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The Magazine of The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America

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March 25, 2008

How long is too long ... or too short?

In Sunday's Grand Forks [N.D.] Herald: a 2005 Ellison Research survey of 872 Protestant ministers found that the average tenure of a senior pastor in one church is 7.7 years. The reporter then surveyed some area clergy. His Lutheran findings included:

Ray Siegle was pastor of Sharon Lutheran, Grand Forks for 24 years when he retired in 2002. John Fick came to Sharon in 1981, so he's in his 27th year; as is Jeff Macejkovic at Mayville [N.D.] Lutheran. Bishop Rick Foss says they are the two longest-serving-in-one-congregation pastors right now in the Eastern North Dakota Synod. Marv Hartmann was pastor of Bethel Lutheran in Wahpeton, N.D., for 31 years before he retired, about the longest tenure of which Foss is aware.

Well over that 7.7 years. In the January issue of The Lutheran, John Douglas Russell wrote a "My view" where he said a long pastoral tenure can help reverse congregational decline. He quotes church consultant Lyle Schaller who says the most effective years begin in the fifth and sixth years of a pastor's call.

I've heard both sides of the discussion ... a long tenure makes it difficult for the pastor who follows ... a short tenure means starting over ... a long tenure can lead to “this is the way we've always done it� ... a short tenure can mean necessary change. Both sides seem to make sense. So does it matter how long a pastor stays?

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