by Doug Rehberg
A recent poll conducted by Lifeways Research suggests that the average stay of a Senior Pastor of a church is 3.6 years. The Barna Research Group puts the number at 4 years. Other recent studies estimate pastoral tenure a bit more positively with a range of 5 to 7 years. And yet, when measures of church effectiveness are compared to pastoral tenure, the data shows that pastoral tenure in an effective church ministry doesn't begin until the 14th year. This means that the vast majority of pastors in America never get close to statistical effectiveness.
In February 1990, I went to the elders of my previous church and said, “I believe the Lord may be calling me away from St. Paul’s. I have not been actively looking for another call, I simply want you to know if God may be leading you to think the same way. If He is, He will tell you. If not, I’ll know that perhaps I’m not hearing Him correctly.”
For the next twenty minutes I detailed the reasons why I believed the Lord might be calling me away. Throughout the presentation I was careful to separate my own desires from the needs of the church. I told them that I loved it there. I loved them and all that the Lord had done there over the past 6 years. Throughout it all, I made clear that the interests of the church were paramount. I also noted that in my years of ministry there the vision the Lord had given me had been largely accomplished.
After several months of prayer and discernment, every elder could see how God might be leading us to separate. By May the groundwork was laid for a pastoral transition at the end of the year. By the time I left them, their new pastor was identified and began within 4 months. (Interestingly, he served there faithfully for 25 years.)
The process we followed was unconventional. In the vast majority of cases, a pastor covertly seeks another call. When one is identified he crosses all the “T’s”, dots all the “I’s”, and announces his departure to the congregation a month or so before he leaves. While he may know his short-term future, the church he leaves rarely does. The average length of time between the departure of one pastor and the arrival of another is two years.
In the spring Hebron chose to undertake a similar unconventional approach in hiring our next Senior Pastor. Within weeks, on October 28, the Pastoral Nominating Committee will present a Co-Pastor candidate to the congregation of Hebron Church. He will be preaching that Sunday morning and a congregational meeting will follow where you will be given an opportunity to endorse the PNC’s selection. With the advent of an experienced Co-Pastor, Hebron will have two ordained Presbyterian pastors serving in a co-equal capacity.
Until the final transition is made in September 2021, when the Co-Pastor becomes Senior Pastor, there will be considerable change in every aspect of our ministry. We will gain a new energy and perspective while avoiding a leadership gap of two years or more.
Inside the pages of this Herald you will be introduced to Rev. Dr. Henry Knapp, our candidate for Co-Pastor. I am thrilled at the prospect of serving the Lord and Hebron alongside Henry.