The average tenure of a Baptist pastor serving in the United States is about 18 months. That number has remained fairly constant for many years now.
When we factor in those ministers who stay at churches 10, 15 or 20 years, it becomes fairly obvious that there are some pastors whose tenure is far less than the 18-month average – sometimes considerably less.
These are certainly dedicated ministers. They have a deep sense of calling and for the most part have a good work ethic.
But something does not work. They may start well in a particular church, but about a year or so in, things begin to go wrong.
And while the particular issues may vary from one minister to the next, the end result is often the same. About nine months to a year in a new place of service, they are looking for another place to go.
I remember one minister who was trying to take stock of this phenomenon in his professional life.
He came to see me hoping I could help him find a new place of service, but also wanting to understand why, in his last four churches, the same sort of issues kept coming up.
After a lengthy conversation about preaching style, leadership techniques, pastoral care and administrative duties, I finally asked my colleague a very simple question.
“In all the churches you have served, there is a constant, recurring feature. Do you know what it is?”
He sat silently for a long time before he answered. Finally, choking back tears, he said, “The constant in all my churches is me.”
This is not to say that every church is perfect and every minister who cannot manage to stay longer than a year is flawed in some way.
But what it does mean is this: Sometimes we carry our bad habits, or unresolved personal issues, from one place to another. When we fail to grow and learn from past experiences, it’s understandable that we will keep making the same sort of mistakes over and over again.
As one of my teachers was fond of saying, “If nothing changes, then nothing changes.”
What got me to thinking about all this is the rash of resolutions that people make as they anticipate a “new year.”
We hear things like, “Maybe in the new year, things will be different, better.” As if the date on the calendar has the power to wipe away a lifetime of behaviors and attitudes.
Now, don’t get me wrong. I am not saying that people should not strive to eat healthier, and spend more time with their kids, and quit smoking and start walking two miles a day – and all the other resolutions we resolve to do.
What I am saying is that there is a constant feature we take with us into the new year from the old year. The one constant is us. And until we change that basic feature, nothing else will change.
Jesus understood this very well. He said one time that we do not become better people by sprucing up the outside. Real transformation comes from within.
It is only when we change who we are and how we think about ourselves and our world that other changes become possible.
By all means, resolve to do better in all the critical areas of life. But understand that unless there is change on the inside – at the very core of our being – change will not come or last.
If nothing changes, then nothing changes.
James L. Evans is a retired Baptist preacher living in Alabama. Over 35 years, he served churches in Alabama, North Carolina and Virginia. In support of his pastoral work, Evans published 5 books including “First and Second Corinthians: Immersion Bible Studies” (Abingdon Press (2011).