By Chuck Lawless
I spent a few minutes recently with a pastor who’s led his church for 25+ years. Seeing him made me think about the leaders I know who’ve persisted through decades of strong ministry in the same place. Here are some of the characteristics that mark these long-term pastors:
1. They have no question of their original call to that ministry. They can usually describe it in vivid terms because it was—and is still—so real to them. Until God just as clearly releases them from that calling, they’re invested where they are.
2. They lead from their knees. Almost without exception in my experience, these leaders are people of prayer. They’ve learned they can’t stay focused and committed for the long haul unless they daily give the day to God.
3. They’ve determined what battles to fight. What I’ve most observed in these leaders is not the battles they do fight; it’s the potential battles they choose not to fight. They don’t get stressed about matters that are likely to resolve themselves over time. They simply don’t worry about the little things that would make me worry.
4. They prioritize their marriage and their parenting. These leaders view their first ministry in their home, and they do it all well. I’ve learned from them that a happy home can help you push through all kinds of stuff in the church.
5. They’ve developed a strong, loyal team around them. They make work fun. They affirm their staff. They spend time with other leaders, listening to them even if they disagree. It’s not unusual, in fact, for a long-term pastor to have long-term staff on the team, too.
6. They’re unafraid to say, “I was wrong” and “I’m sorry.” They exude personal humility even as they clearly and definitively lead. If they need to admit wrong, they do so without fear of losing their credibility; their years of faithfulness have gained them some grace.
7. Increasingly, they’re considering a succession plan. I say “increasingly” because I’m not sure I would have included this characteristic 10 years ago. Now, however, I’m seeing more long-term leaders pave the way for their successor.