Why Three and a Half?

My second pastorate was, by far, the shortest. Yet, it seemed to have yielded the most fruit (at least numerically). Rest assured, I’m not unaware of the circumstances that allow for and produce church growth. When I arrived at that location, the congregation was emotionally hurting, spiritually hungry, and financially desperate. Anyone willing to preach the Word could have gone into that context and have seen the results we saw.tall cross The focal point for me (today, at least) is not the growth we experienced, however. It’s the short amount of time I spent there—3½ years. Compared to the nine years I spent in my first stint as pastor and the twenty-one I’ve spent in my current appointment, it was a flash in the pan. And yet, the growth there was explosive (in a good way).

Knowing when to leave a pastorate is always a struggle, I suppose. I know I struggled with that in my first two go-arounds. Almost every other pastor I’ve ever spoken with on the subject has expressed similar feelings. Discerning God’s will in that situation is always hard because of the emotions that cloud the issue.

“Today’s church is going through tumultuous times.”

Jesus spent 3½ years in his public ministry. It seems like such a short time to prepare a few people for the huge task of reaching the world. Obviously, he was able to pull it off. We’re here, aren’t we?pastoring for dummies

Today’s church is going through tumultuous times. There are as many dedicated Christians outside the confines of the local church as there are inside. Those on the outside are often called the “Gones.” Many of the Gones express the belief that there should not be such a thing as paid clergy. In fact, some of them go so far as to say it’s not only un-Biblical but a heresy as well.

As one who has been a monetarily recompensed pastor for over thirty-five years, I view their understandings with great interest. What if I’ve been wrong all these years? If I have, it means I’ve been fleecing the sheep. Not a pleasant thought…

That ties in with the brevity of Jesus’ ministry in this way. If ministry is brief and fleeting, the urgency of the situation dictates a much deeper concentration toward making disciples. Once the disciples are grounded, maybe it’s time to move on.

“We may want to take a second look…”

The other side of that coin is an elongated ministry during which more and more resources are spent enabling the pastor to stay on. Salaries rise, benefits increase, and duties get expanded beyond the spiritual gifts of the clergy in residence. The pastor earns more while getting spread thinly over areas he or she was nquestion markever meant to occupy.

I’ve never looked at the length of Jesus’ ministry as a yardstick by which to measure our own. I’m not a legalist and certainly wouldn’t want to become one on this topic either. Still, we may want to take a second look at how we do ministry during this chaotic era in which we live.


[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Jesus and the Three and a Half Year Run

Baby Jesus Running With sheep ClipartMy last blog (Three and One-Half Years: The Perfect Ministry?) was a somewhat tongue-in-cheek tour de farce. In it, I listed some reasons why I (or any other pastor these days) shouldn’t have a ministry similar to that of Jesus.

As I wrote it, I couldn’t help but think some readers would take it the wrong way and begin to pray for my salvation. If that indeed happened, please rest assured. My ending remarks were satirical in nature. They were expressed as such only to make a point. I won’t try to remake that point here, but if you’re one of those of whom I speak, I urge you to go back and read it with a different mindset.

“My thinking may have been skewed.”

Shortly after writing it, it caused me to think about the length of my three turns as a pastor. My first was nine years, my second was four, and my current one is in its twenty-second year. I’ve always strived for an extended tenure thinking that local congregations needed the constancy and stability of a lengthier pastorate.

For the first time ever, it has dawned on me that my thinking may have been skewed. In each place I’ve served, we have seen growth, fruitfulness, and at least a modicum of success (depending upon how one measures success in ministry). If a lengthy tenure equals greater success, my present situation should yield the greatest harvest. I’m still serving in my third appointment, so I can’t fully judge the results yet.threeandahalf

Still, as I compare the three stints, my second stretch far outweighs the other two in terms of pure church growth numbers. This was the one in which I spent the least amount of time.

“I really don’t want to compare myself with Jesus…”

I left that pastorate prematurely because of a personal issue that was draining me emotionally and debilitating my ability to be effective. During the last six months of that four-year period, I was virtually gone (present physically, but mentally checked out). So, in effect, it was a 3½ year run. Coincidence?

I really don’t want to compare myself with Jesus—it’s obviously no contest. But I can’t help noticing a couple similarities when it comes to length of service.

Jesus left by way of death. Even before that, however, he knew he had accomplished all he needed with his group of disciples. I left to take a leave of absence because I was emotionally spent. I just couldn’t function anymore. The handwriting was on the wall, and I would have been foolish stay any longer. Three and one-half years…length

As I look back on it, I did what I needed to do in those 3½ years. While Jesus knew when it was time to leave, I did not. Had I not experienced the draining personal issue, I would have undoubtedly stayed a long time. A longer pastorate, at that point, may have been a mistake. The point is debatable for sure. Nevertheless, it seems I was there for exactly the right length of time. (To be continued)

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]

Three and One-Half Years: The Perfect Ministry?

According to most Biblical historians, Jesus carried on his earthly ministry (the public one) for 3½ years. I’ve never quite figured out how he was able to pull that off and be so successful.

Scene 07/53 Exterior Galilee Riverside; Jesus (DIOGO MORCALDO) is going to die and tells Peter (DARWIN SHAW) and the other disciples this not the end.

Although (now that I think about it), how successful was he really? When he was crucified, all he seemed to leave behind were 120 frightened followers hiding in an upper room. Not much of a legacy.

For 3½ years, he poured himself into a small, ragtag bunch. They never seemed to get what he was laying down. They were constantly messing up. Even the leader (Peter) didn’t have the chutzpah to acknowledge he was Jesus’ friend for a while. And that was after he had proclaimed Jesus to be the Messiah. Denying the Chosen One is no minuscule deal.

So when he exited this earth, Jesus left this small band of bunglers to carry on. And what were they to carry on? Only to evangelize the entire earth…that’s all. Frankly, it sounds like a bad plan to me.

Of course, as we all know, a good dose of the Holy Spirit changed that small, ragtag band into a sizeable ragtag band—and so it went from there. All of a sudden, Jesus’ 3½ years seemed well spent.


Of course, that begs the question—why have I been pastoring the same church for twenty-one years? I know the obvious answer is that I’m not Jesus. Add to that the simple facts that the circumstances are not even similar, and the context bears no resemblance to first century Palestine. Still, the fields are ripe for the harvest. It’s a little embarrassing.

Maybe we’ve been going about this all wrong. Instead of hiring ourselves out to established congregations, guys like me should be gathering a few souls who are interested in being discipled, spending 3½ years teaching them all we know, and setting them loose on the unsuspecting world. It worked once; maybe it will work again.

I’m no carpenter…

Still, I’m not a carpenter so I’ll have to learn a trade first. Then there’s the whole thing of a 401k for when I retire. I’ll have to build that up before I embark on something so risky as possibly wasting my time with a group of losers. Then, of course, I’ll probably have to relocate, sell some of my possessions, and maybe reduce some of my stock holdings.

And my current congregation… What in the world would they do without me? I’m a fixture. You just don’t find replacements for people like me on trees.

I don’t know. Maybe this isn’t as good an idea as it first seemed. There’s nothing quite so comfortable as the status quo. I’ve 0304-bible_full_600gotten pretty good at maintaining it. Why venture out into the deep when I’ve got a proverbial hot tub right here?

On top of all that, I’m already sixty-six years old. Jesus was only thirty-three when he died. I’m twice his age. No sense rocking the boat now.

[To be continued…]

[Dave Zuchelli is a graduate of Pittsburgh Theological Seminary and is currently the pastor of Smith Chapel, in Great Falls, VA.]