Tuesday, November 8, 2011

The Lifecycle of Pastors (personally considered)

Around 1998, about a year after coming to Redeemer

Our first sanctuary on the current property, the former Ogg residence converted in to a sanctuary (1996-2000), we still use it for our offices and youth area

I have been a pastor at Redeemer for almost 15 years. This month marks my tenth year as senior pastor. I can't believe how fast these years have passed. I am blessed to serve such a wonderful church.

I love ministry at Redeemer for a plethora of reasons, but first and foremost is the collective leadership commitment to the Doctrines of Grace and holding me accountable to preach God's Word.

Providentially, Thom Rainer just wrote an interesting post on the life cycle of pastors. I found it to be pretty close to my experience. I will paste his post below and offer my specific observations in yellow.

Almost twenty years ago, I began to note that the tenure of a pastor often follows a predictable pattern. Now, almost two decades later, I still see many of the same patterns, though I have refined the categories and time spans a bit.

I fully understand that these categories are not definitive, and there will certainly be exceptions to the rule. Nevertheless, I offer this lifecycle as a guide that I hope will prove useful to both pastors and congregations alike.

Honeymoon: Years 0 to 1

The new pastor is perceived to be the answer to all the needs and the problems of the church. He is often viewed as a hero because he is not his predecessor. Though some of his faults begin to show during this period, he is often given a pass. Expectations are high that he will be molded into the image that each congregant would like to have.

My transition to senior pastor from associate pastor was gradual as my predecessor left abruptly and I wasn't a candidate at first. In fact, I had informally started the process of considering other calls to solo pastor positions that were available. I agreed to stay on at Redeemer as the interim until they found a permanent senior pastor. I was 29 and not really ready to lead the church. Nevertheless, over a six-month period as interim, my heart and the Elder's hearts and thoughts changed and I became a candidate. In November of 2001 I was installed as the senior pastor and I did enjoy a little bit of a honeymoon, I suppose. My faults were pretty well known by this time as I had already served as an assistant/associate pastor for four years. I find it amazing they still called me to be the pastor.

Crisis: Years 1 to 3

It is now apparent that the pastor is fully human. He has not lived up to the precise expectations of many of the members. This phase includes a number of conflicts and struggles. Indeed it is the most common time that pastors choose to leave the church or they are force terminated. This single epoch of a pastoral tenure contributes more to short tenures than any other time.

I had very strong elders (and still do) who supported me and held me accountable. We (as a church) did have quite a few struggles in these years, some personal conflicts, others related to growing pains and the need for more leadership development. It seemed like every month we had a huge decision to make. The church started a school the year before I arrived as assistant pastor in 1997, so there was a heavy sense of responsibility about all the church was doing, yet we were still a pretty small church. Honestly, it was way too busy during these years to think about greener pastures. Early in to my first year, Nathan Currey came to be our assistant pastor which greatly helped us move through this epoch. Nathan was able to minister to people I am not as effective with (and he still is).

Realignment: Years 3 to 5

The number of crises begins to abate, though they do not disappear altogether. It is at this time that more and more new members come under the tenure of the new pastor. Some of the dissidents have left the church or the community. There is a realignment of loyalty and expectations of the pastor. Thus he is able to lead more effectively, and began to see some more productive years as pastor of the church.

I don't know...it seems like there are always crises going on in church life, but I do think our overall leadership matured enough to navigate such challenges more wisely. Redeemer grew to a point of needing more space. With the concurrent growth of our school, we struggled to decide whether to build a sanctuary (we were in a "multipurpose" room that was needed for classroom expansion) or use the school gym for a while longer. I definitely felt many strains during this time frame and a heavy burden about all we were taking on weighed on me. I must say, however, I never felt alone at any time. Pastor Nathan, the Elders, and the Deacons shouldered much of the stress with me. I very much appreciate some of our more experienced elders constantly keeping us focused on prayer and consideration of God's Word in all our endeavors.

Growth: Years 5 to 10

Not all pastors have productive and joyous ministries in this period, but many do. It is not unusual for the congregation to begin to appreciate the pastor more and to follow his leadership with greater enthusiasm. Many of the battles have already been fought; and many of the conflicts have been resolved. The pastor and the entire congregation are ready to move forward in more productive ministry for the glory of God.

The beginning of this epoch was marked by the opening of our new sanctuary. The church grew quite a bit after the sanctuary was built, but still not exponentially. Redeemer isn't any kind of mega church. You might say we're the anti-mega church. At the same time, for a Reformed church with a liturgical worship style, we're probably pretty sizable. Pastor Brian came during this time frame giving us three ordained pastors. Our Session added a few more elders and the Diaconate grew as well. Our school expanded which called for quite a bit of pastoral involvement. Our school (Heritage Christian Academy) is a major ministry of the church- something built in to the DNA of Redeemer by the founding members and pastor), so our leadership is very much involved. With the church and school growing, this period has been much like Rainer describes. I do feel the congregation appreciates me, probably more than they should. There have certainly been people who have come and gone that found my ministry to them ineffective, which hurts to think about, but is reality. I think the diversity of pastoral leadership we have helps us minister to a wide range of people. If it were just me, there's no way Redeemer would be as effective as it is. Don't get me wrong, we have much to learn and many areas to improve, but the leadership is genuinely sensitive to this and always analyzing, thinking, and praying about being better shepherds. I guess a recurring theme for me at Redeemer is shared leadership with my fellow elders. That's why I have been here ten years (ten as senior pastor, 14 years total) and still love it.

Mystery: Years 10 and Beyond

There are relatively few pastors and congregations that continue their relationships beyond a period of one decade. Thus any perspective I have of long-term pastorates is inconclusive and limited. I am confident, however, that if we see more and more pastors entering their tenth year of ministry and beyond, we will see more productive and fruitful ministries in local churches across the nation.

I was kind of shocked by how infrequently pastors stay at a church for ten years. These ten years have ripped by for Shari and I. I presume nothing and know things can change quickly in church life, but I do feel like ministry is fruitful for me at Redeemer. Financial challenges have been taxing, but all churches are dealing with that these days. Even on that front I feel confident the people of God at Redeemer will answer the needs that arise in this arena and the leadership is doing a very responsible job stewarding the ministry. I can tell you honestly that any thought of Redeemer being a fruitful ministry never comes as a solo consideration. Our church is shepherded by twelve elders, not just one senior pastor. If God chooses to keep using Redeemer for His glory and the good of His people, it will be through the collection of shepherds He has appointed here, not because of me. That's why I love it here so much. That's why I can't imagine being anywhere else at this point in my life.


Perry said...

As an outsider looking in, all I can say is that you folks in Kansas have a nasty, nasty bird problem there.

Woody Woodward said...

Wow, how exciting to be part of this amazing movement of God! I will never forget nor take for granted, the abounding joy that flooded our hearts on our first visit to Redeemer, January 25th, 2005! After wondering for over a year in a wilderness of churches, searching where Truth would never be compromised for the sake of growth, after your first sermon in I John 3, we instantly knew this was our new home, Redeemer is where the Lord was calling us to serve. I am so thankful we listened to the Lord and made the hardest decision my wife and I have ever had to make! I hope to be able to serve the Lord through the many lifecycles of our great pastors!

jeff said...

Unfortunately, in our (now former) church, the dissidents didn't leave the church community in the realignment years, but rather decided to stay and stir up trouble. That, coupled with a Senior Pastor who avoided most conflict, and an Elder board that didn't act, led to the Senior Pastor resigning, a third of the church leaving (including us), and the dissidents still there at the church.

This has been an incredibly difficult time, YET, God is Faithful, as always! Thankfully, we have found ourselves in a rock solid, Bible preaching church, where the entire service is God-centered, & the preaching is right from The Word. The Lord has used this situation to grow our family in a big spiritual way. The decision to switch churches was the hardest decision Danielle & I have had to make in our married life.

I only say all of that to tell you that the Redeemer congregation is blessed to have a solid Pastor there for so long. We have seen firsthand the way that Satan can attack a church from the inside. May God continue to richly bless His church worldwide!

Malcolm said...

For a guy that only works on Sundays, you are sure making a big deal out of all this!
Seriously, it's been a great ride for me and Martha for over 10 years. I had only been to a few services, then Mark stepped down one Sunday. I was new to the church and not happy with the way it was communicated because it was very vague, and quite frankly, it was a situation that was rife with opportunity for rumors and gossip. I communicated my concerns and got a personal call from you within 24 hours, which really eased my mind. One thing you may not remember is that we were starting flock groups at that time, and the pastoral appointment was a frequent topic of discussion. My subtle suggestion to my elder and flock leader was appoint Tony and quit screwing around. Any way, Redeemer has helped me draw exponentially nearer to the Lord in 10 years. And, what a thrill it is for me and Martha to see our grand daughters being raised in this church. That is beyond any thing we could have ever dreamed.

Rick Calohan said...

I know I am little late just call me the Prodigal Blog Poster, but I remember when you were made "a little Mafiaso term ; )" associate pastor at Redeemer on August 27, 2000, that was my first service there. I remember how accommodating and welcoming you were to me and my family. How, you visited us at the hospital when John was born , how you prayed for James while he was in ICU. That you have baptized both of our sons, that you have been a gracious and humble under shepherd to the flock. You have always made us feel welcomed at Redeemer, and I praise God that you were there at Redeemer when we were looking for a place to call home.