A professor in seminary told us students that our first four years in a congregation would be rather ineffective because we didn't yet know the people of the congregation well enough to speak to their hearts and the people of the congregation didn't know us well enough to trust us. Then the next four years he said would be the prime years of ministry in a congregation because the pastor and the people know each other well enough for trust and honesty and understanding to develop. Then he said that after 8 years the pastor and the people know each other too well.
There is some truth to the fact that over time a pastor and a congregation may become too comfortable with each other. When Jesus came to his hometown of Nazareth, he said, "No prophet is accepted in his hometown." That may be true of pastors who are too long in one congregation.
But what the seminary professor didn't take into account is that congregations are always changing. Peace Lutheran Church in Deshler is a very different congregation than it was 14 years ago when I came here. My experience has been that in small and medium size congregations in Nebraska, about a third of the members of a congregation are new every ten years. I never would have guessed that to be the case in rural and small town churches. But looking at the membership roster of Peace, over 220 members were not members of Peace 14 years ago when I and my family joined.
In addition, there is always turnover in leadership. And I as the the pastor am different than I was 14 years ago. I keep learning new things.
I don't believe that the seminary professor who gave us his rule of thumb about how long a pastor should stay in a congregation had ever served more than a few years in one congregation. Maybe if he had stayed one place long enough, he would have realized that congregations and pastors are always changing.
I believe he did have a good point. It does take time to build trust and understanding. And pastors and congregations can get into ruts and get too comfortable. Sometimes a change is needed. But other times what is needed is for the pastor and the congregation to persevere through dry times, to keep being faithful and keep following Jesus even when it seems not to be bearing fruit.
Thanks to all the new members who have joined Peace recently, I feel like I have a new congregation again. That was really already true, but I can't help but notice it now.
Peace Lutheran Church is a community called to welcome, value, and involve all people in the grace and peace of our Lord Jesus Christ.
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