By Rev. John Herman, Former Executive Director, Evangelical Free Church of America Pastoral Care Ministries
This article originally appeared in EFCA TODAY magazine, Summer, 2004, Volume 78, Issue 2. I think brother Herman has something very important to say here about an extremely relevant topic for church health: pastoral tenure. BAT
But I’d like to propose an alternate view. My proposal should be thought of as a viable option, freeing some pastors to take a different and better approach to the transitions they are called to make in the course of a lifetime of ministry. This approach will help some churches move smoothly through the well-documented stages of growth. (See, for instance, One Size Doesn’t Fit All, by Gary McIntosh, Fleming H. Revell, 1999.)
I propose that the ideal is not the long pastorate, but the right-length pastorate. The right length for a pastorate is the length of time it takes to faithfully complete a set of well-defined (yet flexible) objectives that correspond with the purpose for which the church called the pastor. Does the church desire to respond to changes in the community? Does it need to strengthen certain ministries? Is the pastor’s main role to guide the church through growth? The pastor may be called to heal a church that feels wounded. Or to “wound” a church that has become self-serving.
A right-length pastorate is the logical extension of seeking a “best fit” when calling a pastor. It calls for a workable system of regular and honest evaluations. It requires an answer to the question, “Where is the church now in its journey to becoming what God called it to be?”
This approach also requires discernment from the pastor. Am I helping us continually sharpen our ministry focus? Can I serve this church well in the years ahead? This discussion can be healthy and enable positive pastoral transitions to get underway. I acknowledge that right-length pastorates may result in shorter (not short) pastorates. They may bring with them the pain of moving when things are going well on the surface and the move appears unnecessary. But a right-length pastorate brings with it the joy of moving to a place filled once again with opportunities for which you are uniquely well suited and specially prepared by God.