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9Marks Explained : A Letter From Mark Dever

Staying for the Glory of God: The Sibbes, Simeon and Stott Model

Many times I’ve heard a conference preacher introduced like this: “Dr. Foreman is an internationally sought after preacher. He has pastored churches in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, and Tennessee.” Reciting them all together makes it seem like this is an accomplishment—“his pastoral skills have been recognized everywhere!”

I must admit that the skeptical side of me just won’t be quiet. What were his pastorates like in those churches in Pennsylvania, Virginia, Texas, and Tennessee? How long were they? Why, each time, did he make the decision to leave? Unless he’s very, very old, those were some pretty short pastorates!

This moving around—generally from a smaller church to a larger one—is the ladder that many ministers spend their lives climbing. We tell our old church that we’re leaving, ultimately, for the greater glory of God. We tell our new church that we’re coming, ultimately, for the greater glory of God.

But do we consider staying for the glory of God?

THREE MEN WHO STAYED FOR THE GLORY OF GOD

When I’m asked about my models for pastoral ministry I’ve often said, “Three Cambridge Anglican bachelor S’s—Sibbes, Simeon, and Stott.” Each of these men found a strategic location, began expounding God’s Word, and stayed. Expositional preaching is foundational to a Christian ministry, and it’s worth thinking about finding a strategic location and even remaining single. But for this article I want us to consider that other matter of longevity.

First, the facts about these three. Richard Sibbes (1577-1635) began preaching in Cambridge in the early 1600s, and had a continuous ministry in London at Gray’s Inn from 1617 until his death in 1635. Charles Simeon (1759-1836) preached at Holy Trinity Church, Cambridge from 1782 until his death in 1836, a remarkable 54-year ministry! And John Stott (b. 1921) began preaching at All Souls’ Church, Langham Place, in London from his appointment as curate (1945) and rector (1950), and he preached there regularly until just a few years ago—a ministry that, remarkably, even exceeds Simeon’s in length! 

CONSIDER STAYING

Why have I chosen these men as my models? Because I think there are good reasons for pastors to stay put at one church for as long as that serves the congregation.

Now, I’m not saying that Scripture presents a uniform pattern of how long God uses a leader—Moses led the people for forty years, Jesus led his disciples in person for three. The apostle Paul, in his unique role as church planter among the nations, would stay in a place from a few weeks to a few years, and then move on. The Old Testament priests would serve the Lord at the Temple for decades.

Yet one of the chief attributes of God’s love is its steadfastness, its unchanging unmoveableness. And permanence is one of the things that seems to distinguish the important relationships from the passing nature of casual ones.

Also, I’m not saying that pastoral moves are wrong by nature. I have pastored and left a church in Massachusetts in order to further my education, and pastored and left a church in England in order to become a senior pastor in the church I currently serve. I have been here for sixteen years at the time of this writing. And I don’t assume that I should never leave here (though I have no plans to). I assume instead that I should leave this congregation when it would be best for the congregation. But I also assume that it would normally be best for me, as for other pastors, to remain where I am.

BAD REASONS TO LEAVE

Sometimes, pastors will move for reasons that aren’t very good: a larger church, a larger salary, boredom over the current situation, unresolved staff issues, being out of ideas, conflict with the congregation, interest in more prestigious location, or an empty barrel of already prepared sermons. Even as I regularly hear of pastors making heroic sacrifices to care well for their congregations, so I occasionally hear of charlatans, hypocrites, immoral men, and others who need to be exposed and brought to repentance before divine judgment overtakes them.

Congregations may get rid of pastors, but that’s not what I’m thinking about here. I’m thinking about pastors deciding to be done with congregations. Staying with a congregation through thick and thin helps the church to see that you’re not with them because it’s easy, or because everything goes your way. You’re with them because you love them and you rely on God. You endure for his sake, for the love he has given you for his people. You continue, like the prophet Ezekiel, even though the people’s hearts are hard. Charles Simeon endured years of opposition to his ministry before there was obvious fruit. Adoniram Judson endured years of apparent fruitlessness before God gave him converts. How are people to observe the outcome of our lives and faith (Heb. 13:7) if we don’t stay long enough for them to know us?

I fear that too many pastors have let market-driven thinking put a premium on new, novel, and innovative, and thus they undervalue faithful, reliable, constant, and certain. No doubt, sometimes it’s the right thing to move on. But more often, our penchant to move shows that we’re relying on programs more than preaching. We’re looking for seed that springs up quickly rather than the slower-growing and hearty fruit of elders and ministers, faithful mothers and fathers, and generations of blessing to a community through a faithful ministry.

WHAT YOU CAN AND CANNOT ACCOMPLISH IN A SHORT PASTORATE

Consider the things that you can do if you are only at a church for a year or two. You can introduce new songs and some new ideas. You can preach. You can start afresh on some relationships in the community. You can perhaps bring new people into leadership, and very quickly give people a chance to serve on yet another pulpit search committee.

Now consider some things you cannot do in a brief pastorate. You cannot do the funerals of saints you’ve known and loved for years. You cannot comfort those who are in their declining years, having known them in the days of their fuller service to the congregation. You cannot see men you led to Christ getting married, going into the ministry, and becoming fruitful in their own lives and ministries. You cannot see long-term changes in the way a congregation thinks or is structured.

Just like children require years of slow, patient, repeated teaching in order to grow, so too, normally, does a congregation. That’s why Paul exhorts Timothy to “Preach the Word; be prepared in season and out of season; correct, rebuke and encourage—with great patience and careful instruction” (2 Tim. 4:2).This kind of long-term perseverance is the way God normally rebukes our own faithlessness, humbles us, and then shows us his sufficiency and grace as he supplies for us yet again, far beyond what our own resources could do.

HOW TO PASTOR FOR THE LONG HAUL

If you agree with me that longevity is normally better than quick, short pastorates, how do you bring it about? Here are two simple ideas that I’ve found useful, both of which relate to the pastor’s rest.

1) Regularly take sabbaticals in which your congregation gives you weeks (or months!) off for rest, relaxation, reading, and perhaps writing.

2) Raise up other men in your congregation to teach and preach. Work on creating a textured leadership that is not dependent on you, so that new workers are constantly identified and raised up and other voices bless the congregation. This brings in some of the freshness that may often be associated with a new pastor; and it makes it possible for you to share the teaching load, which will help you to bear your part longer.

Sometimes it’s good to consider leaving for the sake of the gospel. But for the sake of the gospel, and for the glory of God, it’s good to consider staying, too.

Mark Dever is the senior pastor of Capitol Hill Baptist Church in Washington, DC, and the author of What Does God Want of Us Anyway? (Crossway, 2010).

January/February 2011
©9Marks 

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Topics: Pastoring

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As a lay leader, should you stay at a church if the preaching of God's Word is not preached expositionally? I do believe in the longevity of a pastor at a local church. We had 4 pastors in 8 years. When is it time to move on?

I concur, and as a corollary, I'd suggest that churches *seeking a pastor* should avoid trying to entice pastors away from their existing churches. There has to be some flexibility, however, and it seems like the best path for churches seeking a pastor may be to promote from within, to hire new grads, or as a last resort, to consider another church's assistant pastors (rather than their senior pastor).

I appreciate this article and all that Dr. Dever and 9 Marks do to promote longevity in the ministry both through direct teaching like this and through providing resources for ministers. I am a bi-vocational minister in a small rural church. In studying the history of my church, I found that they had never had a pastor stay longer than 6 years since 1894! This was in part due to the structure of the church early on (they practiced what is known as the annual call where each year they voted on the pastor so this often limited their tenure) but even in recent history only 1 pastor stayed 6 years, most only stayed 1 or 2. From the beginning my heart has been for these people of God to have someone love them and not just give up on them or use them as a stepping stone to greener pastures. With that being said, I can also testify to the physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual challenges to bi-vocational ministry. I can say after 7 years now that I am weary. I have had opportunities to go to other churches in the area, closer to home, bigger ministries, perhaps more strategic, and full time (my heart breaks over ministry that cannot be done, time away from my family, lack of preparation time, lack of sleep! etc. that comes with bi-vocational ministry). At times I have thought maybe I should be more ambitious for the kingdom, seeking larger influence. But the clearest call of God I have ever had came when He called me to this church and I have resolved to stay until God moves me. I think what people should understand about this article is that we let God decide when to move us. Ministry is hard work and slow work but let us endure hardship as a good soldier. Remember these are God's people no matter how many or few purchased by the blood of Christ. How precious they are! Let us spend and be spent for their sake as long as God leaves us there for His glory.

Excellent post, Mark.

Sometimes, faithfulness is the clearest mark of love.

Thank you, Pastor Dever, for sharing your thoughts on this important subject. You have a way of encouraging pastors and exhorting them on to things that will glorify God in deep, fruitful and (by the grace of God) lasting ministries.

Thank you for this posting. I have been senior pastor here for 27 years. I am originally from the D.C. area, worked there after college, began in ministry in SW Va., went to seminary in Dallas and then we found ourselves in strange, old, stodgy, working-class New England. I would never, never have predicted we would be here this long. However, every time we have pondered or endeavored to move the Lord has clearly kept us here, and eventually a phase of growth in this church would evidence itself. I can heartily agree with Mark that there is something to be said for the faithulness- factor, the dependability and the continuity of doctrine and balance that a long term pastorate brings to a flock and to a community. I have opportunities now I would never have had in 10 or even 15 year pastorates. It has been difficult to minister here, and for so long. No course or program in seminary could prepare one for the lessons I've learned. Or, had to learn. But in it all the Lord appears to have been crafting a purpose. Our area is largely Catholic and largely traditional. It is also Massachusetts and need I say more about what that means for traditional values? But our community has only had a few stable, reasonable evangelical preachers over the past century. They are sterling examples of the good faith. And I would never claim to have made a mark. But staying here a long time has provided me with the chance to demonstrate the faith in a community which has not seen well-grounded evangelicalism very much--at least not since the days of Edwards! I trust the Lord is using our stay here, though some years it felt like an exile. THere remain many opportunities to share Christ and the Gospel here, and few good men or women come here. Many leave. May it all be to his glory! Thank you again for your well-written little piece about staying. Stott and Sibbes are favorites of mine too!

I have been in the same church for 29 years. There have been times when I wanted to leave, as I dreamed about bigger and better churches, and or ministries, but Ididn't leave. Lately I have felt it was time to leave, only this time I have no future plans. I am 64 years old. According to others, I am a dinosaur, (I still wear a suit and tie and stand behind a pulpit), I am not a hipster, I don't use the ESV, evidently, I am not quite "reformed enough", I have never spoken at a big conference, and people don't flock to hear me..while I knew people would never flock to hear me, but perhaps we could set up a conference here on the West Coast, but for whatever reason, that isn't going to happen, so, I guess its time to leave, but where do I go? What do I do? Maybe I should stay, but would it be for the wrong reason? I can't retire, I don't have any retirement account.. My advice, if you are going to stay in one place for a long time, make sure you have some kind of exit strategy...just in case.

So 3 pastorates in 30 years for Dr. Dever?

When pastors must work 2-3 part-time jobs in not very "strategic" places to barely scrape by, or run out of money and must close the church plant that never got off the ground, they read an article like this, hear the admonition, and long with aching heart for a place where they could have stayed for 20 years or more. Short pastorates are not always from lack of effort dear brother. Sometimes a man needs to move on to feed his family and fulfill his call.

In a Presbyterian/Anglican setting the Synod or hierarchy has major, maybe not complete, control, over the hiring and dismissing of pastors.

Stayness tends to breed staleness, aloofness, apathy, doctrinal drifting, and sometimes empire building when there is marginal accountablility to the elders and congregation. Because they can only be cut off by the "synod" or "bishop".

I find that expositionary preaching is watered down, discipleship is weak if existing, and development of leaders is shake & bake at best. More emphasis is place on success in the secular arena for leaders, which does not translate well in a church setting.

Not to say there are fine, stable, growing pastors such as Stott, L. Duncan, RC, Sinclair and many others, but in my several experiences there is staleness with 10+ years tenure. Even the Crystal Cathedral/WillowCreek/Saddleback thingy is often attempted. Maybe has something to do with Covenant Theology, and mixed company nature of the "church" and that ecclesiastical system.
Just ask Jonathan Edwards if we could!

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Many people can -- and do -- say the same of marriage. "Stayness tends to breed staleness, aloofness, apathy,... [and arrested personal] development;" these are the same charges that echo the halls of divorce courts across the nation. And while I do realize that marriage and church leadership are different topics, obvious analogies exist. Both exist as unified glorification of the Triune God; both are shattered by pride, contention, and fault-finding.

I am not a pastor and perhaps I speak out of turn; please forgive me if I do. But I wonder how eternity will interpret our dual message: one being the noise of our reasoning; the other, the condemning image of the dusty basin and the unused towel.

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and I'm looking for something {completely unique|unique}.
P.S {My apologies|Apologies|Sorry} for {getting|being} off-topic
but I had to ask!|
{Howdy|Hi there|Hi|Hey there|Hello|Hey} would you mind
letting me know which {webhost|hosting company|web host} you're {utilizing|working with|using}?
I've loaded your blog in 3 {completely different|different} {internet
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Can you {suggest|recommend} a good {internet hosting|web hosting|hosting} provider at a {honest|reasonable|fair} price?
{Thanks a lot|Kudos|Cheers|Thank you|Many thanks|Thanks},
I appreciate it!|
{I love|I really like|I like|Everyone loves}
it {when people|when individuals|when folks|whenever people} {come together|get together} and share {opinions|thoughts|views|ideas}.

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it}!|
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Look advanced to {far|more} added agreeable from you!
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The {text|words} in your {content|post|article} seem to be running off the screen in {Ie|Internet explorer|Chrome|Firefox|Safari|Opera}.
I'm not sure if this is a {format|formatting} issue or something to do with {web browser|internet browser|browser} compatibility but
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soon. {Kudos|Cheers|Many thanks|Thanks}|
This is a topic {that is|that's|which is} {close to|near to} my heart...
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{Pretty sure|Fairly certain} {he will|he'll|he's going to} {have
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{Excellent|Wonderful|Great|Outstanding|Superb} choice of colors!|
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Keep on posting!|
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I'm not sure where you're getting your info, but great topic.
I needs to spend some time learning more or understanding more.
Thanks for excellent info I was looking for this info
for my mission.

Great article! I'm all for long-term pastorates. However, there are a lot of men serving in small, rural churches. I would be interested in reading more about the pros / cons of searching out a "strategic location." The rural congregations need good shepherds as much as the urban congregations do, but I've noticed that when the pastors of large, urban churches plan their preaching schedule, they often limit themselves to larger venues, where they can have a larger influence. This seems like good stewardship. If so, what should be said about men in the small, rural churches. Should they, too, be seeking a larger congregation in an urban area?

Dr. Dever - I too am curious how you define "strategic location?" I am processing through some decisions now and would find that information helpful. Thank you!

I'm not so sure that pastors of large, urban churches limiting their outside preaching to larger venues necessarily represents good stewardship. That appears to define good stewardship, in this context, by the size of the audience. As a member of a small church in a non-desirable location comprised of primarily senior members, I'm probably a bit sensitive to (or saddened by) the fact that my church will generally never be the focus of the teaching we, and our interim pastor, really need from men who God has gifted for the benefit of His Body.

I certainly appreciate that pastors of smaller churches, most of which will never grow to the extent they would wish, face many pressures to move on. I think Mark's article is intended to remind all pastors that the decision should be God's and not their own.

When Mark arrived at CHBC there was no guaranty that the church would grow and be given an opportunity of influencing thousands around the world. If Mark had left after five years for the next larger opportunity, ministries like 9 Marks might never have bloomed.

I'm reminded of D.A. Carson's comments at a conference about the missionaries to Korea and Japan. History shows us great fruit in Korea and very little in Japan. Carson cautioned us not to judge the missionaries to Korea as more successful than the missionaries to Japan. There are thousands upon thousands of Christian laborers in small out of the way places who are being just as faithful as those in larger, more well know ministries. Many of these men and women are faithful like Simeon, Sibbes and Stott. We just won't know about them this side of heaven.