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October-November 2022

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REFRESH | The Importance of Pastoral Longevity

By Brad Ransom and Karl Vaters


The following column is adapted from an interview* between Brad Ransom and Karl Vaters, teaching pastor at Cornerstone Christian Fellowship in Fountain Valley, California, and author of The Church Recovery Guide, Small Church Essentials, The Grasshopper Myth, and 100 Days to a Healthier Church.

Ransom: Karl, you have been the pastor at Cornerstone for 29 years. Can you talk about the importance of the longevity of a pastorate, especially in creating a healthy culture in a church?

Vaters: Without question, the most perilous time for a church occurring on a regular basis comes during pastoral transition. Sometimes, it can result from moral failure, the people don’t like the pastor anymore, or maybe the pastor doesn’t like the people anymore. Even when it is a healthy transition and people are sad to see the pastor go, pastoral transitions are risky times.

Reducing the risk during pastoral transition is a huge part of helping your church build from strength to strength. The easiest way to do that is to find a good pastor/church fit, where the two stay together for a long period of time. Sometimes, a pastor reaches a certain point where he gets frustrated or feels he has done all he can do in a particular way of doing ministry. That’s when you’ve got to do something I call “transition without relocation.” We sometimes have a pastoral culture where, when you reach the point of feeling you need a transition, you assume that means relocating and moving elsewhere.

Consider that perhaps the Lord is calling you to do something different where you are now—transition without relocation! I’ve experienced four distinct transition without relocation moments in the church I pastor now. Each time, I had to walk the church through the transition: here’s what we need to do, the changes we need to make, etc.

Pastors typically cut and run—not always because we want to leave, but because we think the nudge from the Lord means we need to be somewhere else. That isn’t necessarily what it means.

Ransom: You mentioned that most of your staffers are part-time or volunteers you hire from within the church. What are your expectations from volunteers and how do you find them?

Vaters: We look for servants—people serving already. We don’t go to someone with a high skill set who has gone to Bible college or whatever. We look around and find people with a servant’s heart. They are already serving the church, putting in the hours, and we help equip them—get the skill sets they need—then put them in charge of the ministry where they have already proven themselves.

It’s important to remember when you’re working with a slate of volunteers, you really must be flexible. We are constantly changing when we have staff meetings to discuss important matters. Too many times in a church, we set up a structure and require volunteers to fit within that structure. The smaller the church is, the less viable that is. If you have a small church, and you want people to help, you must be flexible! If you find someone with a servant’s heart and particular gifts, you have to say, I’ll take that gifting and plug them in.

Ransom: In your book, 100 Days to a Healthier Church, you describe some things I think would be helpful to our readers. Could you give us a quick synopsis of the book and how it could help pastors reading this interview?

Vaters: The book’s premise is: What if you gave your church a “full court press” for 100 days? Obviously, it would be a hard and challenging 100 days, but it could help make your church healthier or stop the slide of a church going down and give you a chance to start looking forward again. Wouldn’t that be worth a 100-day commitment?

This does not start with business practices or our own idea of what the community needs, but who does God say His church is supposed to be? Jesus said, “I will build My church.” What does it mean to get on track with what God is doing? What has God called us to and what one project might we do to take us a step closer to that? How do we put the team together and at the end, how will we celebrate what has been accomplished? The book basically takes several processes (that took us about 15 years to figure out) and puts them into a concise system your church can do in 100 days.

Ransom: In one section, you talk about the importance of assessing your church before you begin this process. Can you talk about how important that is?

Vaters: You don’t know where to start or where to go without doing an assessment first. I strongly encourage pastors to go through the process to make sure they have people around them to walk with them through it.

Ransom: To wrap up, give us a final thought or word.

Vaters: I love small churches, and I love small church pastors. I think they are some of the hardest working, hardest praying, godliest, and most passionate servants in the world. It’s hard to remember that as a small church pastor when so much church leadership instruction is structured around how to get bigger. The often-unintended implication is that if you’re not growing, you must be doing something wrong; you must be broken.

I always encourage small church pastors to know the size of your church is not necessarily evidence of brokenness. Your church may be healthy while small, and it may even stay small. That may be the best size for your effectiveness. So, be faithful, continue to be obedient to the Lord, and continue to stay passionate and prayerful.

About the Columnist: Dr. Brad Ransom is director of church planting and chief training officer for North American Ministries. Contact Brad:

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