According to Forbes Magazine, the average worker in the marketplace spends 4.4 years in a job. The average millennial spends less than half that at a job, moving on after less than three years.
While studies vary, the tenure of senior pastors seems to be between 3.6 and 8 years. While there is a suggestion that the average-youth-pastor-stays-18-months belief is a myth, student pastors appear to stay in the job for less than 5 years too.
Why is that?
That’s a really critical question, especially when this is true: studies also show effective leaders have an average tenure that’s over double average – sometimes even longer (between 11 and 21 years).
In my view, it’s a shame that people leave so soon in ministry and in the marketplace.
In fact, I’m convinced that most leaders leave a position before their critical breakthrough.
By the way, I think this is true not just of employees and pastors, but also of volunteers and even church-hoppers (that group that finds a new church every few years because ‘they’re not growing’). It might even apply to those who can’t keep a relationship for more than a few years.
So here’s my theory.
This assumes you’re competent and are making a solid contribution to your organization.
Year One: You’re a Rock Star. You’re smart. You see the organization through new eyes. You bring insights and practices others on the team don’t have. Your star is rising and you’re the hero du jour.
Year Two: Everyone’s So Glad You’re There. Now you have a track record and people trust you. You’re appreciated and appear to have staying power.
Year Three: This Feels Like Normal. You’ve solved a lot of the problems you set out to solve. Now your bag of tricks is running a little thin. In fact, you’re starting to see problems that not only other people can’t solve, but you’re not sure how to solve. Maybe…just maybe…you created a few of your own.
Year Four: What’s That Wall Over There? You don’t want to say it out loud. But there’s a wall ahead. And if you’re honest, you know the wall is you. You are up against all your limits, your ghosts, your fears and you realize that if you’re going to make progress you’re going to have to grow as a person. Because you’ve changed everything else. Now all that’s left to change is you.
So now, as a leader, you have a choice.
You can jump out of the organization. Go find a new job — rinse, lather, repeat. Be a rock star for a year (they’ll love your talents as much as the last guys did), let things become normal, hit a wall, and then decide to move on again.
You can jump into personal growth. I think this is what the best leaders do. They know that in the midst of change, the most important thing they can change is themselves. Chase the demons. Drill down on the issues that make you ineffective and effective. Learn new skills. Build deeper relationships. And grow. And when you grow, your ministry, department and organization can grow too.
I say this as someone who has worked in the same setting for almost 18 years with some of the same core team for that entire period. You can’t hide from what you need to grow in. You need to keep sharpening your saw, getting better and growing as a person and a leader. It’s in those seasons I’ve had to:
Find new mentors
Find new coaches
Trust my team at new levels
See a counselor
Pray through what God wants to do in me more than what God wants to do through me
I’m not saying you should never change jobs.
But I am saying this: the times when I’ve been most tempted to move on, it’s mostly been because I didn’t want to grow personally any more.
It felt too difficult. It would have been so much easier just to bail and be a rock star somewhere else for a few years (or at least a rock star in my own mind).
And the studies show this: the most effective leaders have longer tenures. Probably because they decided to grow rather than jump.
What if the biggest person you hurt in your constant movement was you?
Up against a wall this year? I hope you jump into some deep personal growth.
What are your thoughts on tenure and growth?