Remaining Effective in One Church for a Very Long Time
- 2006 7 Jun
Thirty-nine years is a very long time to serve in one church. However, now that the years have passed, they seem to be almost a pleasant dream, full of wonderful memories. We had our problems, of course, but the worst of them were overshadowed by God’s blessings.
Although I never prepared for a preaching ministry and never intended to be a pastor, the Lord put me in the pulpit in 1964.
There are many things that God used to enable me to have an effective ministry right up to the end of my time as senior pastor. Let me share with you just a few in the form of entreaties.
Preach the Word
A large congregation can be built with little attention given to the Word of God, but the Bible must be primary in order to build a solid fundamental church. While some pastors have more sermon ideas than they can ever develop into messages, that was not the case for me. I believe the Lord performed three miracles for me every week, for He never left me without something to give to my people. I am living proof that a pastor does not need to be a great preacher to be effective.
While I did some expository preaching, I usually felt more comfortable with topical messages. A number of university and seminary Bible professors, including some of my former teachers, were in our congregation. I used to wonder why they came, but decided it must have been that they studied such deep things of the Word during the week that they wanted something simple on Sunday. Although I preached hundreds of messages on the person and work of Christ, I believe that if I had the opportunity to do it over again, I would give even more attention to Him.
Keep finances under control
Paul, speaking of the handling of money given by the churches of
It is imperative to have a budget and to follow it. The congregation should have a voice in any deviation, even those caused by emergencies. If financial problems can be avoided, many other problems will be avoided as well.
Watch your relationships
Most men who leave the ministry do not leave for doctrinal reasons but because of moral failure. Well-meaning pastors often develop inappropriate relationships with women within the context of ministry. Often this downfall comes about through counseling sessions. Counseling without getting emotionally involved is difficult, and runaway emotions often lead to immoral entanglements. Paul tells us about proper relationships that pastors should have with ladies in their congregations: “The elder women as mothers; the younger as sisters, with all purity” (1 Timothy 5:2).
The pastorate can be a lonely place — and it is tempting to establish an inner circle of close friends. Eventually, people in the circle may feel threatened by others and leave the church, or those outside the circle may feel neglected and seek another church. If our relationship with Christ is what it ought to be, our relationships with others will be what they ought to be too.
Do not neglect your wife and family. I once met a pastor who boasted about having something going on at his church every night of the week. That is a sure formula for family disaster. It has been reported that the wife of an internationally known pastor was asked what it was like to be married to him. She replied, “It is like being divorced!” Though difficult, maintaining a balance between ministry and family responsibilities is possible. Conflicts will occur, and in each case you will need wisdom to decide whether to give your immediate attention to the ministry or to your family. Sometimes the answer will fall on the side of the ministry, and sometimes it will fall on the side of the family.
Someone has said that the position of a pastor’s wife is one of the most stressful a woman can hold. In an effort to alleviate her stress, I have assured my wife throughout my ministry that after pleasing the Lord, my main goal is to please her.
Develop a sense of humor
Do not take yourself too seriously. I am not suggesting that you be frivolous, but that you see humor in situations which otherwise could be tense or embarrassing. Learn to laugh at yourself. You are human; let your humanity show through. If you take everything seriously, you will become a person of sour disposition; and no one, including your wife, will want to be around you. There are plenty of things to be serious about — but do not be afraid to let up a little on things that are not. You must laugh a lot in order to survive.
Be grateful for the opportunity
One danger of a long same-church ministry is that the pastor may come to the point where he almost thinks he owns the church rather than seeing his tenure as a gracious opportunity offered him by the Lord and the people of the congregation. Just as love can cover a multitude of sins, so can gratitude — for it is an outpouring of love. Where there is genuine love of a pastor for his Lord and his people, there will be an attitude of gratitude and rejoicing.
If you think you have a bad situation, talk with other pastors about theirs. You will be grateful that you are where you are and not elsewhere.
Know when you have been there long enough
When your health or your effectiveness begins to wane, it may be time to leave that ministry. Sadly, some pastors cling to their pulpits too long. Perhaps they are comfortable and well taken care of and too old to become senior pastor at another church. Perhaps it is difficult to consider leaving. You can kill a church by hanging on. It is better to leave when the congregation wants you to stay than it is to stay when they wish you would leave.
David Yearick, Pastor Emeritus of Hampton Park Baptist Church in Greenville, South Carolina, was called as senior pastor each year for his 39 years in the ministry there.