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New Pastor, Stay at Your Church Longer than 5 Years

If you’re a pastor stepping into a new church, it’s prudent to commit to patiently stay for at least five years. Earning trust from a congregation can take longer, and admittedly there are countless factors to consider. There are unique situations I may counsel differently, but in general, I don’t believe a pastor’s initial commitment to a church should be for less than a half-decade.

Why? It takes time for a congregation to adapt to you as their pastor, for them to see your love. It also takes time for you to demonstrate you can persevere in faithfulness and rest in God’s grace.

1. Time for the Congregation to Mourn and Adapt

Even a healthy church will need time to mourn the loss of their previous pastor and adapt to you as their new pastor. After all, you’re different from their last pastor. You have a unique personality and a unique gifting for ministry. You’ll have strengths and weaknesses the previous pastor didn’t have.

When you follow a faithful and beloved servant of God who led and loved a congregation for years, it can take time for them to see past these differences. The previous pastor ministered to them in the difficult moments. He celebrated life’s joys with them. He shepherded them in a way unique to how God made him, a way people became accustomed to. The transition to your leadership, no matter how healthy, will be jarring for people who grew to trust him.

It’ll take time for them to see your differences aren’t always shortcomings and that they don’t necessarily mean you’re less faithful. Imagine you had a coach from Little League through your junior year of high school. Then your school hired a new coach. You’d naturally long for the familiarity of the old coach and be skeptical of the new one. He’s different, and you don’t have the same relationship you had with the old coach who earned your respect and trust.

That’s not so different from a pastoral transition. There’s great value in giving the people time to grieve the loss of their previous pastor and to acclimate to you as their new shepherd.

2. Time for the Congregation to See Your Commitment and Love

Churches need time to see your commitment and love for them. This is especially true for an unhealthy church—one that’s immature or where people’s expectations are unrealistic or unbiblical.

Perhaps the church has a history of running pastors out or has had pastors abandon the church for “better things.” Maybe the average tenure of the pastors in this church’s history is short. People may think, He’ll be here for a year or two then be gone like the others. Perhaps previous pastors betrayed or hurt the church in some way. In some cases, the issues may be deeper and take time to uncover and understand.

Whatever the circumstances, if people are skeptical and expect you to leave quickly, have wrong expectations, and are guarded and unwilling to be led, it’ll take time for them to see your commitment and to learn you care for them. Time allows you to prove you won’t abandon, use, or bail on them. With time, you can show them you’re there to love and care for them in a way that honors God and reflects his care for the church.

With time, you can show them you’re there to love and care for them in a way that honors God and reflects his care for the church.

Give the congregation time to mature under your faithful ministry of the Word. Give them time to learn to trust a shepherd who seeks the good of the sheep. Prove you’re worthy of their trust by allowing the congregation to see your faithful character and care week in and week out.

3. Time for You to Demonstrate Faithful Perseverance

Nothing can replace faithfulness over time. That’s the essence of Paul’s admonition to Timothy in 1 Timothy 1:3–5. Paul urges Timothy to do three things.

First, stay where you are (v. 3). Don’t give up and jump ship. The temptation is real, but don’t give in. If you leave, you’ll only have to start over again, so stick it out. Stay because the people need consistency.

Second, love (v. 5). The motivation for staying put is love for God and his people. They need time to see your love for them demonstrated. They need you to show them you love them, that you’re not just a hireling who’s in ministry for the paycheck. They need time to see your love for God in action.

Third, faithfully shepherd (vv. 3–4). Paul’s charge to Timothy throughout the rest of the letter is to faithfully teach the Word, to devote himself to sound doctrine and faithful shepherding. One of the best things you can do to earn the trust of God’s people is to be utterly committed to the Word, to teach it faithfully, and to shepherd them in light of God’s Word as the Word shapes you.

4. Time for You to Rest in God’s Grace

When we’re humble servants who rest in God’s grace, we show his people we’re fighting the good fight of faith alongside them. We show them we’re fellow workers for their joy who aren’t lording our authority over them (2 Cor. 1:24) We depend with them on God’s strength in our weakness (12:9). We show them we need the same gospel hope we’re offering to them.

The motivation for staying put is love for God and his people.

If you’re going to patiently persevere in faithful service to God, the people God has entrusted to you need to see your need for him. So practice wisdom. Repent when needed. Admit fault. Welcome accountability. Live in light of the gospel of grace. Demonstrate you’re humbly depending on God, and the trust of godly people will follow.

As they see you trust him over time, you’ll become their trusted pastor because they trust that Christ is at work in you, forming you, their pastor, in the image of the Great Shepherd.

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