen are relevant.

One bad reason for shorter pastorates is a sense of ministry careerism. The minister is jumping up the ladder, so the current pastorate is only a means to an end. This will always stifle bold faithful bible preaching:

“Any preacher who would ever wish to change the church must undergo one fundamental change of heart: he must destroy any desire or ambition for personal advancement or acceptance within congregation or denomination, especially that rationalized ambition ‘that when I come to power I will be able to change things for the better’. As long as a man desires to be a bishop or a moderator, he will not be a faithful preacher of the Word of God, or a preacher who will change the church from worse to better”

If long pastorates involving unashamed teaching of the Word of God are important, then they probably require some kind of security of office. See this quote on bold preaching and tenure:

“We are not answerable to one another, or to the congregation, or even to ourselves, but to God. It is why some form of tenure is so important to faithful preaching of the gospel. The preacher who is under the authority and financial control of the denomination or of the congregation will be severely hampered in preaching the predictably unexpected message of God. It is why preachers must be willing to risk all, even sacking and imprisonment, if they are going to be faithful to preaching the gospel.”

Quotes from Phillip Jensen, Preaching that Changes the Church, in “When God’s Voice is Heard: Essays on Preaching Presented to Dick Lucas”, edited by Green and Jackman, IVP, 1995, p143.

What better gospel witness is there than a minister resigned to boldly proclaim the word of God in one place, to one people, for a long time – come what may? Is this not a beautiful ideal?

Lifelong Pastorates

This is a wonderful lecture by Robert S. Rayburn on “Ministry By the Generation” (direct mp3 link)

He argues that historically Protestants have mostly had an expectation of lifelong or near lifelong pastorates.

I know many of us will immediately think of problems with this, and in my own denominational context it is extremely unlikely.

But what a wonderful vision for those who love the local church and want to shepherd across the generations in one place!