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.