by Thom S. Rainer
You are the new pastor of the church. Expectations are high on your part and on the members’ part. Perhaps you celebrate with some type of installation service.
You are ready to lead and move the church forward. After all, you are the pastor. Right?
In most established churches, there is a prolonged period before the church members as a whole will truly embrace you as pastor. When that time comes, most pastors enjoy their greatest and most joyous years of ministry.
But the majority of pastors never make it to year five, much less year seven. So why does it take five to seven years to be embraced as the pastor of most established churches? Here are seven common reasons.
1. It takes a long time to break into established relationship patterns. Many of the members have been around for decades. They have their friends, family members, and relationship groups. Pastors will not meaningfully enter into many of those relationships for several years.
2. You are creating new ways of doing things. You may not think you are a major change agent, but your presence as the pastor changes things significantly. You lead differently. You preach differently. Your family is different. The church has to adjust to all the changes you bring before they begin to embrace you fully as pastor.
3. Most relationships do not establish fully until they go through one or two major conflicts. The first year or two are your honeymoon years. The church thinks you are absolutely great. Then you do something, lead something, or change something that goes counter to their expectations. Conflict ensues. You are no longer the best. So you have two years of honeymoon, one to two years of conflict, and one to two years to get on the other side of conflict. Then you become the pastor in five to seven years.
4. The church is accustomed to short-term pastorates. Many churches rarely see a pastor make it to the fifth, sixth, or seventh year. They never fully accept the pastor, because they don’t believe the leader will make it past the first major conflict.
5. Previous pastors wounded some church members. There are many reasons for this reality, some understandable and some not. In either case, a previous pastor hurt some church members, and the members take several years to accept a new pastor and learn to trust again.
6. Trust is cumulative, not immediate. This reality is especially true in established churches. Regardless of how the ministry unfolds, it simply takes time before church members are willing to say with conviction, “That is my pastor.”
I know. I wish we could snap our fingers and enjoy immediate trust. But, in most churches, it just is not going to happen quickly. It will take five to seven years.
Are you willing to stick around to enjoy the fruit of a long-term pastorate?
Dr. Thom Rainer is president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources of the Southern Baptist Convention.