Words of Wisdom from Pastors with Tenure (Part 1)

A 2011 Lifeway Research poll found that the average tenure for pastors in a local church is 3.6 years. Some have suggested that the number may be higher. Nevertheless, pastors who stay at a given church for ten, twenty, thirty, or more years are a rare occurrence. Yet the pastors that we tend to admire the most are those who have stayed at and labored in a single local church for an extended period of time. Furthermore, some advantages emerge with a pastoral tenure or longevity at a single local church. For these purposes, I’ve asked four men (Rob Morgan, Frank Owens, Randy Riggs, and Rusty Russell) to answer three questions about the importance of staying at one local church for an extended period of time. Today’s installment contains the answers of Rob Morgan and Frank Owens.

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Rob Morgan

Rob Morgan is the Teaching Pastor at The Donelson Fellowship in Nashville, TN where he has served for thirty-seven years.

  1. What are some of the advantages of staying at a church for a long time?

There are two thoughts on this. Some pastors, for example, Frank Pollard, a Southern Baptist legend who was at First Baptist, Jackson, Mississippi, felt that a pastor’s effectiveness peaked at seven to ten years, and that it was unwise to stay a long time at the same church. There’s some truth in that. But my philosophy is simply to be where the Lord puts us until He clearly moves us, and that tends toward stability. During a long pastorate, precious relationships are built. I dedicate the babies of babies I dedicated, and I marry the children of couples I married years ago. Personally, there’s a great benefit to have stability, especially for one’s family. It’s hard on a marriage and, especially, on children, to be uprooted.

  1. What key factors did God use to enable your longevity/tenure?

Two things: First, my personal morning habit of having a quiet time with God kept me spiritually replenished so that I didn’t burn out. Second, a pulpit philosophy of expository preaching meant that I never ran dry on sermon material.

  1. What advice concerning this topic would you give to young men entering into the ministry or those who may be considering moving to a new church?

The results of our ministry can only be measured in eternity, because the ripple effect exceeds our observation and continues until Christ returns. Therefore, we must galvanize ourselves against discouragement and trust the truth of 1 Corinthians 15:58. The Lord may occasionally move us to a seemingly larger field of labor in His providence — that happened to me once, when I left my country church and moved to my current work. But personal and family and ministry stability is invaluable, and if someone remains spiritually rehydrated and is expositional in preaching, a long tenure will overcome the occasional bouts of discouragement Satan throws at us and will result in a well-built solid legacy.

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Frank Owens

Frank Owens is the Senior Pastor at Sylvan Park Free Will Baptist Church where he has served for twenty-three years.

  1. What are some of the advantages of staying at a church for a long time?

Family Benefit – It takes a while for a pastor to become a part of a church family. It takes a while for his family to feel at home in their church community and city.

Team Benefit – It takes a while for pastor, staff, deacons and church leaders to become a team. You won’t know that until you “surfed” some high water marks and “treaded” some deep water together. A wonderful thing happens when your people feel you/they are a “team.”

“Common Man” Benefit – You have to “rub shoulders” with people for a while to really be “their” pastor. That will come with spending some time at the hospital/funeral home with them. That will come by being there when their children are born, their loved ones die. That will come when their house is a place you can drop into and your house is a place that you welcomed them to. You may print “Pastor” or “Preacher” on your business card and the church letterhead but it won’t really be so until your people feel like you have “earned” it.

Community Advantage – Unless you live in a really small community it will take a while before the community takes notice of the fruit of your ministry. You should come to consider every unchurched/unsaved person as a part of your “parish.” It will take a lot of visitation, a lot of introductions, and a lot of “local living” to build the reputation as the pastor of ________ Church. But that will exponentially open doors of opportunity for you.

If you stay long enough and serve faithfully enough, in people’s mind you become the pastor of the community whether people actually come to your church or call upon you. They have you in mind as the one that that would call if they ever do. (For example, Bobby Ferguson did that in Houston by being available to preach hundreds of military funerals at the Veteran’s Cemetery across the street when those families didn’t have a pastor. Randy Wright did that in Guin, AL by pouring his whole life/ministry into the people of his home region.)

  1. What key factors did God use to enable your longevity/tenure?

Pastoral Examples – Both of the pastors I served under had long pastorates: (1) Bobby Ferguson, 1st FWB Houston, TX (my summer internship – 1976, ‘77, ‘78). Bro Bobby pastored 1st Houston for forty-eight years; and (2) Tom Malone, 1st FWB, Florence, AL (Associate Pastor, 1980-’92). Bro Tom pastored 1st FWB, Florence for nineteen-and-a-half years, leaving to serve as President of the second love of his life, Free Will Baptist Bible College, now Welch College.

Ministerial Advice – There seems to be mounting evidence of the accumulating benefits of long-term pastoral relationships, consistent expositional preaching, and an enduring godly example. I have benefited from good advice from godly mentors.

Encouraging Wife – During times of difficulty, LaDonna has remained personally happy, cordial to difficult people, and confident in God’s Providence to bring good out of all things.

Watching Children – We have believed that the best environment to nurture children (in our case two sons) to consider the ministry for themselves was a stable Christian home and a vibrant (whatever size) church. In some measure God has allowed that and our desire has been realized in our sons.

  1. What advice concerning this topic would you give to young men entering into the ministry or those who may be considering moving to a new church?

Consider a Staff Position First – Serving under a mentoring senior pastor as his associate will give you invaluable experience and exposure to ministry along with available wisdom to keep you from making catastrophic “rookie” mistakes. I don’t know a young man who wouldn’t benefit from such a pastor arrangement.

In my own case, Bro. Tom Malone and I discussed and came to agreement on every major decision of my areas of responsibility. During the discussions, he often asked me questions that caused me to reconsider and modify my plans. When he signed off on the steps we would take forward he always “had my back” and defended what I was implementing by saying, “He’s doing what we decided.” The ten years I had under his leadership were invaluable.

See Enough to Keep You Occupied – Envision what God can do with your whole life where He will place you. If you are “too big to stay” then you were probably “too small to come.” God might allow you to secede that mentoring pastor if you serve well and stay.

Also, if you are a faithful expositional preacher it will take you a lifetime to “declare the whole counsel of God” to your people. John MacArthur just completed 40+ years preaching through the New Testament at Grace Community Church. Buy you some cemetery plots there early on in your ministry. Without seeming presumptuous on the favor of your congregation, let them know that you have no other desire/plan than pour your whole life into theirs. That will nurture confidence in your people. Insecure sheep tremble about their shepherd leaving them.

Author: Jesse Owens

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  1. Words of Wisdom from Pastors with Tenure (Part 2) | Helwys Society Forum - […] a pastoral tenure or longevity at a single local church. For these purposes, I’ve asked four men (Rob Morgan,…
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