My story is weird.
My dad has pastored the same church for thirty-two years. When I moved away to college in 2002, I began attending the church where I still am a member today. I’ve spent over twelve years of my life here, eight and a half of those as a staff member.
I became a pastor during my time here. I met my wife here. I graduated college and seminary while here. I became a father and then a father of twins here. I became idealistic and then cynical here. I tried to leave but I couldn’t find anywhere to go. I drove our church truck into a parking structure, lost a set of keys, threw a chair across the room while teaching a Bible study, said “Jesus is sexy” in a sermon, and walked around the offices one day in a nun’s habit. And no—I never got fired!
Almost daily, I spend time talking to or reading about someone who has been wounded by the church. Some of them still attend; others vow they never will come back. Some have discovered forgiveness; others remain rooted in bitterness.
I know young adults who regularly attend three different churches, alternating each weekend. I know others who attend one church on Saturday night and another on Sunday morning. I know some who are “doing church” in their living room with friends. I have friends who have kept their faith in God but lost their faith in the church, so they attend services on Easter and Christmas only. Otherwise, they follow Jesus by themselves.
My lengthy tenure at one church is abnormal. But as the number of years I’ve spent here keeps climbing higher, I’m learning about the power of faithfulness and longevity. I’m discovering what can happen in year nine that could not happen in year one.
There is power in committing and staying somewhere, for your good and the good of that place.
By choosing to stay somewhere for a long time, you can establish deep roots with people. When you have friends who met you as an idealistic, prideful nineteen-year-old and have stayed with you until you’re a thirty-year-old father of three toddlers, you get to celebrate who you’ve become and who you’re becoming together.
Crisis comes for all of us. In those moments, we need people with whom we have deep roots to weather the storm with us. When tough conversations happen, we need people who give us the benefit of the doubt and who will know how to help interpret what we said or did. Only deeply rooted relationships provide this kind of understanding.
In addition to deep roots, you gain influence and greater input. In my current job, my influence and input have not yet been fully represented in my title. Trust and relationships have opened doors title and status cannot. By staying when others leave, those who stay often get to speak into the future. If you’re always the “new guy,” you will struggle to gain influence and input beyond the strict nature of your position. Short-term commitment rarely leads to long-term influence.
Short-term commitment rarely leads to long-term influence.
A long tenure makes it easier to look back and see how much you’ve grown. I am not the same person I was when I came to this church. I came with lots of answers and became teachable. I came with an arrogant bent and became more humble. I quickly became cynical and discovered hope. I moved from critic to creator. I battled fear and found courage. I realized my entitlement and practiced gratitude.
You can change and grow when you’re constantly on the move, but it is often more difficult to discern the differences. If everyone you spend time with has known for you less than two years, you will have fewer conversations about where you were versus where you are now, about who you used to be versus who you are today.
Longevity in one spot continually reminds you of the impact of your life and leadership. I went to a small, private high school my junior and senior years. I was surprised to regularly see former students return to visit their teachers, reconnecting and catching up on their life after high school. Regularly, I would hear a student thank a teacher for something they said or did that made an impact. These conversations were possible because of the long tenure of the teachers. While I’m sure my teachers were not teaching for the money or the prestige, I watched those moments become a source of encouragement and affirmation for them.
In my tenure, I’ve seen how returning week after week to the same community for years can make a difference in someone’s life. In crisis, people look for people or places where they have history and trust. It has been a joy for me to offer support, encouragement, and guidance during those times. This has only been possible because I’m deeply rooted to this community.
While new opportunities can look appealing or exciting, staying in one place can lead to profound change—in us and in the organizations, companies, and churches we serve. I believe I am a better person and follower of Jesus because I’ve stayed in this city and in this church for over ten years. I believe this church is better because I’ve stayed committed to it.
Staying can be much harder than leaving. But staying is often the difference between where we are and where we want to be.