The lifetime value of church leaders

Last year our homeowner’s insurance company paid, minus our deductible, for the replacement of our roof. Significant hail damage over a year or two necessitated the replacement of the roof.

This year we had a plumbing problem that resulted in damage in a bathroom to the hardwood floor that moves continuously through one-third of the first floor of the house. When we approached our insurance agent, she suggested that we should not file a claim. She indicated with the filing of two claims in back-to-back years that the insurance company was likely to rate our homeowners insurance different.

We should expect both the rate increase and a surcharge if we filed the claim. My wife and I were not happy campers, although we could see the point. We had been with this insurance company for almost 40 years. During that time we had a reason to file a claim about five times.

It would seem to us that our insurance company ought to consider our lifetime value as opposed to our short-term experience. Does the same apply when it comes to considering the lifetime value of church members?

As I pondered this question, my answers were both “yes” and “no”. From a church membership perspective, the answer is probably “yes”. From a spiritual relationship perspective, the answer is probably “no”. I immediately have to consider if it is more important to be a church member or to be on a spiritual relationship pilgrimage. I think I know the answer, and I suspect you do too.

I can, however, find a lot of support in congregations for placing value on the lifetime involvement of an individual or family. Since I began my ponderings centering on a financial situation, let’s start there.

The multiple decades an individual or family is related to a congregation can add up to a significant financial investment of their tithes and offerings. From a spiritual perspective this generosity is their obligation and commitment and does not need recognition. From a congregational faithfulness perspective it is certainly something that ought to be acknowledged.

There is also lifetime value in the relationships and knowledge that people develop over their years of involvement with the congregation. They have relationship currency. This can be spent on helping the congregation take the next steps in its ministry. They have a historic knowledge that can be utilized to explain how relationships in this church best work, and specific events that have a continual impact on the life and ministry of congregation. This makes them a valuable source of the oral tradition of their congregation.

These relationships and this knowledge can be used to either empower the congregation or to control the congregation. Unfortunately, the ability to control is more often visualized in congregations than are the actions of empowerment.

People with a great depth of lifetime value in congregations have acquired significant experience in various leadership roles in their congregation. They know how things work. This is also something of great value to the congregation. At the same time it is also a hindrance to innovation when cultural patterns within the congregation, the community context, or the world at-large shift to where old patterns no longer work.

This struggle of long-term tenure leadership versus short-term tenure wannabe leaders is clearly present in congregations more than 22 to 27 years old; which means it is present in 80 percent of all congregations.

Long-term leaders of congregations, though they have a great lifetime value, should not fall into the trap of becoming the elder brother in the parable of the prodigal son in Luke 15. They also need to be careful about the insights given in the parable of the labors in the vineyard in Matthew 20 concerning those who worked all day and those who worked only the last hour.

The greatest lifetime value of church leaders is their ability to pass their leadership on to the next generation in a manner that is collaborative and helps the long-term leaders and the emerging leaders to see the value of the past heritage of the congregation, the current situation, and the future potential.

They will both do best as they lean into the future toward which God is calling their congregation. How are the long-term leaders of your congregation doing at leaning into the future? How is your congregation doing as recognizing the lifetime value of its long-term leaders?

George Bullard

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About the Author
George is President of The Columbia Partnership at, This is a Christian ministry organization that seeks to transform the North American Church for vital and vibrant ministry. It primarily does this through the FaithSoaring Churches Learning Community. See George is the author of three books: Pursuing the Full Kingdom Potential of Your Congregation, Every Congregation Needs a Little Conflict, and FaithSoaring Churches. George is also General Secretary [executive coordinator] of the North American Baptist Fellowship at This is one of the six regions of the Baptist World Alliance. George holds is Senior Editor of TCP Books at More than 30 books have been published on congregational leadership issues.

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