Several years ago I read an autobiography/biography of Lloyd C. Douglas, started by him and completed by his daughters. Douglas served as a minister of several Lutheran churches and then several Congregational churches during the first half of the 20th century. His fame came from his books, particularly Magnificent Obsession, his first novel that became an immediate sensation, and then The Robe, that sold more than two million copies. In the autobiography/biography titled The Shape of Sunday, Douglas confessed that as a minister he always had an “Elsewhere Complex.” In every church where he served as pastor, he always longed to be somewhere else. He always wanted to be somewhere else than where he was.
That is a common malady among ministers, and it infects all ministers, not just pastors. Instead of blooming where we are planted, so many times we long to be somewhere else – in some situation that is bigger or better or in a more appealing location or with a more effective staff or with a better salary. We too often suffer from an elsewhere complex.
However, here is the good news. A study conducted by the Baptist General Convention of Texas on “Pastoral Tenure in Texas Baptist Churches” reveals a trend toward longer tenure among senior pastors in Texas Baptist churches. According to this study, the average tenure of the senior pastor in Texas churches in 1975 was 2.4 years. By 2000, the figure edged up to 4.2 years. In 2010, the average tenure for a senior pastor pushed up to 6.05 years. So why are pastors staying longer at churches?
FINANCIAL reasons: Finances play a part in the changing figures. Even if the new church offers a higher salary, that money does not always offset the hidden financial burdens of making a move. Selling a house and then buying a new house sometimes leaves the minister in a financial bind. Transitioning to a new home and to a new environment adds more financial demands. Getting the children settled into a new place increases the financial burden. If the spouse works, giving up that job and finding another in the new location might reduce the family income. More and more ministers feel more financially secure to stay where they are.
FAMILY reasons: Ministers are becoming more sensitive to the burden a new move places on their spouse and their children. Although children may benefit from an occasional challenge to adapt to a new situation, too many moves can undermine the children’s sense of self-esteem and threaten the security that comes from their network of friends. Especially when the children are teenagers, fitting into a new school and a new environment can be challenging. Balancing the family cost against the possible increase in opportunities in a new setting, more and more ministers stay where they are for the sake of their family.
THEOLOGICAL reasons: The winds of theological division among Baptists may also cause a reticence to leave where you are and go to another situation. We are living in a day when churches hold a the wide range of theological positions, even if they all have “Baptist” attached to the name, and members of these congregations often hold these positions with real intensity. Many pastors opt for staying in their current setting where they feel comfortable theologically rather than risk a move that might place them in a cauldron of theological controversy.
PASTORAL reasons: Many ministers discover that only by staying at a church for a longer period of time will they be able to effectively minister to the congregation. A Barna Research Group study in 2001 shows that pastors typically felt their greatest ministry impact at churches occurred in years five through fourteen of their pastorates. Staying longer at a church will often enable the pastor to carry out a more effective ministry.
PRACTICAL reasons: The Baptist General Convention study speculates on some other practical reasons that might feed this trend toward longer tenures.
The average age of pastors is getting older. They may therefore be more settled in their career and more experienced in their pastoral ministry, making them less inclined to move.
Today’s pastors are more educated than in past years. This might produce within pastors more confident ministry skills and render them more competent in their ministry tasks. This might be what enables them to remain in any given situation for a longer period of time.
The authors of the study also point to the Baptist placement process. Baptists stress God’s direction in pastoral moves, eschewing someone actually applying to another church. Further, the authors of the study point out that both the formal networks of pastoral placement like denomination agencies and the informal networks such as personal recommendations or word-of-mouth support are not effective in trying to match a candidate with a church. Consequently, many churches, reluctant to get into this process of searching for a new pastor, become more supportive of and more lenient toward their current pastor, encouraging them to stay in their present position.
So what is the bottom line? At any given time in the Baptist General Convention of Texas, about 500 churches are pastorless, so pastors will continue to move from one place to another. However, because of the reasons listed above, more and more pastors are committing themselves to bloom where they are planted.
[This study and the report on it were prepared by Clay Price, Baptist General Convention of Texas, and Dr. Jeter Basden and Dr. Tillman Rodabough, both professors at Baylor University]