Why Churches Have a String of Short-Term Pastors

It almost seems to be a pattern for some churches. In fact, it is. Every pastor stays only a short time, and nobody seems able to change the way things have been. Short pastorates seldom lead to increased church health and church growth, though, so this issue matters. Here are some reasons this pattern happens:

  1. The church doesn’t do a good job with the pastor search process. Sometimes, they simply choose somebody they know without really doing vetting. At other times, they pick pastors they don’t really know because their process gives them too little time with prospects. Sometimes they rush the process, and sometimes they take so long they decide to settle for whomever they can get. Then, they don’t improve the process the next time around.
  2. They don’t really cover the process in prayer. When they do pray, it’s perfunctory. That’s what they’re supposed to do. They don’t truly fall on their faces and seek the leading of the Spirit of God. They then wonder why the process seldom seems to work. 
  3. The congregation isn’t willing to deal with power groups who bully their way to maintain their control. In fact, this may be the number one reason I’ve seen for this problem. Everybody’s tired of the bullies, but nobody has the energy left to stand against them—so they perceive they should continually step into any leadership vacuum. The cycle then continues when they run off the next pastor. 
  4. The search team doesn’t check references—or perhaps worse, they ignore what they learn if it’s negative. As a reference for folks I know, I’m surprised by how often I never hear from a search team considering a pastor. I realize only “positive” references are typically on a resume, but it still matters to do the checking. 
  5. Frankly, too many pastors are not inclined to settle down and stick it out in one place. Even when they know positive tenure contributes to church health, they still get antsy after a couple of years in one place. They always see greener grass somewhere—and they don’t help with this problem. 
  6. Those lay leaders who might help with the problem eventually give up themselves. There are enough good churches around to find a place where the turnover is less frequent, the pastor/congregation relationships are stronger, and the vision is much clearer. I understand why strong laity may gravitate in those directions. 
  7. In some cases, the Devil seems to have a stronghold in pulling down leaders of the church. One after another falls in some way. There could be a number of reasons for this issue, but we ignore the reality of spiritual warfare as a cause at our own peril. 
  8. After a while, the church just assumes every pastor will stay only short-term. It’s all they’ve known for some time, so they expect nothing different. At the same time, though, they don’t fully believe their pastor will be there long term, so they don’t get on board with his vision and potential changes—and the frustrated pastor looks elsewhere. The problem continues. 

If you have been—or are—in one of these churches, what causes do you see? 

Read more from Chuck Lawless »

This article originally appeared on ChuckLawless.com and is reposted here by permission.

Chuck Lawless
Chuck Lawlesshttp://ChuckLawless.com

Chuck Lawless is dean and vice president of graduate studies and ministry centers at Southeastern Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina, and global theological education consultant for the International Mission Board of the Southern Baptist Convention.