By Jonathan Howe
Not a week goes by when I don’t hear of a pastor leaving one church headed to another. It happens. We all get that. Unfortunately, some of the names or churches mentioned are the same ones I heard just months earlier. For this post, I’ll refer to anything shorter than 6-9 months tenure as a “short pastorate.
While some circumstances do call for quick pastoral turnover, it’s hard not to wonder if some churches fire their pastor (or the pastor bails) too quickly. Regardless of which side cuts the other loose, the church and pastor are nearly always worse off as a result. The unintended consequences of short pastoral tenure take their toll on both sides.
- Members lose trust in the pastors, and pastors lose trust in churches. This seems obvious, but if a pastor leaves a church and the church feels like the pastor burned them in the process, the next pastor will find the deck stacked against them. If the pastor is the one burned, there will be a greater scrutinizing and distrust of the next church—if there is a next church.
- Your current church will wonder if it will happen to them. If you had a short pastorate at your last stop, the church you go to will inevitably wonder if the same will happen to them. Trust is hard to gain and easy to lose. Short pastorates eat up trust on both sides of the equation.
- The staff is demoralized. Regardless of where the blame for the short pastorate lies, the staff is left to pick up the pieces after a pastor leaves. They have to answer the questions, deal with more uncertainty, and try to move forward in a new normal they weren’t expecting—and one they often contributed little to.
- The vision of the church is clouded. When a new pastor comes in, a new vision and direction is usually cast. After a short pastorate, there is great uncertainty about the vision and direction of the church. Do you continue in the direction the last pastor was leading? Do you return to what it was before the short pastorate? Does someone internally rise up and cast a new vision? Those are just three options. And it’s likely that different areas of the church will gravitate to a different one. Then you have a whole new set of problems.
- Financial waste. This is the most practical consequence of a short pastorate. Financial resources are expended to find a new pastor only to turn around and spend that much or more to do it again within just a few months. It’s a wasteful use of funds. Money for ministry becomes money for mistakes.
In closing, if you’re in a situation and considering leaving your church after just a few months, I exhort you to reconsider and pray earnestly. Far too often “God told me” becomes a convenient cover for “this is hard, and I want out.” Churches, the same goes for you. Far too often “God told us” becomes a convenient cover for “we don’t want to change.”