How long should the average pastor stay at one church? I saw that question asked on Facebook recently, and I was surprised by the variety of answers. Some thought a pastor should move on after just a few years to keep things fresh, while others thought a pastor should stay 5-7 years at a minimum. A few more thought for a pastor really to see success they should plan on staying ten or more years.
Thom Rainer wrote an article a few years back that suggested the average length of a pastorate is increasing. He compared Lifeway studies over the years, and over the course of 20 years from 1996 to 2016, the average had almost doubled from 3.6 years to 6 years.
I have a hard time deciding one way or another. On one hand I’ve seen pastors jump ship way too early because things weren’t always going their way. Then on the other hand, I’ve seen pastors stay way too long to the church’s detriment.
Personally, I’ve been on staff at my church for over seven years now and can’t imagine going anywhere else anytime soon. However, I realize that my benefit to the church may fade before I’m ready to go. That’s the scary part, and I have to be careful that my love for the job doesn’t interfere with what’s best for the church.
With that in mind, I’ve come up with a list of questions to know when the time is right. These questions shouldn’t take the place of God’s will, but I think they’ll give you an idea of what His will is.
- How is the church really doing? This is a hard question to answer honestly because it requires us to take a long hard look in the mirror. If things haven’t been going well and it doesn’t look like they’re going to get any better, then it may be time for us to go.
- Am I making excuses for poor results? “Oh, people just don’t want to listen to the truth anymore.” When we start blaming culture for the problems inside of our church, we’re making excuses. The other common excuse is to blame other churches. “The only reason they go to that church over there is because they entertain them with lights and a big show, and that’s not biblical.” Quit looking around for the issues, and start looking within.
- Is this draining or fulfilling? Don’t get me wrong, there are certainly seasons of ministry in which you’re going to feel drained, but is the ministry also filling you back up? If it’s only draining, and never fulfilling, it’s time to go.
- Am I excited about the future? Is there reason for hope? Are things headed in the right direction? Are you working on new plans and strategies that you believe are going to benefit the church? Or is it just the same old same old?
- Am I just staying because I need the paycheck, retirement, or parsonage? Unfortunately, this is where many pastors find themselves in their 50s and 60s. Think through if the church couldn’t provide any of that to you, would you still want to stay? If the answer is no, then it’s time to go.
How many years have you been at your current church? How will you know when it’s time to go? Leave a comment, and let us know. Also, thanks for checking out the blog. If you enjoy what you’ve read, please subscribe and you’ll get tips on church growth, leadership, and more delivered to your inbox each week.