One of the eternally unanswered questions of ministry is “What makes for pastoral success?” It will be a question that may be debated until Christ comes again, but which is vital for every Christian leader to struggle.
Last fall I attended a seminar here in Portland put on by one of the nationally renowned organizations here in Portland and the main speaker began by saying that there was no tension between faithfulness and success. But the place he ended was quite different from where I thought he was going—if you are faithful, he asserted, you WILL be successful. Therefore, by contrast if you are not successful, you have not been faithful.
I think that most of us would see that perspective as quite inadequate.
But the question remains. What makes for pastoral success and what can one do to foster it?
As each of us works out what it means for us to be successful in ministry in the eyes of Christ, I found a short little study by the Mennonite Brethren church helpful. The MB Biblical Seminary (campuses in Fresno, CA, Langley, BC & Winnipeg, MB) joined with the Mennonite Brethren Canada Church with funding from the Lily Foundation to look at pastoral success and longevity in that denomination.
While the study perhaps too closely links pastoral success with pastoral longevity, I think that their findings can be helpful for us:
1. They found that the average tenure was five years. (I find it interesting that that length of tenure was labeled by them as “relatively long”. I don’t think everyone would agree with that label, but it could be much worse.)
2. They found that the majority of their pastors who leave churches move into another pastoral position. This is a sign that even though ministers felt called to leave one congregation, they still found ministry something in which they wanted to continue. (By contrast, the last church I served EVERY minister in the history of the church has left the pastoral ministry at least for a few years immediately after leaving that church).
3. The elements that contributed to pastoral success from a congregational perspective
- encouraging mentors
- congregational leadership
- active congregational ministry, and
- sensitivity to pastors’ needs.
4. The elements that contributed to pastoral success from a training perspective were
- leadership development,
- delegating responsibility,
- conflict management, and
- balancing ministry with personal needs.
5. From a denominational perspective, that fellowship of churches found that they could
support pastoral success “by providing overseers who will serve as…
- guides, and
- congregational liaisons.
Again, it may be questionable to some whether denominational executives who have a
say in the career track of ministers should/can actually serve in the roles listed above,
but it is a good ideal towards which to strive.
(I am convinced that hiring a trained outside coach can better serve the pastors of a
denomination than denominational executives trying to fill both roles. Eventually the roles will
come into conflict if the executive tries to wear both hats. Contact me if you’d like to talk more
You can find the report on the study here:
Dr. Calvin Habig ministered in local congregations for thirty years and currently does professional coaching with ministers and other value-driven leaders. He lives in Portland, OR and can be contacted at: