How do you avoid quick pastoral turnover? None of us go into our first pastorate hoping to be forced to leave after a year or two. What can you do to give yourself the best shot at success in your first pastorate?
It’s only by God’s grace that we are able to persevere in any ministry he calls us to, whether as a pastor, a leader, or a church member. However, here are 6 sure-fire ways to make your first pastorate a short one. Avoid these at all costs!
Be constantly late or absent.
If you want to ensure that your congregation will not trust you, just start being late to things. Miss a meeting. Forget to attend a funeral. It’s amazing how much trust can be lost over mere reliability. Nothing shouts, “Don’t trust me with anything really important, like shepherding your eternal soul…” like a pastor who can’t get his act together to be where he is supposed to be. Punctuality and responsibility are character traits anyone would expect of a mature adult. Don’t allow your poor scheduling, procrastination, or lack of organization get in the way of your ministry of the Word and prayer.
Start promising things in the heat of the moment that you know you’ll never be able to do. It starts small—little promises like “I’ll be praying for you” when your demeanor says you’re going to forget five seconds later. Then you start promising to attend different events that you forget about, you start telling members or prospective members that this or that is going to change or be done in a month. Listen. No one is twisting your arm. Don’t promise what you can’t deliver. Better to say nothing and over-deliver than to promise and not come through.
Make it about your opinion vs. their opinion.
As long as the arguments and disagreements in the church are over opinions, you are guaranteeing a quick exit. There are many of them and only one of you. If what you are calling your congregation to is “your opinion,” then you will either eventually cave to “their opinion” or you and your church will be parting ways. Avoid the battle of opinions and make everything you seek to do in the church a matter of obedience to God’s Word. Refuse to push forward without Biblical warrant. Make it abundantly clear in everything you do that God’s Word is the authority, and you are simply the messenger. Let your church know that even your opinion is subject to King Jesus and his authority.
Go into your first pastorate picturing your church as a three-year ministry project. Come with expectations, high goals, and an exit strategy to make your way up the church ladder to a bigger congregation elsewhere in a few years. This is a perfect recipe for frustration, failure, and disappointment—for you and your congregation. Ministry is not about growing weeds but oaks of righteousness. The Kingdom of God does not spring up instantly; it is a mustard seed planted and grown over many years. If you are in a hurry, you will quickly burn out and burn many brothers and sisters in the process.
Never tell anyone thank-you, never send emails to follow up and encourage your ministry partners, never remind your members of the promises of God. These are great ways to make sure your congregation is battered, bruised, and beaten by the Law and never revived with the cooling waters of the Gospel. The Gospel is good news, but if you want to ruin your first pastorate, have many, many conversations about bad news. Be critical, and don’t encourage the hearts of the saints.
This is the number one way to ensure failure. As one of my favorite hymns sings, “All is vain unless the Spirit of the Living One comes down, brethren pray and holy manna will be showered all around.” Unfortunately, many new pastors (myself included) enter the ministry thinking that knowing all the right answers, preaching the Word, and leading in obedience will magically make the congregation like Christ. The truth is, it is our job to teach and preach the Word, but it is the Spirit’s job to mold and shape believers. He is the only one who can change hearts, produce fruit, and recreate Christians in the image of Christ. So pray that he will. Pray. Pray. Pray.
Avoiding these six problems won’t ensure success. However, when we lay aside these weights and sins that cling so closely, we will be more able to “run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith” (Hebrews 12:1-2). The truth is you will fail in one or all of these areas at some point. I have. That is why the grace of God is so good. As you fail, admit it to yourself and your congregation and trust God’s promise: “My grace is sufficient for you, for my power is made perfect in weakness” (2 Corinthians 12:9).