I came from a denomination where the average pastorate lasted 1.5 to 3 years. I became a part of a denomination where getting asked to go to a larger church was good evidence that one was a recognized success. Successful churches were big churches. I distinctly remember a now-mega-church pastor saw me reading Selling Jesus, What’s Wrong with Marketing the Church. He asked me,
“Do you know who reads books like that?”
“Pastors of small churches,” was his answer.
I also remember our first association meeting, probably about 400-500 people were present. The church planters were paraded up before the audience. The director of church planting was proud of his church planters.
“What city are you in? How big is your church? What is your philosophy of ministry? What are you reading?”
Planter after planter got, named their large bay area city, told of the hundreds that were attending their 1, 2, 3-year-old church. Talked about the latest trends of ministry approaches they were trying, and then said they were reading Rick Warren, Peter Drucker, George Barna, Stephen Covey, and John Maxwell. It was finally my turn. Well, my tact in those days was less than it is today.
“I am in Minden, NV.”
“Tell us where that is.”
“How many people in your church?”
“Oh, about 75 are in Christ’s church.” – (little discomfort by the director)
“What is your philosophy of ministry?”
“Who are you reading?”
“I don’t read Barna or Drucker, but I am reading Edwards.”
After we had been in Nevada for about five years, I got a letter from a church in Carmel, CA, asking me to candidate for the pastorate there. I read it to Ariel and laughed. She asked if we could at least go to Carmel and then tell them no. Just about five years ago I had two men I respect ask me about going to a large church in Portland. I told them no. They said I should at least pray about it. Ariel and I went back to the car and I said, “Let’s pray. ‘Dear Father, thank you for the time of fellowship and the kind offer. I hope they find the right pastor.” There, we can say we prayed. I have never had any desire to go anywhere else. I have never had a desire to climb an ecclesiastical ladder.
There are three reasons we are here for the long haul. The first reason is the sense of calling. This is where God called us over 25 years ago. God didn’t call me to climb a ladder, He called me to labor here. I have never been convinced otherwise. The second reason is this is my family. I have joked that other churches wouldn’t put up with me, but Grace accepts me and loves me. Why would I leave my family? Family life is sometimes messy life, but family is family. And third, I said I was going to stay. Early on I told people I was here and wasn’t going anywhere. Unless Gabriel appears, I don’t suspect that will change.
Why is a long pastorate important? Why is it important to watch kids grow up and grown-ups grow old? Why is it important to perform the weddings of the kids who grow up under your ministry, and bury those who have grown old under it? Why is it important to be able to preach seven years in one book of the Bible? Why is it important to have a life connected with others and journey together? Well, I suppose the answer is obvious, but I will state the obvious. Building the body of Christ and pouring into people’s lives doesn’t take 2 years or 5 years, it takes the long haul. The fruitfulness of ministry isn’t instant. It takes years. You can’t get to know people in 2 or 5 years. It takes the long haul. You can’t deeply minister to people unless you know them. There is a sweetness to longevity. It’s like a marriage. Sure, the honeymoon is great. Sure, the first five years can be hard. But you don’t start hitting the stride of marital joy and harmony until you’ve been married for a while, a good long while. So, long pastorates are good for the church. They are good for God’s people. They are good for pastors.
My heart’s desire was that God would build a lasting work and no matter how big or how small the church, God would give us grace through His Word to get to heaven together safely. Yep, I am here for the long haul, Lord willing.