Two myths about pastors float around in the church today. The first is the claim that the average tenure of a pastor in a local church is just 2 years, when statistics from most research groups show the number to be between 5 and 7.

The second myth stems from the first. People automatically assume that the relatively short tenures of many pastors are caused by a selfish mix of greed and laziness among the clergy. Stay at one church a couple years; use up your sermons and illustrations; then hop over to another church in a different town and do it all over again. Or even worse… Stay at a church and bide your time until a bigger and better opportunity arises; move to a higher position in another church and climb the church ladder of ministry success.

No doubt there are lazy and greedy pastors out there. And unfortunately, some pastors do make ministry decisions based on these factors. At first, the statistics seem to back up the accusations. After all, if a pastor stays only a few years at a local church, we assume must be some deficiency in the pastor’s character. I’ve even heard seminary professors (many of whom have never pastored a church in their life) dump on pastors for changing churches every few years. And thus, the myth of the church-hopping pastor begins.

But there is another side to this phenomenon. The statistics regarding ministerial tenure may be correct, but could our interpretation of these numbers be inadequate? Very few people take into account the church situations that many of these pastors go into.

Many ministers begin in small, rural churches. Many of these churches are run by prominent families or a deacon board with strong community and family ties. Often, these churches do not want to be pastored. They want someone to come and preach and perform ministerial rites. They do not want to be challenged or led into deeper Christianity. A pastor who preaches a Gospel that confronts complacency, apathy, and other sins may find he is not welcome in that church. A minister might wind up in two or three of these types of churches within a ten-year period.

So the picture is not so much of a pastor who greedily hops from church to church, but a man of God who wants to do God’s work being chased out of churches that have no interest in serious Gospel ministry. Think about it. Most young pastors have school-age children. What man wants to uproot his family several times over a fifteen-year period, just so he won’t have to come up with fresh pulpit material? Most of the pastors I’ve talked to yearn for solid, lifelong ministry in one community of faith. But sadly, many churches do not want to be truly pastored.

So let’s put an end to this myth about pastors with a hard, terrible truth: there are more pastor-chasing churches than church-hopping pastors.

written by Trevin Wax. © 2007 Kingdom People Blog

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17 thoughts on “The Myth of the Church-Hopping Pastor”

  1. Andy Atkins says:

    Trevin,

    You’ve offered an insightful appraisal of the situation. I’d like to take it a step further to evaluate the leadership style of pastors. I’m one of those guys who is actually serving a congregation made up of MY OWN family members. I’m having to learn how to nurture them towards spiritual growth and change. It’s not an easy task, but I’m committed to the long haul.

    I think that too often we pastors assume that we are the change agents and the people are simply the channels for our efforts. Instead of seeing God’s people as gifted individuals who are co-laborers in the kingdom, we see the whole group as a bunch of spiritually inferior sheep we’re called to lead as a shepherd. I may be overstating this idea, but it’s important to me.

    I guess what I’m getting at is that another facet of the myth is leadership issues among pastors.

    Blessings,

    Andy

  2. trevinwax says:

    Thanks, Andy. You’re right about this. It’s true that leadership issues and unchallenged presuppositions about the pastor’s role are part of the problem.

  3. Tony Kummer says:

    Good article. Many churches see themselves as “seminary churches” who don’t want some guy in their twenties to actually lead them.

  4. noah says:

    Excellent thoughts. I am coming up on my fourth year of my first pastorate. It has been filled with tremendous blessings… and a lot of hurt, pain, and discouragement. Part of it is the result of having to learn how to be a pastor. You don’t really know how to do it, no matter how much education you get and how many great pastors mentor you, until you are actually doing it. But most of it comes from people who don’t want to be pastored. I’m blessed, because most of the people in my church do want a pastor. But a few of the vocal ones just want a chaplain. They make it tough.

    I appreciate you blog and your thoughts.

  5. KrisEwbank says:

    Just came across your blog while doing a little research on pastor tenure.

    One question for you. Why defend yourself and other pastors from what you term a myth by using another myth about congregations? Especially rural ones.

    Can you provide any statistics that show a high number of pastors asked to leave their church? Or is this thought just a myth among pastors?

    A pastor is above all else a shepherd of God’s sheep. Perhaps pastors should spend more time loving them and less time complaining about them. In your article I see love and understanding for pastors, but judgment and criticism of the sheep.If sheep didn’t need leadership God wouldn’t have provided shepherds for them.

  6. trevinwax says:

    My article is not intended to provide statistics on churches that ask their pastors to leave, but to offer a different interpretation of the stats that show pastors staying for short tenures at churches.

    My article is primarily a defense of pastors, not an attack on churches, especially rural ones, in which I have had the blessing to serve on many occasions. It bothers me to hear people waving around the “short-tenure” stats as a stick with which to beat up pastors.

    Many of the pastors I have talked to were never asked to leave their church. Instead, they left before it got that bad… which is part of the reason why short-tenures exist. Some pastors, early-on in ministry, are being forced out by congregations who do not want change, of any kind.

    I do not believe that I am creating a myth about “pastor-chasing churches”, but simply offering an interpretation that makes sense of the short-tenure statistics, albeit from a different point of view.

  7. Roger David says:

    Thank you for your article. It was helpful in sorting out some occurences within the past several years. Pastors and the members of local congregations are all sinners in need of God’s grace in Christ. Most of us who have served in pastoral roles can look back and see where we have personally fallen short, where we wish we had exhibited more maturity, or analyzed or decided something differently, or spent more time in prayer and in the Word. It is also the case, however, that the real control in some congregations is by those who either are not born again or who are arrested in their own spiritual growth. Years ago, a Godly man who was my pastor at the time (and who also led me to a trusting relationship with Christ)mentioned to me the irony of what can happen when congregational leadership positions are merely “passed around.” Too often those who exhibit little spiritual maturity are elected into roles of spiritual leadership. Congregatons need to examine the Scriptures carefully for examples of how to select leaders among themselves. But in small congregations in rural areas where family ties are strong, sometimes that’s easier said than done.

  8. Emanuel Harris says:

    I love the article and responses. I, like some of the other writers, am a Pastor of a rural congregation, and you are so right that many Pastors don’t want to leave and the churches in many cases don’t want them to leave. However, there are other issues that complicate this issue. Ministry is not a part-time calling, but many churches can’t afford a full-time minister and when a man is bi-vocational depending on the line of work it can be very difficult to manage, especially if you have a wife and young children. You end up not devoting enough time to the family or ministry or both. I am not saying the Pastor is bad or the church, it is something that takes faith and prayer to work through.

    If a member wants you in the hospital 60 miles away, the child wants you at a soccer game, and your wife wants some quality time, you can’t please everyone. Then you have regular job issues and demands, counseling church members, mentoring new converts, funerals, weddings, conflict management between different groups/families, prayer time, sermon prepatration (6-8 hours) per sermon, leadership meetings, budgeting, training, etc. There are many ways to work around these issues, but it requires different thinking and much faith on the part of the Pastor and congregation.

    The harsh reality is that if an offer that enables a man to Pastor full-time, many men with families will take it because you now been freed of 40 hours during the week, where you can minister and serve the community and then still go home at the end of the day to your family and not have to worry about the counseling, sermon prepartion, Sunday School prep, etc. when you get home from working another job. Most people want to do what they do, effectively. That includes your first ministry to your family and then to the church. How can a man take care of God’s church if he can’t take care of his own house?

    The controlling famiily groups is a reality, but nothing God can’t conquer through the fasting and prayer of the body.

  9. Mandy says:

    Just wondering where the statistics came from.

  10. Barbara says:

    We have experienced the departure of 4 ministers in 8 years…and at 3 different churches we have attended. I think that statement alone points out that pastors ARE often church-hopping, AND that many of the flock are church-hopping as well. I find this to be very convicting.

    I was raised in the Catholic Church, which views the church as the Bride of Christ, and the priest as the church’s earthly spouse. That is one reason priests are not allowed to marry. They are to be as committed to their parish as a husband is to his wife. Although I have many theological differences with the Catholic Church, and have considered myself as a basic Christian for decades, I must admit that at these times when a pastor leaves because he is “called” (which is the wording that is invariably used), I yearn for the kind of commitment I’ve seen in the Catholic Church. Doesn’t God ever “call” his pastors to a committed relationship with their churches?

    You speak of difficult congregations that drive away their pastors, perhaps by their unwillingness to be pastored. I submit to you that there is no difference between that situation and the story of the prodigal son. Did the father ever stop being the prodigal son’s father even though the son was disobedient, unyielding, and unpleasant? Isn’t it possible that sometimes God calls pastors to difficult churches FOR A REASON? When my husband and I were called to adopt children of a different race, we didn’t really want to take on that difficult challenge, but we realized that God sometimes does not take us down the path of least resistance. In fact, he often gives us difficult roads to travel, for our benefit as well as the benefit of others.

    In short, I am concerned that in today’s church we lack commitment to each other. How can we inspire people to stick with their marriages and their kids during tough times if our own leaders bail out? Is that what it means to be a light unto the world? Just as divorce damages the children, pastors who won’t stick it out in tough circumstances may be permanently damaging the innocent members who have actually formed connections with them.

    If you just want to preach and move on, then call yourself an itinerant preacher, not a pastor. People expect so much more from a pastor (and they should), and it is wrong to disappoint that way. There is no shame in being a simple preacher. Just be honest so that you don’t hurt people.

  11. Tony Hammack says:

    Enjoyed reading the article and the comments of others. I have been a youth pastor for 9 years and a senior pastor now for 4 and have recently challenged my congregation to work with me to accomplish the will of God for our community. The church’s history has been a bit difficult with the previous two pastors leaving on hurtful terms. Some in the congregation would rather be “pastored” by media type ministries and my heart tells me that the reason is quality teaching and safety. They can’t be hurt by a minister on television or the radio. Unfortunately for me some in the congregation filter what I’m trying to say to them through the opinion of this esteemed ministry. I’m not going to quit or look for another church it’s just a hindrance to us as a church body moving forward in unity. Many in the church don’t have anyone they are reaching out to. We have some administrative things in the church to facilitate discipleship but the real relationships are not there and it has started to trouble me. Perhaps by not being mentored by a person they have a working relationship with they don’t know how to mentor a new convert. I’m deeply committed to the people. My personality is a bit feisty so I’m in it for the long haul and don’t mind to deal with confrontation. Thanks again and I hope what I’ve written helps someone. Hurt people tend to hurt people. Healed people tend to heal people.

  12. Marc says:

    What a great piece and I love the replies. I have been serving in my first Pastorate for the last ten years and look forward to many, many more. the truth of the matter is that Pastors do jump ship far too early when things go south (whether because another opportunity would be easier for them and their family, or because the bottom has fallen out) and too many churches pride themselves on being almost unpastorable.

    But, as one of the posters pointed out, Pastors were not Called to an easy job, but they were Called to be faithful in the job they were given.

    Maturity never comes easy, and spiritual maturity is no exception. Pastors are Called to an impossible task and can only finish the race if they understand how impossible it truly is. I keep Phil 1:29 and Ezekiel 33:30-33 always at the forefront of my mind. Also, I was blessed early in my Pastorate to have read “The Heart of a Great Pastor” by H.B. London; I highly recommend it to all Pastors!

  13. Chet Thomas says:

    Great article! (I just found it via a google search on pastor tenure.)

    I agree that a lot of the problems stem from people in churches that do not want to be pastored: they are satisfied with who and what they are, and they have no desire to become “conformed to the image of Christ.” Instead of expecting the Pastor to be a mentor, they expect him to be a Church Activities Director whose job is to keep everyone busy, happy, and entertained.

    When he runs out of ideas, they get fussy and crabby, and eventually he figures that his time is up, and he floats a resume’. He then relocates to another church, where all too often, it starts all over again.

    Anyway, just my two cents worth, four years after the article was written. :)

  14. Jack says:

    Sheep do indeed need shepherds. When the perfect shepherd came they yelled, “Crucify him, give us Barabbas.” Sheep bite. The author of this article could easily be quoting from the history of my early ministry. I served those small rural churches that were dominated by tight knit families. Patriarchs or Matriarchs that determined the course of the church. It is hard to lead a people that see the pastor as the one part that can change when things get tough. After 10 years serving in a small rural church I took in 104 members. The family in charge of the church slowly let them out the back gate by rejecting their involvement in the congregation. Sorry, it’s a hard fact. I wouldn’t be in the ministry if I didn’t love the Lord and His people, but scripture shows that God’s people are rebellious and stiff necked.

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Trevin Wax


​Trevin Wax is managing editor of The Gospel Project at LifeWay Christian Resources, husband to Corina, father to Timothy, Julia, and David. You can follow him on Twitter. Click here for Trevin’s full bio.

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