Twelve years in one church

Is it possible to be in one church more than a decade and still be happy and successful? Here is one pastor who says Yes, speaking from his own experience.

Norman Versteeg is pastor of the Garden Grove Seventh-day Adventist church, Garden Grove, California.

What does it feel like to stay in one church so long? That is a question I often hear, especially now that I have established an unofficial record for length of service in one church.

It all began at Walla Walla College one winter when the Lord asked me to do something both ridiculous and impossible.

He asked me to become a minister! I tried to tell Him that He had "dialed the wrong number," but He assured me there was no mistake. So I took the theological course, because God asked me to. Anyone but God would have had "better" judgment.

Once I became comfortable with the idea, however, I knew what I wanted in the ministry. There would be the necessary evil of internship. After that I expected to serve in a pastorate for a couple of years, but my long-range goal was to do something important—to be a conference evangelist.

So what actually happened? I did, indeed, serve my internship. It was in Federal Way, Washington, where I remained three years. I was then asked to pastor the Bremerton district. After four years there, John Osborn, from the Southeastern California Conference, twisted my arm to move south. What! Move to that "evil" land and associate with southern California Adventists! That was something I had vowed never to do. I had been told southern California was where Adventist pastors "lost their way." But on August 1, 1968, I arrived in Garden Grove.

More than twelve years later, I am still in Garden Grove. The church has changed; I have changed. The church has grown from 340 members to 1,120. It was a pain to endure a $750,000 building project, but it was a thrilling pleasure to reach 1,000 in member ship. It will be an even greater thrill to reach 2,000.

My role has changed, too, in the twelve years I have served this church. In 1968, / was the staff of the church. We now have four conference-employed ministers and six self-supported or local-church-supported ministers. I have had to adjust from trying to do everything to doing a few things. The change has been both painful and rewarding.

In 1968, shortly after arriving at Garden Grove, I baptized some children. Since then I have officiated at their weddings and led in dedicating their infants to God! "In loving relationships we experience life's deepest meanings and greatest joys," a college teacher used to say. I know now what he meant, because I have not been forced to be a temporary shepherd. Ask any sheep how that works!

There are times, of course, when pastors should accept a call or a request to transfer within the conference. From personal observation and from listening to administrators, I have come to some conclusions:

A pastor probably should move when he feels it is time. When a pastor is no longer challenged in a pastorate or has contributed all he can, then perhaps he should move. To be in a pastorate while hoping that a call will soon come is not a productive or joyful time. The church members can sense when this happens, even if it is not verbally communicated. Lack of vision, enthusiasm, and long-range planning are symptoms that the pastor is not where he wants to be.

There are times when the members in a local congregation are convinced it is time for a pastoral change. When significant numbers of the membership feel this way, the pastor will have a difficult time communicating the gospel or leading the church in fulfillment of the gospel commission. In such situations it may be that the pastor needs to move. But how much better it would be to avoid such difficulties by prayerfully considering how to build good rapport with members, rather than planning to move when problems arise! How tragic when the majority of members feel their pastor should move!

Many times pastors are asked to move to "greater responsibilities" or "more-important positions." Although we should be willing to be assigned where our talents can best be used, this is often not the real reason for the transfer. Often such moves are voted in order to keep an "excellent young pastor from accepting a call outside our conference" or to satisfy the ego of one who is eager for a larger church. How many of us would be thrilled to move to a church with one third the membership of our present church?

A pastor is sometimes asked to transfer at a time when such a move is very difficult for his wife or children. The security of the pastor's children is often threatened when they are forced to cut important ties. Should we not be able at least to consider the possibility of arranging our priorities in the order the Scriptures assign God, family, church, and world? Happy pastors with happy families and good rapport with administration accomplish much more in God's work than those who, along with their families, have barely recovered from one move when another is under way.

What can pastors do to have longer pastorates?

1. Make long-range plans.

2. Love people and let them know it.

3. Say No to some calls outside your conference.

4. Let your conference administrators know what you and your church members are planning.

5. Be as eager for a greater challenge as you are for a promotion.

6. Give your church members the privilege of planning long-range goals with you and of working together to achieve them.

What can administrators do to have longer pastorates in their fields?

1. Move fewer pastors who are doing well where they are.

2. Remember that a pastor may develop as rapidly in one long pastorate as in three short ones.

3. Don't become paranoid about pastors becoming too influential by staying too long in a single church.

4. Although it isn't easy, try to solve problems instead of transferring them.

5. Be reluctant to call men from other conferences who have been in their present position a very short time.

6. Give pastors the freedom to develop a specialized ministry to meet the needs of a particular area.

7. Consider the feelings and wishes of the pastor and the congregation he serves when a move is contemplated.

Numerical growth, long-range planning, and spiritual nurture of members should cause longer pastorates. And in turn, longer pastorates should encourage numerical growth, long-range planning, and spiritual nurture of members. God forbid, however, that we should stay in one place simply because the committee cannot find another church that will accept us! God forbid that our lack of vision and poor relationships with people will be what others hear most of our ministry. In some cases either remaining or moving would be a disaster!

God wants His local congregations to grow. He expects us to plan well and thoroughly, and to stay long enough to follow through our plans. He doesn't want to hear us groaning that we are a poor, unpopular, persecuted little group that can't grow. Big is not always bad, and small is not always sacred. I want to serve a still larger congregation. But I believe that God wants me to do so without the expense and hassle of moving. There is a more rewarding experience than moving to a large church—becoming a larger church!

How can it happen? Share with God a quiet place, some time, and your undivided attention. Together you can make plans that will bring unthinkable results. God will be happy; you will be happy; and the conference committee will be happy. God did not call us to retain the status quo. Dream big, plan carefully, and pray much. You may be one of the pastors to discover that a long-term pastorate (with the prospect of translation at the end) offers much more than a transfer to a larger church in another conference.

How does it feel to be in the same pastorate for twelve years? It feels great! I'd much rather belong to people than to a moving van, to a spiritual family than to a "movement."

Ministry reserves the right to approve, disapprove, and delete comments at our discretion and will not be able to respond to inquiries about these comments. Please ensure that your words are respectful, courteous, and relevant.

comments powered by Disqus
Norman Versteeg is pastor of the Garden Grove Seventh-day Adventist church, Garden Grove, California.

April 1981

Download PDF
Ministry Cover

More Articles In This Issue

Inquire of the Lord

Is an extra-Biblical prophet less inspired than a prophet whose writings have entered the canon? Does the voice of an extra-Biblical prophet speak with less authority and certainty than that of a Biblical writer?

Information when you need it

Help for a busy pastor can come from a seldom-considered source. Find out how you can pick the minds of leading denominational thinkers and writers through a little-known and inexpensive tool.

Preparing children for baptism

Your baptismal class will contain children whose parents have done their work and those whose parents have not. Is there a way to prepare those who are ready for baptism, while permitting the unready to grow awhile?

Is it time for a new hymnal?

The current Church Hymnal was published forty years ago, in 1941. In June, 1980, the editor asked, "Do We Need a New Hymnal?" Several readers responded——almost all answering in the affirmative. The following reactions set forth the reasons two readers feel a new hymnal is needed and what we can do meanwhile to use the present one to better advantage.

Is it time for a new hymnal? (Part II)

Yes, say two prominent Adventists, Wayne Hooper and Bernard E. Seton. They feel strongly that the time has come for the 1941 Church Hymnal to be replaced.

Journey toward intimacy

For years I carefully maintained a well-polished veneer to hide "unministeriike flaws" from my congregation. Then a spontaneous moment of personal sharing from the pulpit started me down a totally new path.

The eyes have it

According to research, people obtain 83 percent of their information through sight How can communicators of the gospel use the visual to be more effective?

Baptism for the dead

Out of at least thirty proposed solutions to a difficult text, one measures up to the close scrutiny of both exegetical and theological considerations.

Shepherdess: Foyer Evangelism

You probably never thought of a greeter as an evangelist. But it's at the front door of the church that decisions are often made.

Orley Berg Retires

Ministry's resident archeologist and longtime member of the editorial team will be turning his energies toward new objectives.

View All Issue Contents

Digital delivery

If you're a print subscriber, we'll complement your print copy of Ministry with an electronic version.

Sign up
Advertisement - SermonView - Medium Rect (300x250)

Recent issues

See All
Advertisement - SermonView - WideSkyscraper (160x600)