Getting to the 5-year mark and beyond ...
It's been said, based on research, that it requires about five years for a pastor to lead his or her church into the necessary changes that will bring about continued kingdom impact and transformation. However, the average tenure for a pastor at a church is about 3.5 - 4 years. I am no math genius, but the math I recall from middle school tells me that these numbers do not paint a pretty picture for the church and her future! Sure, there are unique situations and circumstances that contribute to how these numbers are shaped, yet when all the data is computed, the overall view for churches is not encouraging.
As someone who has personally experienced both a 4-year and a 10.5-year tenure as part of my pastoral employment history, I can attest to the truth behind this data. It does take about five years to lead a church to shift and fully embrace/embody her renewed vision and focus. (As a side note, 50% of divorces happen before the 7-year mark, and the most popular year for divorces … wait for it … the 4-year mark.)
At Chemistry Staffing, we recognize this reality, and it informs our search process for churches – long-term ministry creates long-term impact. Central to this is the right fit between staff and church. We evaluate and assess this 'fitness' around five core elements: theology, culture/DNA, personality, skill-set, and relational chemistry (using 125 data points overall). We want to see pastors not only reach that 5-year mark but surpass it by a long, long time so that the necessary changes can be articulated, architected, advanced, and ultimately achieved.
Here are some practical, actionable steps that the church can take to support, develop and sustain the 'fitness’/health of a staff member so that the five-year barrier is both reached and surpassed:
- A Health Check: The senior leadership and pastoral oversight of your church must play a key role in cultivating pastoral staff health. They need to be intentional and take the initiative about regularly connecting with staff and their spouses to see how they are doing (relationally, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, physically, and professionally). They also need to provide the appropriate and necessary support, encouragement, and wise counsel to sustain and develop overall health. I would recommend these meetings take place every month or no less than every two months. The environment created for these connections should be marked by both grace and safety.
- Intentional Care: Leadership should ensure that staff has healthy rhythms of work and rest, where staff is encouraged to use their vacation time and honor their weekly time off. Family life should not be sacrificed at the altar of ministry – too many marriages and family relationships have been damaged or even destroyed in the name of church service.
- Time Away: I have found that church teams that play together stay together. Consider a church staff annual staff retreat (away from the church facility for at least four days). In this scenario, praying, planning, and playing are all part of the agenda – a time to have fun, build relationships with one other, and deepen the team's connection to God.
- Individual Support: While regular check-ins are vital within the team, I would strongly encourage that pastoral staff have access to a counselor or therapist that understands ministry life. Even healthy people get an annual check-up and lab-work done by a professional. So, encouraging staff to get an annual check-up by a counselor is a wise move – sometimes it's what we don't know or aren't aware of that gets us into trouble, and therapists have a way of unearthing those things! I was part of a pastoral team where the lead pastor would regularly connect with a counselor and was open with his staff about these visits primarily to normalize this practice among the staff.
- Growth Pathway: Two fundamental needs and desires of all human beings is to belong and to become. This means that they need to feel secure and significant. Churches should do everything they can to make sure that a 'growth pathway' is provided for their staff so that they are resourced, equipped, trained, and empowered to live out their unique calling in concert with the corporate calling of the church. A great resource to check out along these lines is Younique.
Can you begin to imagine the health and vitality that would take place among staff if church leadership took these intentional steps to cultivate a healthy culture? In light of what we've all been through over the past year-and-a-half and the corresponding high rates of staff burn-out, we have a responsibility - a calling - to care for our staff and see them and their families thrive and flourish in kingdom ministry. Nothing less will do!
At Chemistry Staffing, we are all about seeing churches and staff experience health. Please feel free to reach out to us so we can serve and support you in the journey towards kingdom health and growth!
To connect with Allan about finding a long-term healthy fit or to talk about church health, reach out to him via email here.
Dr. Allan Love