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Pastoral Longevity

By James K. Bridges

INTRODUCTION

The concept of pastoral longevity has had a philosophical change in the Assemblies of God since the founding of our Fellowship. This is probably true with regard to other church organizations as well. Pastoral longevity has not always been a subject of primary importance among the ministers of our Movement.

Part of the reason for this lack of interest in pastoral longevity in the early days of our Fellowship may have been due to the major emphasis on revival and evangelism with lesser emphasis on conserving the results. However, with the growth and development of the Assemblies of God came the need to refocus on the continuity of the fledgling assemblies that were being started.

In their beginning, the Methodist Church experienced the same zeal for evangelism and oversight of conservation. An interesting story is told of C.C. McCabe, assistant secretary of the Methodist Episcopal Church Extension Society, who noticed a newspaper article in which the famous agnostic Robert Ingersoll proclaimed: "The churches are dying out all over the land; they are struck with death." McCabe leaped off the train at the next station and fired off a telegram to Ingersoll. It read: "Dear Robert, All hail the power of Jesus’ name—we are building more than one Methodist church for every day in the year and propose to make it two a day!"1

Other factors why we have become more interested in pastoral longevity are:

  1. We have learned by experience that rapid pastoral turnover greatly contributes to the instability, lack of growth, and the demise of a local church.
  2. The realization of the need for strong and sustained pastoral leadership has brought about an increased number of long-term pastorates over the years. It is not uncommon to conduct anniversary celebrations for pastors with tenures of 25, 50, or more years.
  3. National and district training through pastor/board leadership seminars has brought an increased understanding to local church leaders and members of the value of pastoral longevity.
  4. Church pastoral staffs and lay leaders have access to more conferences dealing with church growth and ministerial retention. Subjects such as developing people skills, building relationships, and team-leadership concepts are dealt with in detail.

ESSENTIAL PERSONAL QUALITIES
NECESSARY FOR PASTORAL LONGEVITY

Luke 2:52 mentions the areas of personal development Jesus modeled for His followers: "Jesus increased in wisdom and stature, and in favor with God and man." This has been referred to as the mental, physical, spiritual, and social development of Jesus. Any person seeking long-term ministry will strive to excel in these areas as well.

Mental Stability

A minister must strive to keep his* mental attitude in alignment with the Word of God to have healthy and biblical thought processes. "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Philippians 2:5). Keep in mind that what we think, we do; and what we do, we become. It is essential that we strive to stay mentally refreshed, alert, and logical. Every minister needs a close friend with whom to test his thinking. For a minister to develop an unhealthy mental attitude—such as a God-complex in which he sees himself as never wrong and never to be questioned about any decision made or money spent—is in a condition of mental instability.

Physical Stability

We must look to the Lord for our health. Many have difficult physical infirmities to overcome. We must use discipline, restraint, and wisdom to stay in the best physical shape possible. The help of our physician is valuable and is not a contradiction to faith. Many times our problems can be solved if we will just obey our physician’s advice.

Spiritual Stability

Staying healthy spiritually is vital to our pastoral tenure. We must be known as people of spiritual moderation. It is important to be spiritually balanced, not an erratic up and down leader. To be known as a spiritual person means one is a person of prayer, of the Word, and of the Spirit, whose walk with Christ is close and personal, showing spiritual maturity.

Social Stability

Having a proper relationship with the people to whom we minister requires that we have emotional maturity. Emotional instability manifests itself in many ways, such as an explosive temperament or an inferiority complex. Jesus modeled a relationship with people that came from having the wisdom of God. James described the wisdom that is from above as pure, peaceable, gentle, willing to yield, full of mercy and good fruits, without partiality, and without hypocrisy (3:17). With such traits, it will not be difficult for a minister to develop strong and solid relationships with members of the congregation.

ESSENTIAL PROFESSIONAL QUALITIES
NECESSARY FOR PASTORAL LONGEVITY

Elder, Shepherd, Overseer

The New Testament uses several titles to refer to the chosen leader of the church, each shedding light on the various aspects of the ministry. As a spiritually mature leader, the minister is referred to as an elder (presbuteros); as the pastor/teacher, the minister is referred to as a shepherd (poimen); and, as the overseer/administrator, the minister is spoken of as a bishop (episkopos). In these professional roles, as some would term them today, the Scripture is quite clear concerning what is expected of the minister (Acts 20; 1 Timothy 3; Titus 1).

In 1 Peter 5:1–4, the apostle Peter writes to the elders as one of their group: a fellow elder (sumpresbuteros), showing how these ministerial roles exist in the same person. The elder is called to shepherd the flock of God and also to serve as an overseer. All three offices are referred to in this passage. Peter made it clear that these ministries had to be carried out willingly, eagerly, and in an exemplary manner. Fulfilling our duties with the right attitude is essential to pastoral longevity.

One cannot be a shepherd and a hireling, compassionate and unsympathetic, caring and selfish, faithful and disloyal, or genuine and superficial at the same time. A passion for the ministry and a passion for the lost are not the same thing. Some ministers love the office of pastor with its prestige and influence, but do not love people. Our business is about people, not religion and its trappings.

Prophet, Preacher, Teacher

Other callings for which the minister is responsible relate to the proclamation and communication of the gospel of Jesus Christ. Pastoral longevity depends a great deal on a minister’s pulpit presence. As a minister conducts the services of the church, it doesn’t take a congregation long to understand who is increasing and who is decreasing. John said, "He [Christ] must increase, but I must decrease." The American superstar mentality has crept into the church, and this mentality is contrary to the servant-leadership style our Lord intended for His ministers. It is hard to be humble and arrogant at the same time. A minister’s pulpit gestures and manners are a dead giveaway to the congregation and countermands whatever he may say if he is not for real.

The New Testament prophetic ministry is set forth in 1 Corinthians 14:3: speaking "unto men to edification (build up), and exhortation (stir up), and comfort (cheer up)." Some ministers try to act as Old Testament prophets who spoke ex cathdra and expect to go unchallenged. But New Testament prophecy is to be judged by the Word of God (verse 29). A minister cannot claim infallibility. Keep in mind that the first prophets and apostles are the foundation of the Church, with Christ as the Chief Cornerstone (Ephesians 2:20). We are the superstructure. Acknowledging this will help keep our role and ministry in proper perspective.

Longevity has much to do with how seriously a minister will prepare for ministering the Word of God. The preaching and teaching ministry is vital to a long tenure. Your people will forgive you for not knowing more about business or politics than they do, but they will not forgive you if you don’t know the Bible better than they do and help them apply it to their lives. You can only preach social issues, hot topics, and current events for so long. If this is a smoke screen for your inability to "rightly divide the word of truth," then you are in for a short duration. Long-term pastors, while preaching topically on occasion, are generally expository preachers. They realize that short-changing themselves and their people in areas of biblical study and sermon preparation is really a shortcut to a short tenure.

We are hearing much talk today about people not being interested in doctrine. People today are very interested in any subject that directly impacts their lives. It is up to the minister to apply the doctrines of Scripture in a relevant manner. To deal with subjects such as death, abortion, homosexuality, heaven or hell, requires a minister to know the Word of God. This is a biblically illiterate and skeptical generation, and the communicator of the Scriptures must be thoroughly versed in the Word, having studied the text exegetically and sought to apply it in a manner that is hermeneutically sound.

A Necessary Warning

While exegesis and hermeneutics are valuable disciplines for the minister of the gospel, this is an area where dangers exist that can cause one to lose his way. Like John Bunyan’s Christian falling into the slough of despond, many Pentecostal preachers and educators are falling into the slough of skepticism and unbelief, because they have lost their hold on the authority of the inspired, inerrant, infallible Word of God. We are in a subtle age theologically; some teachers say one thing and mean another.

We must not play games with the Word of God. Our statement of faith speaks clearly: "The Scriptures…are verbally inspired...the infallible, authoritative rule of faith and conduct." When you lose your authority, you lose the edge of being able to preach and teach with full faith and conviction. You then lose your anointing and the dynamic of the Spirit that draws people to your pulpit. A Pentecostal pulpit must have a genuinely Pentecostal preacher who is full of faith, wisdom, the Holy Spirit, and has an honest report (Acts 6).

We should be deeply concerned about the inroads of unbelief found in the systems of interpretation and application employed by evangelical scholars today. Some have drawn an interesting parallel between Jesus and the Bible. They claim the Scriptures are both divine and human in the same manner as Jesus is both divine and human. Of course, the purpose for this analogy is to establish that the Word of God is human and as such it is filled with imperfections and should be subjected to the scrutiny of human reasoning and criticism. Those who use this parallel forget that, even though Jesus was human as well as divine, in His humanity He was sinless and without imperfections.

It is imperative that Pentecostal theology and Pentecostal theologians blaze a trail on the solid foundation of the Word of God that will avoid the slough of blatant modernism on one side and the slough of an enigmatic existentialism on the other. One robs us of our faith; the other robs us of truth. To accomplish this will take the Holy Spirit doing for us exactly what Jesus did for the disciples when He "opened their understanding, that they might comprehend the Scriptures" (Luke 24:45). This is what Pentecostals are all about—allowing the Spirit of Truth to lead us into all truth. Our founding fathers blazed this trail before us and successfully avoided the sloughs and pitfalls, and so can we. And so will we.

ESSENTIAL POINT-PERSON QUALITIES
NECESSARY FOR PASTORAL LONGEVITY

The Point Person is the Lead Person.

In sports, the front player around whom the team forms to execute its offensive drives is called a point guard. In the military, point guards are those persons in the advance position of the squad, platoon, or company—out in front, leading the forward advance of the troops. In a sense, the entire pastoral staff are front people leading the church; ultimately, however, the pastor is the point person who is responsible for the advance of the church.

Knowing the Difference Between the Variables and the Invariables

To lead the church, the pastor must know the difference between those things that can and should be changed, and those things that do not and must not change. Techniques and methods change with time and custom, but truth never changes. A pastor who is confused about the unchanging and immutable truths of the Word of God is like a compass whose needle keeps spinning and will not point north. He will lose his way.

Technologies and methodologies are constantly changing. Yet, according to George Barna in his book, The Second Coming of the Church, the church and pastor who fail to use current technology are viewed with a certain skepticism by this tech-literate generation. A church utilizing the technology to which this generation is accustomed will be much more accepted than those who do not. While this may be true, the church without the funds to purchase costly high-tech equipment must not be discouraged. Keep in mind that the Early Church did not have any of the modern technical advantages of today, yet they reached their world with the gospel.

Relating to Our Publics

A pastor who understands the age, characteristics, and needs of the people to whom he ministers will enhance his ability to give servant-leadership to the church. People are identified in their age groups beginning with the oldest—seniors, builders, boomers, busters, and mosaics. The needs of these age groups vary greatly, but the pastor who seeks to minister to all of them is not only advancing the church but his pastoral longevity as well.

CONCLUSION

Concerning longevity, George Barna stated: "The average tenure of a pastor in Protestant churches has declined to just 4 years—even though studies consistently show that pastors experience their most productive and influential ministry in years 5 through 14 of their pastorate."2 We have much work to do in the Assemblies of God to increase the average pastoral tenure. We are certain it is vital to the health of the local church, and it is beneficial to the success and well being of our ministers.

We have discussed initiatives the pastor can take in personal and professional areas that foster attitudes and relationships that lead to long tenures. While we have not discussed them in this article, there are initiatives a congregation can take that will also encourage its pastor to make long-term commitments to the church. It is a marvelous experience to participate in an anniversary celebration where a pastor and congregation have been united in the bonds of Christ’s love for many years and the love affair is continuing. May this be the portion for many more of our pastors and churches.

*Though this article uses the masculine pronoun for pastors, the General Council of the Assemblies of God supports women serving as pastors.

ENDNOTES

1. Richard B. Wilke, And Are We Yet Alive?: the future of the Methodist Church (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1986), 23,24.

2. George Barna, The Second Coming of the Church, (Nashville: Word Publishing, 1998), 5.


James K. Bridges is the Assemblies of God general treasurer, Springfield, Missouri.

 

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