So, the church voted unanimously to call you as their new pastor. You’ve been on the job now for six months. They bought you new office furniture, they have delivered meals to your home, and have helped your wife and kids to fit into their new church family. They are eager to hear your preaching and seem to be open to your leadership. People are inviting their friends to worship. Life is good. But, you are not yet the pastor.
Yes, you hold the title of pastor, you have the training and calling of a pastor, but you are not yet the pastor of the church. You haven’t been embraced as the pastor of the church, and you won’t be for five or six more years. Thom Rainer has listed six reasons why it takes five to seven years to be embraced as the pastor of an established church.
My purpose in writing today is not to identify the reasons it takes so long, but to urge you to be patient as God is making you into the pastor your church needs and is making your church into a body that can and will follow your leadership.
The best years of pastoral ministry, we are told (and I can attest to that conventional wisdom), come sometime after year five, six, or seven, but most pastors never make it that far. In my work with pastors, it seems to me that a lack of pastoral patience is one of the greatest obstacles to long tenure.
Here are some steps patient steps you can take as a pastor:
Don’t change anything yet.
When a church calls you as their new pastor, recognize that you are going to have to live with that bulletin format for a while. The church is still getting to know you in the first year, let them focus on knowing you as their preacher and pastor before they get to know you as the mean bully who changed the font on the bulletin or moved the portraits in the foyer.
Don’t change much to begin with.
You’ve been there for two years now. It is probably not the best time to transition to an elder led model or sell the building and move across town. As God gives you a vision for what the church could be, share it slowly and methodically with trusted leaders. Allow them to develop ownership over the vision and to mold and shape it. Be patient with pushing people toward change—especially if it is not a gospel issue.
Take the long view.
I grow increasingly impatient as a pastor (and father, and husband, and man…) when I take a short view of things. As a pastor, you need to take the long view. Your goal is to create a church that impacts its community as a lighthouse for the gospel for the next hundred years. When you take the long view of what it is you are trying to accomplish, you can be a little more patient.
You will accomplish very little in a year, but year over year those cumulative effects of change will bring about significant change in ten years.
Shepherd your people.
Regardless of what you may have learned in the 80s and 90s, God has always called shepherds, not CEOs and ranchers. Pastors are to shepherd their people. Shepherds carefully guide their sheep at close range. Pastors, you are to carefully guide your people as you walk with them, not command them from afar. Ranching is efficient and mechanical. Shepherding is inefficient and time consuming. You are a shepherd, so embrace your calling.
Never underestimate the value of fellowship.
Young pastor, go eat with your senior adults at their dinner each month. Take your wife and kids. Do you want to build leadership capital with your people? Fellowship. Go hunting. Go kayaking. Go to lunch. Waste time with them, because time with your people is never really wasted. Yes, you could always use that extra hour on sermon prep or vision planning, but unless they trust you, you won’t have anyone to whom you can preach or for whom you can cast vision anyway.
My momma told me it was a virtue. The Bible tells me that patience is an evidence of God’s work in my life. I am not a naturally patient man. Any patience that I have is evidence of God’s work within me, and he deserves all of the glory.
Pastors, patience is a pastoral virtue. As you model Christ before your people, you are supposed to display his fruit for all to see. Let them see you as a model of pastoral patience, lovingly and prayerfully shepherding them for the long haul. Your best years of ministry are probably ahead of you, wait patiently for the Lord to establish you as the pastor and then watch what he can do.