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. 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?
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 never 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.]