How Pastors Lead Beyond Their Limits

It was far beyond his abilities.

It was the toughest church he would ever serve.

Note: This is an excerpt from our upcoming book about the distinguishing characteristics and best practices of effective turnaround pastors.

His mentor, who suggested he take the church, had warned him that it was rife with false doctrine, preoccupied with biblical trivia, committed to legalism that wholly misapplied Old Testament Law, and was dominated by two hypocritical liars who threatened to ruin the faith of many others. Even the man who planted the church knew trouble would crop up when he left.

The church was a mess. So was the city where it was located. A wealthy, godless cosmopolitan center of government, culture, trade, military, and finance – it was the regional center of every ungodly idolatrous passion that wages war for the human soul. Christians and Jews alike had run afoul of trouble there on more than one occasion.

He was the unlikeliest person imaginable to lead a church as tough as this one.

He was quite young to be stepping in to lead a well-established, troubled congregation. Although he had a bit of ministry experience under his belt, it was all in subordinate roles under direct supervision. He’d finished a few stints on his own, but they were short term, narrowly focused projects. He was bookish, often preferring to retire from the vigor of sharp elbows and sharper debate for the quiet of the study. His health seemed fragile at times and, although we can’t be sure, he may have been given to self-doubt.

Not the sort of person you’d send into the fray to straighten things out, instruct people how to manage their households and their finances, and to exercise church discipline when it was called for. If ever there was a minister called to lead beyond his limits, it was him. His name was Timothy.

How did he pull it off?

Help Us Help Your Pastor

Chances are you’re in a church that’s on the plateau, or on the down hill slide. The chances are great, in fact. 85% of the churches in America are either stuck on the dime or they’re in a death spiral.

It takes a special kind of pastor to turn these churches around. But those pastors are few and far between.

That is why churches are closing left and right. Thousands of once vibrant congregations turn off the lights, close the doors and quit every year.

That’s why most pastors – when you can get them to open up and share their real “stuff” – are discouraged. They feel like failures because, no matter how hard they try, it just isn’t enough.


Even pastors of churches that seem to be thriving struggle with discouragement, depression and thoughts about quitting the ministry. Despite desperate prayers, long hours of hard work and every trick in the book, they’re stuck. They’ve tried everything. Nothing’s worked.

  • They’ve prayed and fasted
  • They’ve scoured the scriptures
  • They’ve sought wisdom and counsel
  • They’ve been to the seminars and conferences
  • They’ve read all the books
  • They’ve worked with a coach

And what do they have to show for all that effort?


  • Lots of useless notes
  • Stacks of three-ring binders that will never be opened again
  • A shelf full of books that promise to make it rain
  • An arm load of files filled with “must do” projects
  • A discouraged congregation
  • Desperate feelings of fear and failure
  • Thoughts about quitting

Where does a desperate, discouraged pastor turn when nothing else has worked?



How do we know that we can help when all else has failed?

  • Our research has discovered statistically reliable data about pastors who have and can lead turnarounds.

  • We have pinpointed the distinctive practices and behaviors that characterize how turnaround pastors conduct themselves and their ministries.

  • We have developed effective ways to teach discouraged pastors how lead church turnarounds.



I was cynical about what another test could tell me after all the testing I had gone through in the process of becoming ordained, but I was pleasantly surprised at how accurate and applicable the results from the Birkman were. Most other tests either identify problem areas or areas of interest. The Birkman helped me to understand better how some of my stress behaviors could affect my effectiveness in ministry (and we all know that there are stresses in ministry). I also gained additional insight into why certain aspects of my work were so fulfilling and others so challenging for me. Overall I felt the Birkman test results combined with coaching from Rev. Dr. Gary Westra allowed me to be my best in ministry.

Rev. Rebekah Schmidt
Still Waters United Methodist Church

As Bud Brown and his partners invested in me, I received an amazing encouragement and clarity in direction for my leadership. I had ended up in a difficult church, but in the midst of the turmoil their findings helped me to hold on to who I am and emphasize the strengths that are crucial to successfully lead a turnaround church forward. I’m truly thankful to these guys, and I hope that I get to have their continued involvement in my ministry!

Rev. Pontus Karsund
Desert Sun Baptist

Gary and Gordon, you have been a delight and a beacon of light for us this week. Thank you for giving of yourself and your knowledge, in this new adventure. We are honored to have been “pioneers!” with you.

Dr. Esther Cottrell
Associate Director, Ohio Ministries Church of God

“TAP Bootcamp was awesome! Every pastor of a plateaued or struggling church would benefit greatly from this. I understand my mission, and know myself way better than before. It has been an eye-opening, intense, and immensely helpful experience for my ministry. Don’t miss it!”

Scott Hodge, Sr. Pastor
Landmark First Church of God

“Thanks for a great week. The time with you and Gary was life-changing! This was awesome. I wish I had known this stuff years ago. It would have saved me so much grief in my ministry.”

Drew W.,Pastor from Ohio

I am new to being a Senior Pastor. Even though I have been involved in the ministry for over 30 years; as a Chaplain’s Assistant in the military, as an Associate Pastor for over 11 years, and now as a Senior Pastor for two years, I thought I had a pretty good resource of tools in my tool belt. I couldn’t have been more naive. I attended a Pastor’s Bootcamp and my eyes were opened.

So, many things were taught during this time. The Birkman Assessment, and the numerous reports that help us in areas that we didn’t realize we needed assistance with. Now I am receiving some coaching, have a mentor, and I am involved in Cluster Groups with other ministers that attended the Bootcamp to continue to grow as a spiritual mature Christian.

I have learned so much, I am anxiously awaiting to the follow-up Pastor’s Bootcamp in a years time. God Bless those that are a part of this wonderful ministry.

Pastor Harold Boyd
First Church Of God Norfolk

State Men’s Ministry President

“Thanks for a great week. The time with you and Gary was life-changing! This was awesome. I wish I had known this stuff years ago. It would have saved me so much grief in my ministry.”

Drew W.
Pastor from Ohio

I had an amazing week. Thanks for your time. I know time is one thing we never get back and I am certain your time and the time of the other brothers and sisters will reap a generous harvest. What strikes me about you is your passion. I don’t see that in people I am around.

Duane B.
Pastor from Indiana

I have already been sharing with those who are willing to listen and the response has been favorable . . .One fact I was reminded of this week: The church is the only organization in the world that does not exist for its own members. I am truly excited about the future of our church and feel more equipped to tackle some of the tough challenges that lie ahead, including a couple of bullies.

David D
Pastor from Ohio

We know it works. Pastors have proven it works. The research is solid, the results are reliable and reproducible.


Now it’s time to roll our findings out to the rest of the world. Our vision is to train 100,000 pastors to become turnaround leaders in the next 10 years.

The next milestone toward our goal is to write the book. And that’s where we need your help

So far we’ve done everything out of our own pockets. Recruited the subjects. Gathered the data. Run the analyses. Paid for the statisticians. And we’ve done it out of our own pockets.

But writing the book is beyond our means. It is going to take six months’ of devoted effort from all three of us. We will have to forsake a regular paycheck. That will give us time to write and publish our book.

But we need still need to put beans and tortillas on the table. Oh, and paying those utility bills would be nice, too.

So we need to raise $35,000 ASAP. This will enable us to finish the book before the end of the year.

Join us in this important ministry to pastors by hitting our GoFundMe page!

Will you help pastors who desperately need it?

Three Pastors On A Wild Ride

We started a wild ride two years ago. Really wild. 

We didn’t realize it at the time, but in the rearview mirror we can see how that ride was the culmination of God’s decades long leading each of us, on separate paths, to this moment.

Our life’s work, the ministry experience – the pain and the rewards  – he’s brought each of us through, the way he’s “wired” us, our education and our current place in life have led us to this moment. To this ministry opportunity.

How We Met 

It began innocently enough. None of us were aware of what God had in store. We met on the Internet of all places. It may have been at LinkedIn, but none of us is sure. In time, through a leisurely exchange of posts at comments online, we discovered a mutual interest and passion: helping desperate pastors learn to lead their churches to renewal, conversion growth, and vibrant life!

Gordon’s research into the factors that distinguish effective turnaround pastors, Gary’s expertise in personality testing and coaching and Bud’s experience training pastors to be effective change agents – along with our mutual love of the Lord and his Word – all coalesced into the formation of Turnaround Pastors, Inc.

What We’re About

We can’t begin to tell you how thrilled we are to be a part of this. God’s hand is clearly on this – it is his, not ours. He’s shown that by providing remarkable people to serve on our Board of Directors. He’s shown his hand in the people he’s brought to us as potential trainers. He’s shown that to us in the resources he’s already freely provided – through people who’ve caught the vision.

And speaking of vision, here’s what we’re about:

The Key Every Pastor Needs Before Leading Change


Jackson Pollock Painting Number 16

On November 12, 2013 a small painting, roughly 30″ by 22″, sold for $32,645,000.00. With a surface area of 684.1875 square inches, that works out to $47,713.52 per square inch. At that price, the average American household could have spent their entire year’s income to buy about one square inch.[1]

How did a piece of paper glued to Masonite, covered with random splotches of paint, fetch that fabulous sum? Because Painting Number 16 was the creation of Jackson Pollock, one of the 20th century’s most influential Abstract Expressionists. It is not the image per se that makes it valuable. It is practically priceless because of whose hand brought it into existence.

Our worth is not based upon our achievements, our abilities or even upon God’s call on our lives.

Our worth is intrinsic. It is essential by virtue of the fact that we are human beings. We are the product of the Artist’s creativity, skill and craftsmanship. We are the King of King’s image, placed on this earth to represent him.[2] We have been redeemed with the most priceless commodity of all – the precious blood of Christ.

This is just as true for pastors as it is for every other believer. Their worth rests on the fact that they are made in and are being conformed to the image of Christ, that they are objects  of the Father’s redeeming love, and that they are Christ’s gift to his Church. Pastors who grasp these truths firmly are better able to give firm but loving leadership in the midst of the doubt and conflict that will arise when they lead into the turbulent waters of change.

Leading change will test your core, pastor. Are you anchored on the Rock?


[1] John Seed, “What Makes A Jackson Pollock Painting Worth Millions?” The Huffington Post, February 2, 2014.
[2] Ancient emperors often commanded that statues of themselves be placed in remote parts of their realm to declare that who was the sovereign. These images represented the sovereign to such a degree that ruler and image were considered virtually interchangeable. In Imperial Rome it was a crime of high treason to disrespect the emperor by committing unseemly acts, real or imagined in the presence or proximity of an imperial image. So also were defacing, melting or otherwise desecrating an image of the prince that had been consecrated. Floyd Lear, Treason in Roman and Germanic Law: Collected Papers. University of Texas Press, 1965, 29.

Tending God’s Vineyard

Grape clusters

Not all of life’s important events happen on stormy seas.

Before moving to the Pacific Northwest my family lived on an alluvial plain of the Southern California high desert. I gave orchard tending a try. It wasn’t large—only 24 trees. Our little acre had more rocks than soil, so planting one bare-root fruit tree took two hours just to remove the boulders hiding out of sight beneath the surface.

Tending the orchard wasn’t all work, but I had to keep at it. Trimming, pruning, thinning, enlarging the water basins and keeping them clear. Weeds, despite their evil intent, didn’t have a chance in my orchard.

The hidden sources of church conflict

Pastor, can you pinpoint the hidden sources of conflict in your congregation?

If not, how will you manage them?


Thankfully, you’re not left to your own devices on this one! The Bible lays it out pretty clearly.

I appeal to you, brothers, by the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, that all of you agree, and that there be no differences among you, but that you be united in the same mind and the same judgment. For it has been reported to me by Chloe’s people that there is quarreling among you, my brothers. What I mean is that each one of you says, “I follow Paul,” or “I follow Apollos,” or “I follow Cephas,” or “I follow Christ.” Is Christ divided? Was Paul crucified for you? Or were you baptized in the name of Paul? I thank God that I baptized none of you except Crispus and Gaius, so that no one may say that you were baptized in my name.  (I did baptize also the household of Stephanas. Beyond that, I do not know whether I baptized anyone else.)   I Corinthians 1:10-16

Reasons For Church Conflict: Differences Of Opinion

How do their lives fit God’s mission?


What do you tell the man who’s barely pays the family bills when he asks, “Pastor, how does this unrelenting financial pressure fit into what God’s doing in the world?”

Or how do you comfort the single working mother who worries about bullies picking on her youngest at school?

Pastor, do the members of your church know how their lives join God’s mission in the world?

For that matter do you?

If you’re unable to connect their hard work, their sacrifices and their suffering with something larger than themselves, how in the world are you going to motivate them to sustain energy and passion around serving God through the ministry of your church?

What keeps the simple tasks that keep the church doors open from being just one more task on the to-do lists of tired, anxious people?

Or maybe we’re called to nothing more than hanging on?

What’s a pastor do when God leads into a dark tunnel?

What do you do when serving God leads you into a long, dark tunnel?

You keep walking – and talking – even when something in your head screams “Run the other way!”

Most of us didn’t sign on for hazardous duty when we sensed the call. We’d heard of others walking through ministry minefields, but we figured our predecessors weren’t so skilled at leading people. Maybe they weren’t heedful to early warning signs of people’s discontent. No doubt they were simply not as bright as we, or in some other way flawed.

But soon enough in the fullness of timing—not our own—we reach the discovery that we, too, demonstrate our own deficiencies as spiritual and corporate directors. Well, once in a while at least!

That first realization seems a cruelty imposed upon us. Right then, in the aftermath of the drive-by shooting by church terrorists, when we’re most exposed it’s no small thing to receive the consolation of well-placed loyal friends.

Helped by those who’ve been blindsided

What churches can learn from Google about hospitality

Imagine you’re in charge of Google’s plan to bring fast Internet to America’s cities. You need a bit of cooperation from city governments.

If you put yourself in Google’s shoes, you’ll know how church visitors feel.

Obscure rules that hinder entry. Inefficient communications. Hard-to-get information. Unwillingness to share. Indifference.

Government Challenges for Google

Those are a few of the hurdles the company faces in bringing Google Fiber service into new markets. In “Want Fiber? Do more to get it, Google exec tells cities” GigOm Staff Writer Jeff John Roberts reports on the difficulty of working with city governments.

Roberts cites Milo Medin, VP of Access Services at Google Fiber, who identifies some of the challenges local governments pose.

  • Byzantine permission processes
  • Ineffective communications (a fetish for faxes!)
  • Inaccurate information
  • Blocked access to key telephone pole infrastructure

Church Challenges for Visitors

How did the world get to be such a mess?

How in the world did the world get to be such a mess?

If the Bible stories about God creating this perfect world inhabited by morally upright humans is true, what happened?


Well, the Bible’s story about the beginning of all things doesn’t end at Genesis 2. There’s another chapter that explains how we got into this mess.

And, fortunately, the whole story doesn’t end until we get to, well, the end. Revelation 20-22. That’s where we find out that one day it will all be put back together.

But let’s go back to the business about how things got messed up. That’s recorded for us in Genesis 3.


Before we jump into the dreadful story of how we got into this mess, let’s review.

This is the sixth in a series of articles written to help discouraged, defeated pastors get back on track. The idea behind this series of articles is to give pastors a framework for understanding, preaching and teaching the church what God is doing in the world. The purpose is to help a local church and the people in it understand how their private and corporate lives participate in God’s work.

Communicating God’s mission and the church’s vision is vital to any attempt to reverse decades of decline. The ability to understand and convey the mission and vision is one of the hallmark distinctions between those who revive dying churches and those who don’t. The first article in this series put it this way.

Because a firm grasp on mission and a clear sense of vision are hallmark distinctions between those who lead vigorous churches and those who don’t.

New research shows that there is a significant and measurable difference in “communicating the church’s vision with clarity and passion” between pastors.1 Those who pound the vision lead missionally effective churches. Those who don’t, don’t.

In our work as intentional interim pastors, trainers and coaches, my colleagues and I have seen the trouble that arises when pastors don’t pay continual attention to the mission and when they fail keep the congregation mindful of the vision.

The first five articles in this series show how the opening chapters of Genesis and the closing chapters of Revelation for a grand inclusio. The creation ordinances established in Genesis 1 and 2 are restored the consummation in Revelation 21 and 22.

Okay, with that behind us, let’s dive into the dreadful story about how this world go so messed up in the first place.

The Lord warns against disobedience