Plea’s for Pastors….from a Pastor

**DISCLAIMER** This is a regular series in which I offer some heartfelt cries to pastors in regards to issues that I see that are crippling the work of the gospel and the effectiveness of the church. These are areas that are particularly close to my heart.

Plea #1: Please stay, don’t go!

“God has moved us again.” So says a friend of mine as to the reason why he has left his previous ministry and moved on. It’s nothing unique. I am the son of a pastor who has been a pastor himself for over 4 years and has been traveling and preaching since I was 16 so I have heard it a thousand times. To be honest, I have a hard time buying it. This mystical sense of “God’s call” is a good reason to use when leaving a ministry to go to another one. The best reason that it is a good excuse is because at times it is correct. There is no doubt that God speaks and God directs us to serve in various ministries. In fact I am sure that most of us serving in ministry would admit that the sense of “God’s call” had at least some level of significance in our decision, I know it has for me. The problem, however, with that excuse is twofold. First, it is not objective. There is no measuring stick. There is no way for one to know for certain whether the one making the cla!
im has really heard from God or maybe they just had some roast beef a little too late last night resulting in a “funny feeling” that is more indigestion than it is Holy Spirit. The second reason that this excuse is unfortunate is that there is no way to argue against it. I have watched as too many pastors have hopped from lily-pad to lily-pad following “God’s will” and leaving unhealthy churches and unhealthy families in their wake. The worst part is that I can not ask them to show some responsibility to their ministries due to their use of the claim that “God has called them” to their new place of service.

It is time that we begin to underline the necessity of staying in one place more than just for a quick pastoral “cup of tea” and then moving on to bigger and better pastures. And, let us not kid ourselves. The consistent theme as we move from place to place is far too often not the will of God. Rather it is the lure of bigger paycheck’s, bigger sanctuary’s and shorter drives to visit mama. Ellison Research did a tremendous job researching our reasoning for church hopping among pastors, and God’s will was far, far, far down the list. What is worse, according to their research, is that the moving about is far more significant in SBC churches than it is in other denominations.

There is no doubt that God desires pastors to stay more than they currently do. He blesses tenure. Research tells us, for instance, that pastoral tenure is a significant contributing factor to the growth of a church. Beyond that, Hal Mayer – of Flamingo Road Baptist Church in Ft. Lauderdale, FL – has claimed that it takes around 7 years for a pastor to even be seen as a leader by their church. Dan Sutherland, also of Flamingo Road, goes to great lengths to show that pastoral tenure is needed for sustained church success. Most of us have heard Rick Warren’s desire to stay in one church for a lifetime and many of us have scoffed and said things like “of course he would say that, he’s in one of the 10 largest churches in America.” Yet, when we say that we neglect the fact that for many, m!
any years he served in a church smaller than most of ours that did not even have their own facility until they had been a church for almost 15 years. Let us be honest, guys, most of us would never even make it five years in a situation like that.

So, why do we resign and move on? In my opinion it comes down to one very significant reason, that is the love of ourselves more than the love of God or others. We are more concerned with our success and our own ability to “grow a church” than we are whether or not we can be an instrument for positive, healthy change in the place where we are. I hear far too often people leaving a ministry and claiming that they did so because they could not handle it anymore. Again they use the claim that “God’s will” moved them. I would try and argue that God’s will is much more often for them to stay and bring health to a sick church than it would be to leave that church still sick and go be with another sick church. It boils down to our personal comfort. Where can we preach to more people? Where can we make more money? Where can we have a bigger staff? Where can we get away from these people? H.B. London gives 5 main reason why pastors leave their current ministries and what !
strikes me about all of these is that they start with “I.”

Now do not hear me wrong. I understand that there are often valid reasons, out of our control, that cause us to move. I make no claims that I will finish my ministry at the church where I am at, though I would be privileged if God would allow me to. I understand that churches are firing too many pastors. I know that God does occasionally move us to a new ministry. I understand that sometimes family dictates a needed change. These are valid and I am not impugning them. My problem, however, is that I rarely hear these reasons given as the impetus behind a move. I rarely see someone leave one ministry to go to a smaller one, I rarely see people leaving the comfort of the Bible belt after the completion of seminary and/or Bible college to pursue ministry in much more unchurched areas.

Please pastors! We must remain faithful where we are. Understand that I know your temptations. I have faced them before. I am a bi-vocational pastor who works 50 hours a week in a secular job while trying to help a phenomenal church to become healthy and to grow. I know the temptation to pack up for “greener pastures.” I have received the calls on multiple occasions in the past few years from churches asking me to consider coming on staff or coming as their senior pastor, in a few cases even to churches that are larger than 90% of the churches in the SBC. I know the temptation. I feel the temptation. I am pleading with you, however, to not give in to temptation. Plant yourself where you are and truly remain committed that unless God drops a billboard in your front yard you are going nowhere else. We do not need more pastors leaving churches to go on to bigger and better. We need more pastors staying where they are so that they can lead their current ministries to be bigg!
er and better.

Micah is a husband to Tracy & a daddy to Grace, Kessed & Haddon. He’s Senior Pastor at Brainerd Baptist Church in Chattanooga, TN. Most of all, he’s a debtor to grace.

4 thoughts on “Plea’s for Pastors….from a Pastor

  1. Micah,
    You have shared a good word and I do not disagree with your concern for pastors and a much longer tenure. Just let me share a few things. When I look at the pastoral careers of my friends from college days and seminary I am extremely saddened by how many have been fired, terminated, forced out and usually told that if they will keep quiet about what is going on in the church then they might get a severance package, or a few months to quickly seek another place to serve. Of the men that I consider good friends in these situations, none have left because of adultry, ethical issues or large mistakes and personality defects. They have run up against people that feel pastors are not really a part of the church but only “hired hands” who can be forced out when it is convenient. It is a case of people believing the church belongs to them and that ultimately they, not Christ, control the decisions.
    One of my friends, who went through a forced termination in a church he had planted, told me of a conversation with a deacon in his home church many years ago, when this farmer said, “why don’t they teach these young preachers at seminary that no pastor needs to be anywhere longer than 3 years.” I would like to say that this is a rural attitude but terminations occur in all kind of places and in all size of churches.
    Conflict is rampant and I do not see how all these situations cannot have immediate and long term impact on our convention.
    It is sad to think there are many churches that really do not want to change, grow, prosper, be a blessing to a community, or really support their pastor and their staff. Many pastors would probably stay longer if the personnel committees and other power brokers in the church did not come to them and say, “leave as quick as you can and be sure to say that it is God’s will…or you will regret it”
    I did not include any numbers or statistics of churches and pastors that are having problems. If you will talk to your local director of missions, your state convention offices or even Lifeway about the number of forced terminations locally and convention wide in the last 10 years you will discover a very large number. It would also be interesting to track what churches show up time and again with pastors being forced out.
    Keep in touch with the guys you have come to know in college, seminary and in your local association. See how many of them have or will go through a difficult time with their church that will either find them turned out without a job or going to another church saying, “you know, it was just God’s will.”

  2. Micah,

    Amen and Amen! This message was instilled in us in seminary and needs to be spoken of more. And for all the good, bad, and ugly, with Rick Warren, this is one area he has been an encourager to me.

  3. Micah: Your message is right on. We’ve got to find ways to keep that message in front of pastors and congregations alike, while also taking initiative to provide resources for helping pastors with time management that allows space for an authentic relationship with God, training around relationship issues, especially as it relates to conflict and change. For ten years I served as a regional judicatory leader and now work with an interdenominational ministry in Houston Texas. Often pastors leave because they can’t do relationships well. Pressure mounts, trust is violated, and there seems to be no other option. In Houston we are attempting to do pre-emptive work that provides the skills and network of support that intervenes before the problem is beyond repair.

    Keep up the good work. I’ve just discovered your blog but will return frequently.

Leave a Reply