What You Lose When You Keep Switching Jobs

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?


  1. Rod on December 11, 2016 at 6:56 pm

    I am finding right what you are sharing is true. I’ve been here for 6 years and feel that we are just starting into the next phase of ministry in the community. God has given us incredible favor with the church and community. We’ve been through some issues but God is working in us and through us. Keep pressing in, people.

  2. […] a previous post, I argued that many people leave their jobs for the wrong reasons. In fact, I think many people […]

  3. Julia on February 13, 2013 at 6:37 pm

    Hi Carey,

    I felt the need to comment because I am really bothered by your broad generalization of this principle – especially since I consider this advice detrimental for youngsters starting out in my field. Let me explain:

    First of all, I fully agree that people these days are too fickle and need to stick to their churches/ministry/relationships as it is part of growing. I have found over the years that God delivers (ie, whether it be a sister’s group to pray with, etc.) but sometimes a lot more slowly and through people that I do not expect. I should not just take off after ‘x’ months because it didn’t work out. So I agree, there is value in persisting.

    However, I think you should limit your comments to your domain of expertise – ministry.

    I have worked in the private sector for the past 12 years and have been employed in the same company – so I am by no means fickle. But if you look at the private marketplace today and the way organizations operate, quite often, the ONLY way to grow is to leave the company. Due to globalization and the rapid development of new technology, jobs/careers change extremely rapidly. The work that I did with my team in 2003 is now being out-sourced at a rapid rate to India/China/Brazil. The people still on those teams are those who WILL BE LEFT BEHIND and will have (or are having) a lot of difficulty finding a new position because those jobs are no longer available in Canada or the US – in fact, many of those jobs are increasingly automated. (I hold a computer science degree so I’m not talking about manufacturing).

    Let me try another analogy: it’s like telling the monks to stay put and continue what they did (ie, manually copying scrolls) even though printing technology completely changed their vocation forever. The difference here is that new technologies in the 21st century are far more disruptive and force people to change jobs even more rapidly (think Blackberry vs. iPhone… that’s a span of less than 10 years).

    Also, corporate organizations no longer have the same moral compass that they did even 10 years ago. They don’t look at an employee from the perspective of the talent and potential that they bring and try to build them up. Rather, they look for the cheapest resource available that fills an immediate need and discard immedately when their skill is no longer perceived as useful. I am saying this from the perspective of somebody who has been involved in hiring/staffing decisions for projects. So if you stay in the same job/organization for a long time, the likeliness of you learning and growing yourself is actually MUCH SMALLER. Especially for a large organization that is globalized.

    So although I think that there is a certain value to your advice, I think that you need to limit the scope of what you refer to – and extricate yourself from areas of knowledge in which you know nothing about. Because your advice would be quite damaging to a youngster starting out in the technological private sector.

    FYI – Between the friends who have stuck it out at the same job vs. those who have switched every 3 to 4 years, I can guarantee you that the more fickle of us have had far more success – not only materially but also in the skills that they have learned and the vastly different challenges that they have encountered (due to the different environments, people, technical knowledge, etc.).

    • Roy Snow on March 5, 2013 at 4:59 pm

      Hi Julia, Excellent post.

      I do have to say you are missing one very important point about young people new to an industry. Most young people (not all) have no idea who they are or who they want to be when they start a new career. The percentage of young people who change their field of expertise during school is very high so when they start a career or job most of these people have no clue if they want to stay in that particular field. Unfortunately job placement and schooling have become the normal way for a young person to establish the kind of person they would like to be. In almost every country, there is a passage into adult hood. Whether it be military service, church or pastoral service or killing a lion with a stick, there is a set time in a persons life when they have earned the respect of their elders and are ushered into adult hood. Unfortunately we do not have this in our western culture and it’s fading fast in the westernization of other countries in the world. The right of passage in our culture tends to center around legal age to drive or the legal age to drink. By no means does this offer young people the opportunity for personal growth.
      Hence the reason why 80% of people state that they hate their job. How can you make a choice for a career and the future of your life when you don’t know what your made of. In our culture we tend to measure success based on material gain as opposed to personal growth or spiritual advancement. You yourself state that those who may have switched jobs every 3-4 years are ahead more materially and skillfully than others.

      In our western culture we, in more cases than not, look at material possessions as a form of life status. I think this is a mistake. My family has lots of money and I can count on one hand how many times my father took me out fishing. Sure I have a great work ethic and fantastic job but I’m stuck missing the things that should have been done for me as a child. The drive for material status causes us to miss some of the more important things in life. I would rather my children move into adult hood understanding life and being prepared for the future spiritually, mentally and physically as opposed being tossed into a fire they are not prepared for. I think Carey’s statement about Jumping into Personal Growth is very significant. Otherwise when you reach the path that’s for you it’s very possible for one to pass it by. How can someone know what they want in life when they don’t know who they are.

      As an example, when I was about 17 I came to realize that I had no idea what I wanted out of life. At the time I was just hanging around flunking out of school, camping and rock climbing instead of making plans for the future.

      I read a book about a man named Eustice Conway (http://www.amazon.ca/The-Last-American-Elizabeth-Gilbert/dp/0142002836). This book drove me go out into the bush for 3 month with nothing but a knife, tarp some rice and lentils and the clothes on my back. This time really showed me who I was and what I was missing. 4 years later I met my wife. 10 year this May we have 2 young children, house and careers that are extremely fulfilling. Had I not spent time early on finding out who I was and what I was capable of I would not be content in my life. My children will be brought up expecting some sort of right of passage into adult hood. They need to admit failure, bask in true success and gain real confidence. Then I will feel they will have the confidence to make strong decisions. This is part of personal growth

      Carey’s post is bang on about this. Your post rings true as well.

      Where Carey comes short is that personal growth should be a focus in school or church at a young age. Don’t forget, young men and women were fight for our country at the age of 16 and 17 during the WW1 and WW2. Families were being made and marriages performed at this age as well.

      Carey posted in a later blog post about an experience he had as an intern during or after law school. He was saying that their was one lawyer who would intimidate all the interns and belittle them when they made mistakes. At one point Carey was forced to admit to this lawyer he made a mistake and lost a case. When he was honest about the mistake and stood up to what had happened the lawyer in question was polite. This come from confidence in ones self. You’ve hired people for projects in the past so you must know many young people who have lied to cover a mistake or who have mistaken confidence for being cocky. Confidence comes when we are comfortable with ourselves. We get this from personal growth. This is the benefit of sports in high school college.

      Thank you Carey for the post, again, a good read.

  4. david on January 9, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    Thanks for this reminder.
    I’m a fan of longevity, believe the dots only connect after years of pursuit, and as you affirmed – growth happens only when we need to break through some obstacles – usually our own limitations.

    • Carey Nieuwhof on January 9, 2013 at 3:55 pm

      Thanks David. So true!

  5. Rob Sellitto on January 8, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    Hi Carey
    Sometimes your posts are so very timely, and also so very frustrating!
    I really appreciate what you shared. But I do have a question in hopes of getting some clarity: what if it is really time to move on? And what if you keeping trying to make something work is really not the right choice? I don’t think I am adverse to personal growth, and I think I do pretty well at continuously challenging myself in this way, but I could be wrong, I also know that everything inside of me wants to leave most of the time.

    • cnieuwhof on January 9, 2013 at 8:32 am

      Rob…watch for today’s post. It’s a response to your question. I’m posting it shortly. Thanks!

  6. Tom on January 8, 2013 at 12:41 pm

    Thanks for a great read Carey. Where would you start when you’re staring at the “problems that not only other people can’t solve, but you’re not sure how to solve”?

    • cnieuwhof on January 9, 2013 at 8:33 am

      Tom. love that question. I know for me that’s when I get a new coach or find some new mentors. I have had a number of mentors and have used a leadership coach for several years now. They help me push through walls I don’t know how to push through. Sometimes a counselor has helped me too when it’s not so much a leadership issue but a personal/emotional barrier I’m facing. Does that help?

  7. Karen Laszlo on January 8, 2013 at 9:41 am

    This is my first time to your site – what a great way to start a day! Well-written article and so true. I’ve always considered myself a perpetual student of life. “Growing” not only takes effort it means coming face to face with your weaknesses – not always an easy thing to do but rewarding when you come out on the other side. Thank you for your insight and perspective!

    • cnieuwhof on January 8, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Karen…welcome. So good to hear from you and thanks for the encouraging words.

  8. Daniel on January 7, 2013 at 3:54 pm

    I am thankful for your wisdom in this. I am a young pastor in my first staff position as a children’s pastor. I am entering my third year and I feel things are normal here. I could stay here for many years to come and I know that staying would only benefit my ministry and my own growth.

    However, my wife is also a children’s pastor, only she is on staff at a different church in a town over from my church. It is a struggle because we rarely get to go to church together or do ministry together. We hardly even see each other on Sundays. We believe that God has called us to minister in the same church, just like he has called us to be in this marriage relationship. We are praying toward this end.

    But neither of our churches are in the position to add another pastor. So my struggle is in wanting to stay because I know that it is better for ministry and wanting to be in ministry with my wife which will most likely mean searching for a new church.

    I know this is a very specific situation but do you have any thoughts on this?

    Thanks again!

    • cnieuwhof on January 8, 2013 at 10:23 am

      Daniel…thanks for the comment. I’d love to hear what others think. But my sense is that there are good reasons to change and not so good reasons. My post was really aimed at not so good reasons. I think if you and your wife can’t worship at the same church that would be something you would want to legitimately address at some point. What do others think?

    • Christopher Gooding on January 15, 2013 at 5:49 pm

      Wow…Daniel, I thought I had it rough. I serve as a children’s pastor and my wife is my admin and because of the separate demands on each of us, we rarely make it to worship…in the SAME church. To me this seems like a legitimate case for one of you to jump ship…I’d really consider how to get yourselves meshed so that you can attend the same church … do you have kids, too? I’m assuming “no”….

  9. cnieuwhof on January 7, 2013 at 12:13 pm

    Ryan…I kinda like your question. I’d love to hear from more people. 🙂 You are so right. I think when you quit to soon, you forfeit your place in the story God is writing. Great insight.

  10. Ryan Bilello on January 7, 2013 at 12:04 pm

    How has no one commented on this yet? Great wisdom here Carey! Us millenials do struggle with sticking with a job/ministry/organization. But imagine if Moses had bailed on the position God had given him…sure he could of went somewhere else and everyone would have loved him. “You’re the dude that stood up to Pharaoh!” He would have been a rock star but would have missed out on a lot of personal growth through walking, talking & obeying God.

    • Christopher Gooding on January 15, 2013 at 5:58 pm

      Yes…I agree. and I hate to get too…pragmatic/practical(?)…Moses had some pretty compelling encounters with God that encouraged him to continue his journey…as did Noah…and Paul…and Peter….I’m just saying that I might not doubt my position on a church staff quite as often if I had a pillar of fire fronting my every move… 🙂

      • Carey Nieuwhof on January 16, 2013 at 10:13 am

        Christopher, so true…and yet isn’t it strange that even Moses wished to be ‘taken out’ as a leader? Leadership is hard, no matter how direct the revelation.

      • Vicki Coulter on September 17, 2014 at 6:30 am

        I agree with you here. Yet – we might not have that pillar obviously visible every morning and night, but we CAN still fervently seek His guidance, boldly ask for confirmations, and actually get some no-doubt-about-it answers at pivotal times!

  11. cnieuwhof on January 7, 2013 at 12:01 pm

    Gina…thanks. Your words mean a lot to me. And for sure, redefining ourselves is incredibly challenging work. Long ago I think they used to call it sanctification.

  12. ginamcclain on January 7, 2013 at 11:56 am

    There is a ton of wisdom here. Growth opportunities can be difficult to recognize and redefining yourself is one of the most challenging things we can do.
    Thanks for this encouragement!

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