On vacation last week, I saw my wife looking at the kayak rental sign in the gas station. When she walked back my way, I knew exactly what was coming.
“Why don’t we rent a kayak while we’re here at the beach?”
“Sure, why not.” I had no idea what we were about to get into.
For those of you who have never been sea-kayaking, it is more difficult than it looks. We originally planned to travel 7 miles one way, then turn around and come back. Needless to say, we didn’t quite reach our goal. About 2 miles into our paddling, all four arms were shot. So we decided to eat lunch on the beach.
Stepping out of the kayak, I could barely move my arms they were so stiff. They were useless, at least for the next hour. I simply had never used them in this manner.
Perhaps the reason thousands of our churches are dying is that the people of the church are suffering from religious rigor mortis. Like my pitiful kayaking arms, they are not exercising one of the most important imperatives of the faith – living as missionaries in their own communities. As a result, they become stiff and useless.
While God will hold the individual responsible for his or her own sins of omission in not following the Great Commission, perhaps one of the more inconspicuous causes of religious rigor mortis in our churches is that of pastor tenure.
Many studies and books cite the significance of leadership in churches. And for considerable change to occur within churches, most pastors will tell you it takes time. Even change at speed of molasses can cause strife within established churches. But pastors are not staying at churches long enough to enact these types of changes. The average pastor tenure is around 7 years in all denominations. The outcry from the church is that pastors do not stay long enough – 87% of active churchgoers within my own denomination state that pastor tenure is too short on average.
Whether it is a change of culture within the church, the curriculum utilized, or the way the church reaches outward (if they do at all), the pastor usually has to earn his chips before attempting serious change.
And if pastors are leaving too soon, then the needed change is unlikely to occur. In short, churches remain in a perpetual state of stagnation. Perhaps this state is one reason too many churches appear as if nothing has changed since the 1950s.
Clearly all the blame cannot be placed upon the short duration of pastor tenure. In the end, we as believers shoulder the burden for our local congregations, regardless of who may be the pastor and for how long.
But a lack of long-term leadership is a major problem with the church’s obedience to the Great Commission. Without a shepherd encouraging the sheep to exercise their calling to share their faith, the church can easily become lackadaisical in spreading the good news. And stiffness can result from a lack of gospel exercise, which can eventually lead to religious rigor mortis.