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Pastoring for the Long Haul
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By Roger Hernandez

I’m a pastor’s kid. I’m also Hispanic. That means I have moved a lot. Over 30 times. So, finding out that a pastor in our union has more than 30 years in the same church was a revelation. His name is Andy McDonald and he pastors the Florida Hospital church, a church that has an international feel with a younger demographic than many Adventist churches. One of his associates has worked alongside of him for more than 20 years! From my interview with him I gained some insight into long term ministry. Here are seven principles you may find helpful:

1. Understand that not everyone is gifted for long term ministry. Or short term.
Some are. Some are not. Just make sure you are not leaving because of an ego trip caused by the next appointment being perceived as “better” than the one you have. Instead of going to a growing church, grow the one you have! That being said, long-term ministry is not for everyone.

2. See the church as a destination not a stepping stone.
One of the perceptions that Andy has encountered is the concept prevalent in our denomination that when you are appointed or elected to the Conference/Union/Division you have somehow “arrived”. When he started, the church looked much different than it does now, yet he always saw himself as being there long term.

3. Avoid avoidance.
One of the clearest benefits of pastoring long term is the elimination of the temptation to run from a problem and push it forward to the next pastor. Seeing yourself as a pastor in that community for longer than the customary 5-7 years, forces you to stop pretending, become comfortable in your own skin and start making the tough decisions necessary to move the church forward. Many times we make decisions based on the following (often flawed) logic:
“My church is not doing too well. Let’s change the leadership. That will fix everything.”
According to Andy, the correct question is: “Why is my church not doing well? Let’s work together to fix it. Let’s provide the tools and support necessary to make that happen.”
I believe this is not always possible, but many times we move the pastor during a downturn, reinforcing the concept that anytime the church struggles, a new pastor is the answer.

4. Keep the mission clear and primary.
I believe Bill Hybels said that one of the most important characteristics of a leader is the ability to detect atrophy. Andy has experienced several shifts during 30 years in his congregation, as it has grown. One of the best quotes from our interview was this: “Renewal always comes with mission.” When the church drifts is because there is not a clear mission focus. It’s the job of a leader to make sure the church keeps the main thing the main thing.

5. Take your job seriously, but not yourself.
To be able to pastor a church for over 30 years, you MUST have a sense of humor. You must. Cue laugh track.

6. The best thing about long term pastorate.
According to Andy, it’s “the opportunity for reinvention.” To be able to see the church grow, both numerically and in grace, and observe how it matures over a long haul is very fulfilling. To dedicate a baby, baptize them, marry them, and dedicate their babies is a privilege. To see the fruits of your labor as people grow over time is also very rewarding.

7. The worst thing.
Conflict. That is true of all pastors, but in a long term pastorate it’s accentuated. There needs to be a constant desire for reinvention and that means change, which is hard for people. For example, one year ago they moved to one kind of service. No more traditional or contemporary, but a blended service. They went through Messy Church which caused some angst and discomfort. Even the worst thing can become an asset, because after reinvention comes renewal.

So, how do you become a long term pastor? “You say no to all the calls.”

Roger Hernandez is ministerial director for the Southern Union Conference