“At least part of the answer to the question above can be found by analyzing the third year of a pastor’s tenure. When I wrote Breakout Churches several years ago, I did just that. My book was primarily about long-tenured pastors who see sustained church health after a period of decline.
But in that study to find longer-tenured pastors, I discovered that the largest numbers of pastors were leaving their churches in the third year of their ministry at that specific church. The finding both intrigued me and concerned me. I began to interview those pastors to ask them why they left.
The Reasons for the Third Year Departure
Though I found no singular reason for the third year departure, I heard a number of common themes:
- The honeymoon was over from the church’s perspective…
- The honeymoon was over from the pastor’s perspective..,
- When a new pastor arrives, most church members have their own expectations of the pastor…
- Typically by the third year, the church has a number of new members who arrived under the present pastor’s tenure…
- In any longer term relationship, that which seems quaint and charming can become irritating and frustrating. ..
- All relationships have seasons. …
Possible Ways to Address the Third Year
Here are a few ways to address that dangerous third year of a pastor’s ministry. None are a panacea; but some may be helpful.
- Have an awareness of the possibility of a third year letdown. It is not unusual, and you are not alone.
- Be prepared for the down season to last a while. The dropout rates for pastors in years four and five were pretty high as well.
- Surround the pastor with prayer. Be intentional about praying for the pastor’s emotional, physical, and spiritual strength during this season.
- Keep the church outwardly focused as much as possible. Church members who are focused inwardly tend to be more critical and dissatisfied.
- Be aware that pastors who make it through these seasons are usually stronger on the other side. Their churches are as well.
- Church members need to be highly intentional about encouraging the pastor and the pastor’s family. While they always need encouragement, they really need it during this season.