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Why it takes 5 to 7 years to become the pastor

Oct. 22, 2017 | by Thom Rainer

You are the new pastor of the church. Expectations are high, both on your part and on the members’ part. Perhaps you celebrate with some type of installation service and dinner or refreshments afterwards. 

Optimism reigns. You are ready to lead and move the church forward. After all, you are the pastor.  



In most established churches, there is a prolonged period before the church members as a whole will truly embrace you as their pastor. When that time comes, most pastors enjoy the greatest and most joyous years of their ministry. 

But the majority of pastors never make it to year five, much less year seven.  

Common reasons 

So why does it take five to seven years for the church to embrace you as the pastor? Here are six common reasons. 

1. It takes a long time to break into established relationship patterns.  

Many of the members have been around for years, even decades. They have their friends, family members, and relationship groups. Pastors will not meaningfully enter into many of those relationships for several years. 

2. You are creating new ways of doing things.  

You may not think you are a major change agent, but your mere presence as the new pastor—one who is inherently different than the previous pastor—changes things significantly. You lead differently. You preach differently. Your family is different. The church has to adjust to all the changes you bring into its midst before they begin to embrace you fully as pastor. 

3. Most relationships do not get fully established until they go through one or two major conflicts.  

The first year or two mark the honeymoon years. The church thinks you are absolutely great. Then you do something different, lead something different, or change something that goes counter to their expectations. Not surprisingly, conflict ensues. You are no longer the best.  

The bottom line: you typically enjoy two years of honeymoon, face one to two years of conflict, and require one to two years to get on the other side of the conflict. Thus, in five to seven years, you become the pastor. 

4. The church is accustomed to short-term pastorates.  

Many churches rarely see a pastor make it to the fifth, sixth, or seventh year. They never fully accept the pastor, because they don’t believe the leader will make it past the first major conflict. 

5. Previous pastors wounded some of the church members.  

There are many reasons for this reality, some understandable and some not. In either case, a previous pastor hurt some church members, and the members will require several years to accept a new pastor and learn to trust again. 

6. Trust is cumulative, not immediate.  

This reality is especially true in established churches. Regardless of how the ministry unfolds, it simply takes time before church members are willing to say with conviction, “That is my pastor.” 

The fruit of longevity 

I know. I wish we could snap our fingers and enjoy immediate trust. But, in most churches, it just is not going to happen quickly. It will take five to seven years. 

The question is: are you willing to stick around to enjoy the fruit of a long-term pastorate? 

Photo source: istock

Thom Rainer

Thom Rainer is the president and CEO of LifeWay Christian Resources. He is also a former pastor, seminary dean, and leader of a consulting firm. Rainer is the author or co-author of 25 books, including his latest release from B&H Publishing Group: Who Moved My Pulpit? Leading Change in the Church. His 2013 book, I Am a Church Member, has sold more than one million copies.

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