So there is a fairly lengthy list of pitfalls. And I am not finished yet. There are a few more things of a negative nature that can be said before we come to something more positive.
These negatives consist of brief warnings rather than pitfalls as such.
1. You may not see the teaching take root
A lot depends on the situation you go into but you may find that there is not the response to the teaching that you seek. If a man spends a long time in a place, it is more disappointing to see the teaching not take root than if he is there a short time.
2. You may see the people melt away before your eyes
Length of stay does not guarantee success of any sort. One hopes to see numbers increase rather than decrease and again it is hard to take if this happens over a long period. The feeling that a lot of effort has brought little obvious reward is hard to resist. Some authorities say that Joseph Caryl's congregation rather diminished during his long series on Job and that is why it joined with John Owen's after Caryl's death. Others deny this but it is certainly something to consider.
3. You will have to come to terms with what cannot actually be changed
You may have received this pastoral advice before but the fact is that some situations just will not change. Let me give you two examples.
Imagine a person who suffers from depression. The depression drags them down and everyone around them. Okay, you say, depression can be treated these days with drugs. Yes, but this person believes it is wrong to take such drugs. Well, tell them it isn't. What is likely to happen is that they will every now and again try some but then not be sure and so we are back to square one.
Or imagine someone in their eighties perfectly sane in many ways but convinced her octogenarian husband is having affairs with women who steal things and is trying to poison her. It is clearly dementia and unless some miracle drug is invented there will be no change.
When you are a young pastor you are full of confidence that you can solve such problems. After a while you realise that you will not.
4. You will have to live with your mistakes
One final warning. If you stay in the same place for any length of time then you will inevitably make mistakes and by not moving on you will have to live with those mistakes. One of the attractions of a fresh start is just that you begin again and your past mistakes can be forgotten. If you stay in the same place then you have to live with your mistakes.
Well, that's enough negativity for one morning. What about something more positive? Despite all these negatives, I think we have to say that there are many positives about a long pastorate in the same place. Let me mention some.
1. With a long pastorate the element of the ‘exciting new personality’ is non-existent.
This is a point Geoff Thomas makes well.
No one is focused upon the minister himself. The assembly knows him backwards and inside out! It knows his stories, foibles and gestures. So the concentration of the congregation is on the message that he preaches, the passage of the Bible he opens up, the application he makes of it to the varied condition of the hearers, known so well to him. That is a very different attitude from the anticipation a congregation has in the sound of a new voice coming from a barely known minister occupying the pulpit … I once was foolish enough to say to Dr. Lloyd-Jones how fortunate he was to go as a household name to Sandfields. Everyone in the steel town knew that he had given up a notable career in medicine in London to come to Port Talbot. What crowds then came and heard him from the start. The Doctor leaned forward and spoke straight at me with immediate earnestness; 'It did me no good at all,' he said. They were curious about me and they came to look at me. They did not come to listen to what I said. I had a barren six months at the beginning of my ministry as they were simply motivated by fascination. It was not until that curiosity had been satisfied that they began to settle down and listen to what I was actually saying. Only then did people begin to turn to God. An advantage of a settled pastorate is that it makes a people look to God, and more dependent on God, the one who alone can regenerate and sanctify a people, the one who must bless or we remain unblessed. The people have to learn not to look to mere man.
2. You have more time to get to know the people
How long does it take to get to know a person? Well, that all depends on what you mean by know. You can get to know a person at a certain level in a few hours or days. To really know a person it usually takes some years.
I can think for example of people I know who you would think are pretty confident, balanced people who keep it together very well. And yet in each case I know there is a volatility that can be set off by a certain train of events. Thankfully, good teaching and good advice and wise friends make all the difference.
I think too of someone who again exudes a measure of confidence although to a lesser extent than might be the case with others. Now I don't know their whole story and I have never felt it my pastoral duty to delve into the past and ask probing questions. However, I know enough to realise that again without good teaching and good advice and wise friends the situation would be rather different.
When you have been with people a long while you get to know their moods and their stress points, you get to know something of their background, their family ties, the pressures they are under at work. All this lies hidden to the visiting preacher who is really like a blindfolded man with a gun and even a man who has been there five or six years, say, and is beginning to see where his shots are landing is only starting to get to grips with who exactly it is that he is preaching to.
3. You have more time to get to know the community and for the community to get to know you
At the same time you have more opportunity to get to know the community and for them to get to know you. Country villages are notoriously slow to accept people. I was staying in a village in South Wales many years ago when a friend I was with who lived there said hello to a man who was passing and then smiled to me and laughed. He explained that they always referred to that old man as the man from outside the village and yet he was much older than my friend who, nevertheless, had been there from when he was a baby. Even in London you have to be here at least two years before anyone thinks your permanent.
It is only when you have been in a place 10 years, 20 years, that you really get to be part of the furniture and you get to know who the people are who live in that community. When I am walking to Golders Green I will see Lord Childs Hill, perhaps and may be I'll speak to him. He's not easy to spot if you're not in the know. Similarly, it takes the same amount of time for them to get to know you and to be assured that you are not some phoney or some fly by night who will be gone very soon. Although simply getting to know people will not convert them, the very fact that they have got to know a Christian minister may count for something.
4. There is more opportunity for a man to develop as a minister and so be useful
When a man moves from place to place, especially if he does that a number of times, then obviously his time is going to be taken up each time with the move, with getting to know his situation – the congregation, the community, his living situation. Time spent on this is time that cannot be spent on other things. The temptation to revisit the barrel of previous sermons will be too great to be resisted and so the need for fresh study will diminish and that will, generally speaking, be detrimental to the minister's development. “Many simply repeat their five year bag of tricks everywhere they go” (Paul Beasley-Murray). Royer suggests a correlation between length of pastorate and knowledge of Greek and Hebrew. He wonders if this is because “the pastors who preach to the same people year after year must depend especially on the unsearchable riches of divine truth, and there are only two avenues to the heart of the sacred Scriptures, viz., the Greek and Hebrew languages, and the Scriptures - these two are the unfailing fountain of all riches to the preacher.” Certainly the longer a man is in one place the more he will feel a need for Greek and Hebrew.
longer pastorates will be successful only to the degree that ministers themselves are growing and developing. For this to happen pastors need others to help them grow and develop. Hopefully the stimulus will in part come from within the local church - I have been fortunate in having leaders who have contributed to my own growth and development. Certainly there is something lacking if pastor and people cannot 'journey' together. However, outside resources are also vital.
Geoff Thomas says
You learn your trade. You learn from the lectures you received in theological seminary. You learn from hearing men speak on these themes at conferences. You learn from sitting under the best ministry. You learn from books and from the web, from whatever sermon series are contained there. There are finally appearing in the public domain through all these media examples of fine consecutive preaching on books other than the epistles of the New Testament. You are a foot soldier in the army of the church of the Lord Jesus alongside others. You seek to grow as a preacher.
People will never hear all the Bible preached to them in a lively, vital, applicatory manner without sitting under a minister whose intention is to remain in that pulpit for as long as it takes to preach the whole of Scripture.
He says of Lloyd-Jones
I think he retired too soon, when he still had some years to give to Westminster Chapel and to arrange for a man with his same commitment to expository evangelistic preaching to succeed him. Ministers do not retire, we are frequently told, they are still preaching. Yes, but they do remove themselves from the demands of two or three new sermons a week, from having to dig deeply into the Word of God, to inquire, to think biblically. There is a long-term relationship between himself and passages of Scripture which cry out to be preached on which is as much a part of his life as his own family. The retired minister is now absent from one congregation that loves him as their own pastor-preacher, and continually prays for him in the unique dynamics of this God-created relationship. These are huge losses.
Conrad Mbewe has written that you cannot preach through the Bible completely with any meaningful depth even if God allows you to live to the ripe old age of Methuselah.
As a preacher, you also keep studying and thus grow in your knowledge of the Bible. Hence, you can come back to passages you have preached through before and preach through them again with new and deeper insight. At least, that has been my experience.
Coming at it from the other end, another writer says that he firmly believes “continuing education is imperative if a pastor is to be effective in a long-term pastorate”.