9 Reasons Some Pastors Overstay Their Calling

In general, longer pastoral stays are better than a series of short ones. But even good pastors can stay too long. Here are some reasons why.

Pastoral tenures and pastoral transitions.

Doing them well is so important for the long-term health of churches and pastors, but there’s so little help on how to do them well.

Some churches think they know all about the process of transition simply because they do it a lot. But many churches (and many pastors), haven’t been taught how to stay together long enough to make real progress. Then after their stay is over they have no idea how to make a healthy transition to the next pastorate at the right time and in the right way.

Because of that, I’m doing a series of interviews about pastoral longevity and transition this month on the Can This Work In A Small Church? podcast.

Without question, a longer pastoral stay is generally better for the church, the pastor, the pastor’s family and the community their called to serve.

But is it possible to stay too long? The evidence says yes.

The Too-Long Pastorate

We’ve all seen it, haven’t we? The pastor who may have done great ministry in the past who stays on long after their effectiveness has waned. But the congregation loves them too much to deal with it, so the church stops being led properly, then starts to decline.

A church can stay in a state of decline like this for years, even a decade or more. This is not only hard on the church while it’s happening, it makes the situation extremely difficult when a new pastor eventually does arrive.

Sometimes they’re staying too long in a church they should have left. Sometimes they’re staying too long in pastoral ministry after they should have retired. That’s why the podcasts this month aren’t just about longevity, but about how to leave well, too.

So why do some pastors stay too long? Here are a few reasons:

1. Their Identity Is Wrapped Up In Being A Pastor

Retirement can be hard on pastors because pastoring isn’t just a job, it’s a calling. And sometimes that calling can be confused with our identity.

Many pastors don’t just wonder what they would do if they left the pastorate, they wonder who they would be.

2. They Can’t Bear To Say Goodbye

True shepherding pastors aren’t just putting in the hours, they’re making relationships – deep, lasting relationships. But then, in most cases, when they stop pastoring the church they’re required to stop attending the church. They don’t just lose their job, they have to say goodbye to their relationships, their spiritual home and more.

3. Lack Of Financial Options

Retirement is almost impossible for most pastors because most of us haven’t put sufficient money away to retire on. And even in younger years it’s hard to leave one church until you have another pastorate lined up right away – especially if you have a family to care for.

4. A False Theology Of Non-retirement

This isn’t frequent, but it’s not rare, either. Some pastors link the command to be a minister (which is for every Christian) to their role as pastor (which is only for some, and sometimes for a season). This can cause them to feel disobedient to God if they’re not holding the title of pastor.

5. They Have Nothing Else To Do

When I transitioned from the very active role of lead pastor to the less active role of teaching pastor, I still had a lot to keep me busy, as evidenced by the article you’re reading and so much more.

Most pastors don’t have other ways to keep busy, so they stay at a church too long to stave off the boredom and the feelings of uselessness that often accompany it.

6. A Desire To Stay In Control

In a previous article, Dealing With Control Freaks In The Small Church, I noted that control freaks aren’t just in the pews of small churches, they’re often in the pulpit. We have to let go when our time is over.

7. A False Sense Of Their Own Irreplaceability

Too many pastors think the church can’t make it without them.

But the church can. And it will.

And if not, that speaks more poorly about the pastor than the church.

8. Family Complications

From raising kids, to living as a married couple, to in-laws, to caring for elderly parents and more, family life can be a big challenge – one that’s often hidden from the eyes of congregation members and denominational leaders.

The stability of a long-term pastorate, even one that’s static or declining, can be a haven from an otherwise difficult life.

9. Fear

It’s scary to leave the safety of the familiar. Especially if you’ve been in the same church for a long time A lot has changed in the outside world since you started in ministry, and facing that reality is something not all pastors are willing to do.

So What Now?

Wow, that’s a lot. And it’s not everything.

If you have other reasons pastors sometimes overstay, let me know in the comments.

So what can be done about this?

That’s what I tackle in my follow-up article, How Not To Overstay Your Pastoral Calling. In that article, I give answers to each of these problems.

(Photo by Rayson Tan | Unsplash)


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