Being Uprooted Sucks

I find myself questioning some of the standard practices of professional pastors.  Today:  length of service in a particular congregation.

When I was in seminary, we were told that ten years was the preferred term of service for pastors.  I did not comply:

First Call – 5 years

Second Call – 22 years

My United Methodist friends don’t seem to move as much as they used to.  As a child, my friend A’s family moved every five years until her father became an official in the denomination, and the family could plant themselves in one place for longer than the time it takes to get through elementary school.

I observe pastors who stay too long which damages their churches, sometimes to irreparable points.  This happens, especially, in a tight economy when available pastors outnumber open churches dramatically.  Pastors also stay too long when they “can’t afford to move” financially or they are too close to retirement to seek a new call or they don’t want to disrupt their children’s or spouse’s school and work lives.

I’m hyper-aware of the boundary problems involved with staying too long in a single congregation to the point that it becomes “your church” in an unhealthy way.  After 22 years in one congregation, this especially troubles me.  Did I stay too long?  Maybe.  Maybe not.

Context is everything.

All I know is that being uprooted sucks.  I considered it an enormous gift from my parents to grow up in a one town all my life.  They could have moved when I was in junior high but chose not to “for the kids.”  To be honest, they didn’t really want to move either.  They had roots after decades in Chapel Hill.

In this particular Presbytery where I now live,  many pastors move from church to church within the Chicagoland area.  This allows families to plant themselves in one neighborhood for the entirety of a child’s life and develop deep roots.  The biggest problem, though, is that pastors don’t live in the particular neighborhood where they serve which makes ministry a bit more difficult.  It’s optimal, I believe, to live in the neighborhood where your church lives.  This is how missional church happens more readily.

So, what’s been your experience as a pastor or a parishioner in terms of length of pastorate?  Are there any standard guidelines anymore?

 

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One response to “Being Uprooted Sucks

  1. Provocative discussion Jan. Everything in terms of call to ministry is shifting, or has shifted. Not many reliable bench-marks remain. I’m called to transitional/interim ministry and have done that for about 5 years now. What I’ve concluded is that all ministry is now interim/transitional. Some of us realize that, and some of us don’t. I think the day of ministry as a career is over, and we delude seminarians if we don’t share that with them. At the same time, many veteran pastors also know that, while others do not. A good pastors have to accept that there won’t be many opportunities for a long term call, because so many congregations can’t offer that any longer. Stay too long? Or not long enough? There’s no formula for either. Metropolitan areas offer more possibilities I think. But here’s the more crucial discussion. What is the mission of the church God is calling us to envision together? Only when we are much clearer about that will we become clearer about pastors and their call. Too often, we ask about the pastor’s call before or in place of considering the church’s call. Post Vatican 2, there was a movement of “worker priests”. I think that day is upon us for Protestants.

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