I like change. In fact, I thrive on it. Few things in life motivate me like something new and different.
My love for change had led to great experiences, spontaneous endeavors, immersion in new hobbies, irrational decision-making, financial mistakes, and a phase when I thought I wanted to be a cage fighter. My wife is the opposite; she desires stability—steady job, steady income, steady schedule, steady life. If we played the stock market, I’d be a day trader looking to hit big. She’d invest in Apple and Tesla and sit on them (which she has).
In the past six years we’ve lived in four different cities and served at three different churches in various roles. But though I’ve always been restless, I’ve learned that constant adventuring has its disadvantages. Our desire to put down roots has only increased with each move. Now we are planting a church in Harrison, Ohio, where we intend to stay. I want to give my life to a single place with a group of people for a long period of time.
The pastors I know who have been in their churches for 15-plus years can detail the heartbreak and difficulty they’ve experienced. No doubt many of them have been tempted to throw in the towel.
But they stayed.
Obviously, I can’t speak to the challenges of staying in a single place for a long period of time. I can, however, offer four lessons I’ve learned about staying from our going.
1. Relationships change with distance and time.
The Lord has been so kind to my family. At each church we’ve been blessed with relationships that have withstood the test of distance and time. Only a few of these relationships, though, have continued to grow. We may interact on social media and have intentions of getting together again, but the reality is that the capacity to maintain these relationships is stretched with each move. Deep relationships almost always require proximity and time. Moving constantly hinders your ability to invest deeply in the lives of others, and for others to invest deeply in you.
Moving constantly hinders your ability to invest deeply in the lives of others, and for others to invest deeply in you.
No one has ever reminded me of a “life-changing” sermon series I crafted, the sanctuary paint color I agonized over, or the branded church T-shirts probably sitting forgotten in a dark closet. Such things aren’t insignificant; do them well for as long as you are there. But staying at a church allows you the time to invest in the work of building relationships—something people won’t soon forget.
2. Staying provides a front-row seat to long wins.
Social media reminds me of this lesson almost daily. I love when a former student posts a picture from a mission trip or serving in the church, or shares what God is revealing through his Word. Likewise, my heart breaks when I see posts from those who are clearly struggling or have walked away from Jesus altogether.
Staying put presents opportunities to establish deep, meaningful relationships as you walk alongside others who are navigating new experiences and challenges. One of our former churches holds an annual missions conference. They bring in missionaries and church planters from all over the world. The most incredible part is listening to them talk to one another, celebrating victories 20 years in the making. Most people will never know their names, but these missionaries are making a global, eternal impact by committing their lives to a place and a people for the long haul.
It’s been wisely said, “We overestimate what we can do in five years, and underestimate what we can do in 10.” Long wins take time; sticking around allows us to see them.
3. You can lead when they trust you.
If your people don’t know you, why should they trust you? One survey shows it takes five to seven years for people in a church to consider you their pastor. They may call you “pastor,” but they’re still more likely to phone a previous one in the first few years of your ministry there. Why? Longevity provides stability, stability provides consistency, and consistency provides trust. If you have a vision for moving forward with necessary changes, your relational track record gives you capital to pull from.
Remain consistent, display commitment, and serve your church well for a significant period of time—and your congregation will more readily accept your leadership because you’ve proven yourself trustworthy.
4. Sticking around is an investment in your family.
When we arrived at our previous church, a woman embraced my wife, Amy, in a warm hug: “I am so glad you’re here.” It was at that moment we knew we’d be cared for there. And we were. All the churches we’ve served have made us feel like family. Staying doesn’t just benefit the people you serve; staying benefits your family, surrounding them with people who will care for them deeply.
Longevity provides stability, stability provides consistency, and consistency provides trust.
We’ve been able to discern God’s providential care with each move. He has provided lifelong friendships and sanctifying circumstances every step of the way. So if you sense him leading you to leave, then (on the basis of godly counsel) leave. But if you can stay, then stay. Stay for deep relationships, the long wins, and the health of the church and your family.
Staying is hard, and there will always be opportunities to go. But don’t discount the value of committing yourself to one place for the long haul.