Estimates vary, but generally the average length that one person stays as the primary pastor in a single congregation is said to be between 3.6 and 7 years. Three decades is a bit unusual…. ok a lot unusual.

What could make it possible for a congregation to continue to thrive after 30 years with the same person in the primary position of paid leadership?

There is no one answer to this question, but there are attitudes and strategies that make it more likely that remaining together in ministry might work, in spite of the odds against success.

Here are three more strategies that may make stable, steady ministry sustainable over the long haul:

  1. a realistic assessment of our limitations

God is the actor,  and prime mover in the church, as in all of life. Our goal is to be open to the direction of the Holy Spirit. I do not know what is best for you; I seldom know, except in the most general terms, what is actually best for the church, the world, or even my own life.

I do not have the power to fix the brokenness of your life or to bring renewal and new life to the church. I do not know the future and am often bewildered about what might be the best way forward.

The only thing I can consistently hope to do is seek to live in response to the subtle, often barely discernible, prompting of God’s Spirit; the outcomes are not mine to control.

When I am clear about the limitations of my power and my ability, I will minister with greater wisdom, openness, compassion, and humility. Humility is not feeling badly about myself, or underestimating my capacity; it is simply being honest.

Through the writer of the Book of Deuteronomy, God warned the Hebrew people that when they came into the Promised Land, they should

not say to yourself, ‘My power and the might of my own hand have gained me this wealth.
(Deuteronomy 8:17)

There is room for almost everyone in the church; but not much room for super-heroes, or for the “self-made man.” Jesus said,

it will be hard for a rich person to enter the kingdom of heaven. (Matthew 19:23)

To be rich is to believe in the myth of my own self-reliance. The illusion of self-reliance destroys community. Ministry prospers in a community where we have a healthy awareness of our own limitations and therefore our need to rely on one another.

  1. no drama

Drama can be appealing and powerful. There  is a certain adrenaline rush that accompanies entering the fray and getting worked up about what was, or might be, or could be, or should be.Whenever I find myself caught up in urgency, intensity, or demanding, I know I am straying dangerously into drama territory.

The adrenaline hit of drama is never worth the price it exacts on the human community. Drama is exhausting and unreal. It majors in illusion and is fueled by ego and insecurity.

When I feel the clenching and intensity that accompany drama, I need to heed the warning signals, take a deep breath, step back for a minute and ask myself, “How important is this?” “What in me is being fed by the energy of this moment?” “What will be lost, or possibly gained, if I let this go?”

  1. just putting up with each other

There are times when even the most loving, kind, good, gentle person can be irritating. And not many of us are all that often totally loving, kind, good, and gentle. So there are times when we just have to put up with each other. It may not sound exciting or particularly appealing, but the world will unfold in kinder ways when we accept people as they are.

Obviously, some behaviours are simply unacceptable. There are certain barriers in human relationship that must not be crossed. We are all responsible for doing all we can to make sure that people in our communities are fully respected and feel relatively safe. But, there are no perfect human communities; a lot of staying together is just showing up for one another even when it does not feel good. If we walk away at the first sign of discomfort or disagreement, we will not last long in any relationship.

The writer of the letter to the Ephesians, suggests that a life worth living is one in which we live

with all humility and gentleness, with patience, bearing with one another in love. (Ephesians 4:1,2)

Some friction is inevitable in any human relationship. It is the means by which we grow. If we are to survive the inevitable challenge of other people, we need to find that deep place of steadiness within ourselves that does not need people to be different than they are.