How long is too long and how short is too short for a stay in the same pulpit?

There are many variables to this question. For example, pastors like Jack Hayford have been in the same ministry for over twenty years, while other pastors have felt the need to move on after only five or more years because of the need to be more challenged. One strong consideration is the fact that the average stay of a pastor is somewhere between 2.5 and 3.5 years. The comment has been made that too few pastors stay long enough to reap the good fruit that they have sown.

Things to take into consideration are:

  1. The community -- Is the location a good fit for you? There have been a number of occasions where, for example, someone from a rural area moves to a metropolitan area and adjusts real well or experience anxiety and chaos from day one.
  2. Evaluations from the board -- One of the key factors in longevity is maintaining good communication with his board and realistic expectations that are clearly and fairly evaluated. Often times a pastor "leaves too soon" because they are tired of dealing with vagueness, the feeling of wondering whether they are meeting the demands of the board, etc.
  3. Needs of the family -- As the family grows and the needs of the children change sometimes it is very fair to reevaluate your location. For example, you are serving in a metropolitan area and because of the inherent stresses it may be time to move to the middle of Iowa.
  4. Salary -- While money should not be a primary motivator, it is obviously a necessity. On the hand, we should be able to provide for our family. On the other hand, the church should be willing to provide a fair wage to the pastor. There are obviously many "Bi-vocational pastors". The point, however, is that as needs change, families grow it is not unreasonable to rethink one's salary and benefits and act accordingly to provide for one's family.
  5. Denominational support -- As much as we would like to think that everything within a denominational structure stays status quo, the reality is that things can change structurally or even theologically. It is wise to weigh this factor carefully before making a decision to leave. Have you given the denomination a fair chance? Have you discussed your concerns with the presbytery or district superintendent, etc.?
  6. God's call -- This is last, but certainly not least. Staying at the same church for 45 years may be a great thing but it may not necessarily prove God's call on one's life. Some pastors have long overstayed their welcome. But obviously the other extreme is not healthy either. Any job takes 3-5 years for you to become really established and connected. Pastoral ministry is especially sensitive in this area. It takes time to develop the trust of your flock, prove yourself in your teaching and ministering ability, etc.