Friday, July 07, 2006

Time Flies by Daniel Harrell

How long should a minister stay at one church? This is a question that I bat around as I mark 20 years at Park Street. It's said that the average tenure of a pastor in any one church is 3-5 years max. By that time, the call of the career ladder, the emergence of conflict or boredom take hold. On the one hand, a new minister brings new hope and new possibilities. We all love the promise that comes with a new relationship. However, as experience also shows, it's not long before old personality traits and habits surface. Soon we're back where we were before; looking for greener grass (and a greener minister). On the other hand, a long term pastorate forces the erosion of masking layers. Idealizations dissolve and pedestals crumble. The hard personalities of both congregation and minister that remain present real opportunities for Christian love. The minister who moves from place to place can hide his sinful side. The minister who stays has to serve with his or her sinful side exposed relying not on his or her ability, but solely on God's grace. I'll admit that there are days when leaving feels like the solution to disappointment, conflict or the lure of novelty. But in the end I've found that only through staying is my own soul hewn into more obedient shape. When a congregation and a minister can work together and for each other as one body of Christ, the outcomes are real spiritual growth, genuine Christian love and authentic Christian witness.


John O said...

Considering the high turnover at park street, it's a wonderful demonstration of continuity and committment. It reinforces the notion of congregation as community, and as the family of God. Given the expectation of social and geographical mobility in Boston, being a pillar of stability can be a striking expression of counter-cultural faith. All of our long-term members are a treasure.

Vera said...

You are expecting....what?...someone to say 19 years are long enough????


Jessica Kantrowitz said...

I was just reading Eugene Peterson's book, Living the Resurrection, and he was saying that Americans are great at beginnings, but bad at sticking through the day to day drudgery of things. I'm really grateful to have a pastor who has lived past the "honeymoon" period and still loves us, warts and all. Thank you.

Jim Layman said...

I think that histories of longevity in a local pastorate show that fruitfulness has a lot to do with longevity. Our church has been blessed to have a number of pastors in the last century who have had lengthy, fruitful ministies here. In that, we have much to be thankful for. Thanks, Daniel, for continuing that thread.

Maynard S. Clark said...

My first in-person encounter with Danny Harrell was visiting PSC ages ago, when he spoke about Isaiah and why believers ought to be leaders in the "environmental movement".

Yes, indeed! But as a vegetarian (a vegan of ~35 years) I was (nearly!) floored when he acknowledged the ecological impact of animal agriculture and suggested that "perhaps Christians should eat less meat..." (uh, yeah! I've been saying that for decade about everyone!), then he continued: "...and maybe some of us should become vegetarians." [Uh, did my ears serve me correctly? Uh, yeah, that's the kind of church that could interest me profoundly.]

Anonymous said...

I am thrilled to hear your comments, Dan. We are so thankful for your faithful, continued presence at this church. The world we live in is so short of lasting, "permanent" elements.
Thank you for your living out your life before the Body here.
Lois Andersen