Could it be that pastors will stay longer in their church if their local association is strong? I firmly believe that the health of a local association of churches is essential and critical to the health of pastors and their churches. Many of us in ministry have heard the somewhat depressing statistics about pastor burnout and fallout rates. According to Thom Rainer, a pastor rarely makes it past three years of ministry in one church.

I’ve been pastoring the same church now for nearly 16 years, and I simply cannot imagine the turmoil for my family if I’d served in four other churches during that time. My experience, though, is not the norm.

When I first moved to Bardstown, Kentucky, I’d befriend a pastor but usually after a year or so they’d be gone. With a degree of depressing regularity, my wife and I were packing up friends as they left their church—some leaving ministry altogether. By year five, I somehow became the “veteran,” the longest serving pastor in our town—even though I still felt like a newcomer and an outsider. I felt like I was just beginning when many had already left.

Something’s Changed

Recently, it struck me that something has changed. Pastors in my region are staying longer! Some of my closest friends today are fellow local pastors, and most of them I’ve known now for well over five years. Pastors are sticking with it. Pastors are persevering through the battles with far greater success than their predecessors.

So, what changed between the first half of my ministry and the second? Lots of things, I’m sure. But perhaps more than anything else, our local Baptist association changed.

A decade, ago the Nelson Baptist Association turned itself around and broke out of the death spiral it was once in. No longer is it an irrelevant and tedious institution. Instead, our association has become a vibrant and active network of churches genuinely partnering together to build healthy churches in our region and around the world. Churches now trust each other. Pastors now support each other.

Associations Can Be Invaluable

There are two key factors that often lead to a pastor’s short tenure: loneliness and a feeling of ineffectiveness. As our association was revitalized, pastors began to pray for each other. We’d meet, often informally, for lunch or breakfast, simply to check in with one another.

Our wives did the same. A pastor and his wife might have felt isolated in his own church, but now he no longer needed to feel isolated in his community. We started to travel to conferences and do mission trips together. We began to pool our resources so that the pastor in the smaller church could come with us.

Now, with some regularity, a pastor friend will ask for a group of us to meet up to talk as much about personal struggles as about ministry. This association of like-minded pastors has provided a safe and valuable outlet for us to minister to each other.

Our Friendships Have Created Opportunities

Many men in ministry can often feel frustrated that their church isn’t growing. They feel held back because many of the aspirations they had simply don’t seem possible in their particular church. And yet, our healthy association has provided us the ability to work together toward those same goals.

We’ve started a ministry apprenticeship so we can work together to train interns. We’ve pooled our resources to plant churches together. We’ve partnered together to host conferences and fund a counseling ministry. Pastors are being utilized in ministries to other churches as well as to their own.

When I consider many of the pastors in our region today, I see men who have become dear friends and I see brothers who are on the same team. It’s so much harder to walk away from that.

Furthermore, bearing all the problems, frustrations, and burdens from our own congregations becomes a great deal easier when we’re bearing them together. This motivation to associate together is less about the benefits for our own church and far more about how we can benefit our sister congregations and our fellow brothers in ministry. Why? The reason is simple: brothers, we are in this together.

Editors’ note: This article was originally published at Practical Shepherding.