This week marks my 8th year of serving as the NextGen Pastor at Gateway Church in Austin, TX. Eight years! It feels like such a long time. When I look over the past eight years, I’m amazed at all that has happened. Honestly, I’m amazed at all that has happened in just the past three years (the past three years is where I’ve seen the most ministry transformation). I can’t say enough hour grateful I am at the opportunity I’ve had to serve for eight years at Gateway Church.
Studies say that that average tenure of a children’s/student pastor is only 18-24 months. It’s sad, but true. I’ve been networking with enough kidmin leaders online over the past 7-8 years that I’ve seen it to be true. I’ve updated my contact information for some people more than what seems normal. However, there’s something really good that comes from longevity. Here are a few thoughts on sticking it out in one place for a while:
- I’ve learned that ministry is a long game. Yes, there are some churches that explode in growth in a few short years building something from nothing – but that’s not the norm. Building something amazing, something healthy and something remarkable takes time. Trying to build something like this in a year or two will likely frustrate/alienate your leaders/volunteers/staff. As much as we want something right away and as much as we want to provide something great for existing kids right now, taking our time is a good plan. You can completely re-invent a ministry in 3-4 years… anything less can be pretty risky.
- Trust and Authority takes time. Positional leadership is the lowest form of leadership. Decisions pushed out based on your position tend to do the most damage. However, engaged relationships over time give a leader leverage and trust. Also, sometimes just time alone makes a big difference. When I came to Gateway eight years ago, I was the “new guy.” Due to the high rate of relocation in Austin, we find that nearly 30% of our church has been at Gateway for less than a year. Over just three years, 90% of our church is brand new which has several interesting implications. One of them is your tenure. After 2-3 years, you’re not the “new guy” anymore… you’ve been there longer than most of the people you lead and serve. For all they know, you could have been there for 10 years.
- Leaving is easy. I can think of three of four times when it would have been easy to pack up and quit over the past eight years. Sometimes leaving is the right decision, but most things are worth fighting for. Fighting is hard, but when you do fight, everyone is better for it. Your church is better for it. Don’t give up too early because sometimes something really good is just beyond the conflict you’ve been avoiding.
This past year has been a fun reminder of why longevity matters. More than any other time in ministry, I run into people all the time/everywhere who have been a part of my ministry. Someone will strike up a conversation with me at Starbucks about that message I taught or the camp I took their kid on. On Christmas Eve, the UPS guy who delivered a package said to me, “I think you’re the guy who baptized by boy!” This only comes from longevity.
So, before throwing in the towel, remember these few things that took me eight years to learn:
- Ministry is a long game. You can’t get what you want in just a year or two. What comes beyond years 3 and 4 are better.
- Trust and authority take time. Trust builds with every positive interaction.
- Don’t give up too quick. Don’t let hurt feelings or miscommunication rob you from something really great!
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