Three Point Six: The Tenure of Ministry (Part One of Two)

Three point six.


A LifeWay Research poll found the average pastoral tenure in a church today is currently 3.6 years (via Thom Rainer’s blog).

My “home church” is Beaver Dam Baptist Church.  The staff at Beaver Dam Baptist, in Beaver Dam, Kentucky stayed together for 23 years.  The Pastor served for 40, and currently the Music Minister has been there 28 and the Youth Pastor for 25.  I am a product of this church.

At my church in Hawesville, the staff has served together for 4 years.  The Pastor has been here for 5 years, the Youth Pastor has been serving here for 4 1/2 and I have served for 4 years.  We have plans on staying for 40…but at some point, God will call us all away to a new ministry.  My Pastor taught me that when God calls us, we should plant our roots and live life like we are staying there forever, until God decides otherwise.

This proves that a staff can stay together.  But many times they don’t.  Why?

Accountability?  Personality Issues?  Too much change, too quickly?  Many things can factor into a low pastoral average, but I believe we cannot form a full opportunity to minister to our congregation until:

1- We, as ministers, are planted firmly in the congregation and community

2-The congregation and community must plant us within them/it

What do I mean by that?  In order to minster to a group of people, we don’t necessarily have to be accepted by them, just be a blip on the radar.  We don’t have to be best friends in order to serve at a church, but have common hearts of ministry for Christ…that unites us.  Moreover, the congregation not only must know we’re there, but they need to use us as well.  To fully minister, in a community, we must have both attributes of service.

In this two-part series we will look at some facts and figures on why the average tenure is low and gain some inside perspective on what we can do about it as ministers and church leaders.  In addition to the LifeWay research link above, I found some other stats along the World Wide Web that may interest you:

The average stay of a pastor is somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 years – The Parsonage

Ministers at larger churches tended to have a longer tenure – Grey Matter Research

Southern Baptists are about twice as likely as the average minister to have left a church because they felt God was calling them to a different church, although the most common reason for a job change is still a desire to minister in a different region or type of community. – Grey Matter Research 

Baptist ministers outside of the Southern Baptist Convention (e.g. American Baptist, National Baptist, Conservative Baptist) are less likely than others to have left a church because they wanted to work in a different region of the country or a different type of community.  Their number one reason for switching jobs is getting promoted to a higher position. – Grey Matter Research

In 2010, 32 ministers were terminated from their pastoral positions in Kentucky.  Twenty-two ministers terminated were full-time and 10 were bi-vocational.  The two biggest factors of termination were: 1) control issues (who running the church) and 2) poor people skills by the pastor.  – from Kentucky’s Directors of Missions

The average stay for a Youth Pastor is 12-18 months. – Todd Breiner

Does proper balance and rest factor in? – Ed Stetzer

The leaders we studied are willing and even want to have long-term ministries at one church. While longer tenure itself is not the key to effective leadership, a series of short-term pastorates rarely allows one time to establish lasting leadership in a church. In one of our national surveys of pastors, we found the average pastoral tenure to be 3.6 years. But in different studies of effective leaders, those pastors had an average tenure ranging from 11.2 to 21.6 years. – Thom Rainer 

If you are not in the ministry, think about your job.  Have you had the same job your entire life?  Did you bounce around a bit before you found the “right” fit?  What factors went into bouncing around a lit before you felt like you had found your niche?

  • personality conflicts
  • job too big for you
  • not enough experience
  • just didn’t feel right
  • you went to gain a personal edge
  • job wasn’t as advertised

These ideas (and many more) also contribute to the ministry.  Sometimes ministers pray through a calling and go to a church that isn’t fit to bring out their pastoral qualities.  On the surface, things work out and you make it through the “honeymoon stage” just fine.  Then as a little conflict surfaces, things become like a snowball and you quickly feel overwhelmed.  If you do not have congregation and staff support, you feel outnumbered and out of control.

It is within those times you have to ask yourself, did God truly call me here or did my selfish ambition get in the way?  Another question would be, did God call me here to lead the congregation or did He call me here so they could lead me?  I have served in a ministry where God brought me through a valley to teach me many things.  At times, I questioned my calling to the ministry, but in the end, God showed me His plan for me.  I am thankful for the valley as it has led me to where I am today.

I have served in a total of five churches since 1997 (two of them full-time).  My total church average tenure is 2.6 per church (includes bi-vocational, part-time, and full-time).  My full-time church average tenure is currently 3 years.  I am a little under the average now, but plan on setting the bar high in the future!

Later, in “3.6” part two, I will give some statistics from Pastors who have resigned (or been terminated) along with some insight from a Pastor who shares some interesting insight on “Who Pastors the Pastor?” which may be a question you’ve asked yourself before.


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2 thoughts on “Three Point Six: The Tenure of Ministry (Part One of Two)

  1. Pingback: Why Ministers Leave | Resurrectio et Vita

  2. Pingback: The Ministry Leadership Gifts from a Messianic Jewish Perspective | Adrian's Place

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