Tuesday, March 21, 2006

Ponder as You Pray


In 1979, I was working as a grader for Roy Fish, professor of evangelism, and finishing my final year at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary in Fort Worth, Texas. I decided to do an independent study of the 100 largest churches in the United States at that time. I wrote to each of these churches and asked a series of questions I had prepared. Although I discovered that large, growing churches differ widely in strategy, structure, and style, there were some common denominators. My study confirmed what I already knew from Criswell’s ministry: Healthy, large churches are led by pastors who have been there a long time. I found dozens of examples. A long pastorate does not guarantee a church will grow, but changing pastors every few years guarantees a church won’t grow.

Can you imagine what the kids would be like in a family where they got a new daddy every two or three years? They would most likely have serious emotional problems. In the same way, the longevity of the leadership is a critical factor for the health and growth of a church family. Long pastorates make deep, trusting, and caring relationships possible. Without those kinds of relationships, a pastor won’t accomplish much of lasting value.

Churches that rotate pastors every few years will never experience consistent growth. I believe this is one reason for the decline of some denominations. By intentionally limiting the tenure of pastors in a local congregation, they create “lame duck” ministers. Few people want to follow a leader who isn’t going to be around a year from now. The pastor may want to start all sorts of new projects, but the members will be reticent because they will be the ones having to live with the consequences long after the pastor has been moved to another church.

Knowing the importance of longevity in growing a healthy church I prayed, "Father, I'm willing to go any place in the world you want to send me. But I ask for the privilege of investing my entire life in just one location. I don’t care where you put me, but I’d like to stay wherever it is for the rest of my life."

Rick Warren is pastor of Saddleback Valley Community Church in Lake Forest, Calif., and author of "The Purpose-Driven Life."
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