Bo Wagner is pastor of the Cornerstone Baptist Church of Mooresboro, NC, a widely traveled evangelist, and the author of several books. His books are available on Amazon and at www.wordofhismouth.com

Okay, whippersnappers, gather around the old geezer’s chair for a second; I have some wisdom to impart to you just as soon as I can regulate this blasted hearing aid and remember where I put my orthopedic slippers…

*Ahem.* First off, I am not quite that old, although when I was in high school, 54 seemed like the stuff of grainy black-and-white pictures of World War I. Nonetheless, as of this first Sunday of June, I will have definitely gotten to what is normally only rare old-guy territory; I will have pastored the same church for twenty-seven years. To make it even more interesting and unlikely, we started the church from scratch. On average, pastors in America stay in a church for three and a half to four years; church-planting pastors, on average, are significantly less than that.

Basically, you are about as likely to encounter an actual bigfoot as you are a church planting pastor still in one place after twenty-seven years.

Anyway, this momentous occasion has had me thinking a lot this past week about what it takes to survive and thrive as a pastor in one place for a very long time. Some of the readers of this column are no doubt pastors or one day will be. Others have pastors that they love and care about. So I hope that the following bits of advice will be helpful either directly or indirectly. If you want to experience the blessings of pastoring that can only come from staying in one church for a very long time, here is my counsel.

One, make absolutely sure going into it that God called you to it. This is essential; many hard moments can only be overcome by the rock-solid assurance that God put you in that place with those people. In our case, God made it so abundantly clear that only an utter dolt could have missed it – I am pretty grateful for that.

Two, go into it asking God to let you stay for a lifetime and working at it as if he will. Mind you, he gets to call the shots and can move me or you or anyone else as he desires, when he desires. But I have found that God seems to honor that request and blesses that mindset. Furthermore, a person praying that prayer will not be prone to the common ministerial malady of viewing ministries as stepping stones to larger and larger things. God does not call men to step on others on their way up; he calls them to “feed the flock of God that is among them,” 1 Peter 5:2.

Three, have a normal family. I cannot overstate the importance of this. Men who go into the ministry expecting their wives and children to portray themselves as super-saints at all times are setting up the ruin of both their ministry and their family. Let your kids be a normal part of the youth group, not museum examples of faux child-like consecration. Let your wife have an actual home where she can relax and make a nest to her liking, not some auxiliary ladies’ meeting location that she is expected to maintain in a “proper ministerial fashion.” Laugh, cut up, have fun, let your family see that being in the ministry does not have to result in a drudgery of life. I could not have made it 27 years in one place without my wife and kids being fully onboard.

Four, have as large a measure as possible of financial independence. A pastor who is 100% dependent on his church for a paycheck is one church battle away from having to leave for greener pastures. But a pastor who has a good work ethic and marketable side skills can normally weather any storm and survive to see the sun shining brighter than ever when it has passed.

Five, have a sense of humor and use it liberally. The ability to laugh, laugh things off, and even laugh at oneself is like a ministerial Captain America shield, making barbs and insults “Pwing!” off as you continue to move forward. Laughter from a pastor can relieve tension in the room, reassure shaky people that everything will be alright, and diffuse most explosive situations.

Six, pastor your own church. God never called anyone to pastor a denomination or even a “movement.” Mind your own business, and expect others to do so as well. Not much good ever comes from trying to pastor everyone else’s church from yours or from allowing them to pastor yours from theirs. “None of your business” is still a very valid answer to modern Nosey Parkers, and focusing on pastoring your own church makes longevity there much more likely.

Seven, learn to let things and people go. The temptation to bitterness in the ministry can be overwhelming, and the longer you are in one place, the more dark and oppressive that cloud can be. Every trip to Walmart eventually becomes a game of hide and seek as you try to dodge aisles with enemies on them. And, this compels many ministers to leave for new fields and fresh starts and produce aisles with no purple onions among the plums, as it were. But if you can truly let things and people go, as Paul instructed in Philippians 3:13-14, every single day can be a fresh start right where you are.

Eight, have pressure relief valves in your life. Lift weights, go running, take vacations, go kayaking down the river, go fishing, do something regularly that lets off the steam and gives you something to look forward to. I stood in the hallway of a Bible college many years ago, arguing with a handful of know-it-alls who were quite sure that any relaxation or recreation was a sin because people were dying and going to hell. And exactly as I warned them all those years ago, they all quickly burned out and left the ministry altogether while I am still at it, and all in one place.

I am praying for you, Pastor. Develop deep roots and watch God produce fruit.

Pastor Wagner can be contacted by email at 2knowhim@cbc-web.org, and his books are available by clicking the “Store” link above.

Feature photo by Pastor Bo Wagner