Back in olden days, between the end of WWII and the end of the War in Vietnam, pastors had a simple goal for themselves and their churches: keep doing what they’ve been doing.
It was a period when an homogenous culture shared was rapidly expanding into new communities around America’s urban centers.
The people who populated these new suburbs shared common values, many of which closely resembled those held in suburban churches that sprouted up to care for the spiritual needs of these new subdivisions. Public schools, local governments and social institutions reinforced those values. Thus, the threshold at the church’s front door was low; there were few cultural and social barriers between those in the church and those without.
Responsible citizenship. Intact families. Respect for authority. Stable career. Protecting children. Sexual restraint. Liberal education. Financial discipline. Reverence for God. Neighborhood friends. These were the values held by all, even if they were honored in the breach.
Visiting church was not a foray into unfamiliar territory. After all, these were the salad days of the social service clubs like the Elks, the Odd Fellows and Rotary. Attending church was pretty much like attending any other voluntary association: the men wore suits and ties, the women wore dresses and hats, and the children were all well behaved. (I’m not crying for a return to those days, merely making observations of what I remember of those days)
The call to faith in Christ and the subsequent call to discipleship – if there was one at all – wasn’t radical or jarring or sacrificial. After all, church people lived pretty much like everyone else in the community. That is, apart from their distinct belief in Jesus as Savior.
We’re not in Kansas anymore
“Nature or Nurture?”
“Are leaders born or made?”
The question popped up on my radar screen, again, while writing a review of Re:Vision: The Key to Transforming Your Church by Aubrey Malphurs and Gordon Penfold. After satisfying the reader with an avalanche of data proving that “re-envisioning pastors” have distinctive temperaments as measured by the DiSC Personality Profile or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI) they conclude that a handful of personal characteristics distinguish turnaround pastors from their colleagues.
Those distinguishing characteristics lie in the realm of “temperament.”
Temperament or type is your unique, God-given (inborn) behavioral style. Your temperament is the combination of preferences that you choose when you take the Personality Profile (DiSC) and/or the Myers-Briggs Type Indicator (MBTI).
Why the question arises
This creates a significant problem for those not gifted as turnaround pastors! If the ability to turn churches around is a matter of inborn temperament, what hope is there for those who not born that way? This is a significant question for the authors, for similar research, for church leaders, denominational executives, seminaries and for pastors!
After all, if this ability is inborn, why conduct the research and why write the book? They tackle the issue head on, opening a very important discussion about the nature and source of leadership. They deal with issue by way of three questions:
- What if I’m a non-re-envisioning pastor? (Pages 120–124)
- Can a non-re-envisioning pastor become a re-envisioning pastor? (Pages 125–126)
- Should a non-re-envisioning pastor become a re-envisioning pastor? (Pages 126–127)
Although they offer useful (and affirmative) answers to all three questions, I’d like to suggest an easier and more productive way to answer the question. Cut the Gordian knot by rejecting the false dichotomy in the “are leaders born or made” question. Instead, let’s reframe the issue (remember, what you measure is what you’ll find) and let’s direct our attention to Paul’s response in the Pastoral Epistles.
Why the question is irrelevant
Jesus is a lot of things to a lot of people.
Most folks are so biblically ignorant and the culture (and many a church) is so consumer centered that Jesus is made out to be whatever anyone wants him to be.
But there are 5 things that Jesus most definitely is not! (Well, there are actually quite a few more, but I’m gonna milk this meme for a couple more posts!)
1. Jesus is not your friend
Everybody wants to be Jesus’ friend. There’s even a maudlin hymn about it!
But guess what? Very few make the cut because there’s a price to pay if you want to be in Jesus’ circle of friends
“You are my friends if you do what I command you (John 15:4).”
God didn’t count Abraham as a friend just because he believed. It wasn’t until he obeyed that he entered that fairly small, very tight circle.
“Was not Abraham our father justified by works when he offered up his son Isaac on the altar?…. Abraham believed God, and it was counted to him as righteousness – and he was called a friend of God (James 2:21–23).”
So it’s likely that Jesus isn’t your friend. It’s possible, but only if you’ve put every meaningful human relationship in second place, yielded up every personal goal and interest, and given up the right to a life of self-directed comfort.
If you haven’t, then you aren’t Jesus’ friend.
And he’s not yours.
2. Jesus is not your gravy train
Turnaround pastors can learn a lot about leadership from a guy who designs gadgets for a living.
The designer’s relentless focus on form, function and beauty should be part and parcel of every pastor’s philsophy of ministry. These “best practices” are hallmarks of the successful Turnaround pastor.
Case in point: Jony Ive, Senior Vice President of Design at Apple, recently outlined his three key tips for designers during a talk at London’s Design Museum. These three practices – although crafted in product design and development language – are spot on for Turnaround pastors intent on bringing new life to plateaued and declining churches.
Jony Ive’s 3 Leadership Lessons
Do you know the 4 words a pastor should never say during the worship service?
“Stand and greet somebody.”
These four words are the worst part about being a church visitor. They make me shrink down into my seat even though I’m a ministry professional who visits many churches every year.
Frankly, I’m surprised that church growth researchers and highly successful pastors are surprised to learn just how much visitors hate those four words! I guess they’ve forgotten to look at this painful encounter from a church guest’s point of view
Think about it for moment. What’s the last thing you want to hear from a sales clerk when you enter a retail store?
“Can I help you with something?”
Answering that question immediately commits me to a temporary relationship I’d rather not engage: having a sales clerk follow me like a hawk over a field mouse while I browse the store.
I’m a guy – I don’t shop, I buy! I head straight for the aisle that has what I want, I grab whatever and make a beeline for the cashier. If I’m in the mood to browse, look for gift ideas or kill time while the p-wife gets her mani pedi I don’t want to be bothered. I want to come and go through the merch at my own pace.
And I don’t want to be bothered to answer a question.
It’s just creepy being followed around by a clerk when you know what you want or when you don’t!
So, doesn’t it just make sense that the ritual stand-and-greet is dreadful to church visitors?
What purpose does stand-and-greet serve?
The Turnaround pastor’s most effective professional development tool.
More important than biblical languages. More important that seminary education. More important than professional certification.
The only “tool” that surpasses the value of other people is the call to ministry and the anointing of the Holy Spirit.
Consider the following three scenarios.
Scenario 1 – developing assertive leadership
A young Asian seminary student is working as a Youth intern at a West coast megachurch. In his six month evaluation he receives feedback that he’s not assertive enough when dealing with Jr. High kids on field trips. Over lunch he discusses this with his peers in the Youth Department. He evaluates their input and calculates the degree to which his cultural background contributes to the dilemma. He enlists the help of his peers who guide him in developing an effective strategy to be more assertive with the kids.
Scenario 2 – improving homiletics
The senior pastor of a mid-sized Midwestern church receives criticism of his preaching during an annual review. He’s told that since he started his doctoral studies his preaching has become dry, pedantic and disconnected from “where the people really live.” He consults with a two trusted Board members who help him develop preaching guidelines and agree to provide weekly input into the Sunday sermons.
Scenario 3 – enhancing staff relationships
Fair warning: if you’re intrigued by the idea that Turnaround pastors can be identified by a few unique personality components, you’ll want to reference our previous post on this subject. If not, it’s probably best to save yourself from this House of Pain!
For our study of the unique characteristics of Turnaround pastors we settled on the Birkman Method as our measurement tool of choice. We find it ideally suited to our research objective: to identify the behaviors, needs and social skills that distinguish Turnaround pastors from Status Quo pastors.
The Birkman Method is a positive psychology assessment tool that identifies our research subjects’ needs and interests, how they relate to their congregants, and indicates the environment that gives each Turnaround pastor the greatest satisfaction.
On top of that, the Birkman shows how our test subjects experience stress, identifies the causes of friction between them and their staffs, governing boards and church members.
With this kind of information, all pastors can learn how to be more effective in ministry, how to develop stronger staff and board relationships, and how to lead a congregation into significant qualitative and quantitative growth. Used wisely, this information also helps church boards increase retention in the pastoral staff, with positive results for all concerned.
In our research we have focused on two personality domains in our test subjects, both Turnaround pastors and Status Quo pastors: usual behaviors and needs.
Unsuccessful people focus their thinking on survival, average people focus their thinking on maintenance, and successful people focus their thinking on progress.