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?