How Long Should a Pastor Commit to a Local Church?

At one point in the past, I posed the question on my blog of how long a pastor should remain with one church. Every now and then I look back at the most thoughtful response I received to the question (which came from an Orthodox priest) and spend some time thinking about it. He said,

I would generally suggest what is often the norm in Orthodoxy, which is that a priest remains at one Church for the entirety of his ministry. There are, of course, many exceptions to this. Interestingly in the history of Protestantism in America this was once thought the norm as well (colonial period, for example). A pastor who had served at as many as three churches was frequently considered either a failure or troubled.

The changing of pastors is often driven by careerism, disguised by all kinds of reasons. Most pastors go to other churches for more money, and so on, unless there is something wrong in which case they tend to move down.

In the case of a priest of the Orthodox Church, I don’t know why I would ever want to leave my flock anymore than I would want a family other than the one I have. I hear their confessions, baptize, marry, bury, teach, preach, grieve, rejoice, beg their forgiveness. There is an old saying from the Desert Fathers that says, ‘Stay in your cell and your cell will teach you everything.’

Like a marriage, a pastor, I suspect, would look very differently at his church if he thought his entire life would be spent there. No running away, no moving up. Just here with these souls and any others who may come. My goal in life is to be buried from my present parish at an extreme ripe old age hopefully having been faithful and fruitful in my ministry in this place. Of course, all of these things are in the hands of God.

I think there is a lot of wisdom in this, and I find myself resonating more and more with it as time goes on. Growing up, I was part of a tradition which would see congregations get new pastors every six or seven years. I see some strengths and weaknesses in each view, and have had varying opinions on the matter over time.

As you prepare for ministry, have you thought about this? If you feel called to pastor a church, do you find yourself identifying with what the priest said above, or do you expect to serve several churches in the tenure of your ministry? What are the pros and cons of each?


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Written by jake-belder
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