5 Lessons on Longevity from Veteran Pastors

5 Lessons on Longevity from Veteran Pastors

Aaron Buer

Digital giving apps and tools

Last week I spent a couple of days with two senior pastors who have each served at one church for a combined 72 years.

One guy for 38 years and the other 34.

That is a long time to be a senior pastor at the same church!

Here’s the crazy part. They are both thriving in ministry and still love their jobs.

How does this happen and can I be like them when I grow up?!?

Anyway, it was fun watching them interact, listening to what they talked about and taking a few notes on longevity.

I thought I’d share my observations on how to not only survive at the same church but also thrive in ministry for over three decades without becoming bitter, disillusioned or cynical.

1. Actually Practicing Sabbath

My first observation had to do with practicing Sabbath.

I've been in ministry for about 15 years and I’ve noticed along the way that some ministry workers are just too busy to practice Sabbath.

I mean, let’s be real, our work usually falls on the weekend so it’s kind of hard to practice Sabbath rest on the traditional days of Sabbath rest.

But, I’ve noticed a correlation between those ministry workers I’ve known who become cynical and bitter and choosing not to practice Sabbath rest.

What I’ve observed is that if you and I desire to grow into seasoned pastors and ministry workers who still love Jesus, people and our work after years and years of ministry, there really is no path to this destination that excludes systematic days of rest.

We aren’t robots. We aren’t machines. Rest is critical to long-term thriving in ministry.

2. Hard Conversations

As I hung out with these two veteran pastors, I heard stories of tough seasons.

I heard them talk about former pastors and employees who no longer worked at the church.

It was something like,

Yeah, I lost that guy because of what I said to him.

And this veteran pastor was not talking about an angry blow-up or harsh words.

He was talking about feedback.

What I took away from this idea is that building healthy and growing churches requires honest feedback about job performance and sometimes the person receiving the feedback doesn’t take it so well.

Sometimes they leave and sometimes that’s ok.


Because growing churches are built on growing individuals and growing individuals possess something called humility.

Humility enables us to listen to feedback and respond to it with maturity.

So, two ingredients are required: feedback and humility.

These kinds of conversations are hard conversations but what I noticed about these two veteran ministry leaders is that they were willing to have these conversations and had become adept at having them.

If our desire is to serve and lead for decades and decades, I think we must become willing and able to have hard conversations in appropriate and healthy ways.

3. Concussion Protocol

One of these veteran leaders used a phrase that I’m pretty sure will stick with me for the rest of my life.

This phrase came out during a round table discussion between several senior pastors.

One of them was talking about a time that he got hurt in ministry.

Yes, in a shocking twist, people say terrible things in churches. Perhaps you’ve experienced this.

Anyway, this particular pastor then shared about how he had to jump right back into his work.

Even though he was hurting, he had a sermon to preach. He had meetings to lead. He had a church to run.

This is when our veteran pastor used this phrase.

Oh, you had a ministry concussion.


If you follow sports, you know what a concussion is and how in recent years, we have become very intentional and careful about concussions.

Players are now required to sit out until they get a doctor’s approval because playing with a concussion can do serious damage to your brain.

What this veteran pastor was saying is that there is something called a ministry concussion in which we get banged up in ministry and instead of taking time to heal we just keep plugging away and the consequences of this unwillingness to slow down and the pain could lead to disastrous consequences, not to our brains but rather to our hearts.

Look, I know that ministry concussions aren’t “real.”

At the same time, I think they are.

I believe that many of us need to talk to someone about the hurts, wounds and betrayals that we are carrying around from serving and leading broken people week after week and year after year.

All, I’m saying is that these veteran pastors were vividly aware that neglecting to take time to heal can have disastrous consequences in ministry.

4. People First

One of my favorite parts of hanging out with these two veteran pastors was watching them interact with people.

They knew their people. They knew their names and stories.

One of the guys kept introducing me to various people with a line like this,

You’ve gotta meet this guy. I just love this guy.

These guys have been leading their churches for over thirty years and they still love their people!

This is amazing!

What I took away from this is that more than becoming highly skilled at preaching or leading, pastoring is about people.

People always come first and at the end of the day if we as pastors and ministry leaders are loving and serving people really well, I think we’re doing something right.

5. Focus on the Future

Ok. Final observation, and I think this is huge.

You would think that two veteran pastors of thirty years would sit around and talk about the good ol’ days.

They would talk about how our country used to be more Christian.

They would talk about how much better ministry was before smartphones.

They would talk about when people actually knew their Bibles.


These two guys were talking about the future.

These guys are in their 50s and 60s.

They have three decades of ministry behind them and they were talking about where they wanted to take their churches next and about their hopes and dreams for the future.


My take away from this is that there is a strong connection between healthy longevity and a focus on the future.

There is nothing wrong with the past and remembering all that God has done but many of us get stuck in the past.

The reality is that God has called us to lead and serve here and now, in this particular cultural situation.

I think the honest truth is that some of us need to stop trying to recreate the glory days and start focusing on how to become more effective today.

Wrap Up

Well, there you have it, 5 lessons on longevity from veteran pastors.

I have two challenges for you.

The first is to take one of these ideas and run with it.

The second is to find two veteran ministry workers who still love Jesus and their work and hang out with them. You might learn something.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on these ideas. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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