The Birkman Method™ takes the guesswork out of building a great church staff!

The light snapped on when he realized that “grabbing the bull by the horns” threatened his ministry colleague. The colleague saw the light when he realized that standing back, content to let his friend run things, contributed to the problem.

Their three years together on staff – Chuck as the preaching pastor and Kyle as the executive pastor – were troublesome. And trouble was growing worse. Mistrust, doubt, and growing tension marred their ministry.

They contacted me at another client’s suggestion, hoping I might help them understand the problem and develop a solution.

Fortunately, I had at my disposal The Birkman Method™ which gives unprecedented access to the inner working of human personality. The first step was to administer the questionnaire and analyze the results. Next came one-on-one interviews, and then a team meeting.

Their Birkman profiles provided detailed insight into how Kyle and Church think, act, and what they expect (of themselves and others). In their preferences and needs we found the source of the problem between them.

How this leadership team rolled

The reports surfaced several concerns. The one-on-one meetings to interpret their Birkman profiles confirmed the reports. Kyle’s propensity to jump in and make things happen when no one else would was the nexus of the problem.

The Birkman Method™ identified why Kyle took charge when there was a leadership vacuum and why it created tension between him and Chuck.

It also revealed that neither Kyle nor Chuck were the problem. Rather, the tension between them stood on two legs; one in a mis-aligned church staff and the other in the differing needs of the two men.

1. Let Kyle Live in Stress

Kyle’s “can do” response – first leg on which the tension stood – is problematic because it’s not natural. It is one way he responds to stress. He’s not wired as the “go to guy.” He doesn’t like drawing up the plan, assigning tasks, and keeping everybody on task. Yes, he’s the hands on type who loves to get things done, but he’s not the sort who enjoys drawing up the plans, gathering the resources, and monitoring progress.

A quick glance at his Leadership Style Grid reveals that his leadership interests (what he likes doing), his leadership style (how he operates effectively), and his leadership needs (the workplace environment in which he flourishes) aren’t suited to that role. But he was always the one who stepped up when others stood around asking, “Okay, so what should we do?”

2. Let Kyle Overcompensate

How did this happen?

Further investigation spotted a fundamental flaw in the way the church was staffed. It was not a well-rounded team. No one on staff, the Board, or among the volunteers fit the role of the system designer, organizer, or planner.

Kyle took on a role common in underperforming systems. He overcompensated by stepping into the work and powering through. Chuck and the rest of the team were delighted. They were relieved when Kyle carried the load. They knew they could count on him. They even cheered him on and acknowledged him. (This created a trap because it fed his need for respect and approval, insuring he’d continue to step into the breach).

But Kyle was operating in stress. His actions were contrary to his preferred leadership style, and they frustrated his deepest needs. Rather than replenishing his resources, Kyle drained precious emotional, spiritual, psychological and physical needs.

Team Building Solution: Refuse the stress

Family Systems theory, applied to the local church, a powerful tool for assessing underperforming churches, made it easy to spot overcompensation. It is easy to spot the interplay between an underperforming church staff and Kyle’s overcompensation. A systems therapist might recommend that Kyle refuse to compensate. He would have to operate as the “differentiated self.” But this is difficult. Friedman notes the magnitude of the challenge in A Failure of Nerve: Leadership in the Age of the Quick Fix.[1]

[T]he way out of their dilemma was not some quick-fix technique to apply to others but rather a matter of developing their own self-differentiation-their nerve failed them, and they quit their position rather than having to grow.


But neither the systems perspective nor the typing instruments (e.g., DiSC, MBTI) reveal just how ill-suited Kyle was to overcompensate. They don’t offer a lucid explain why overcompensation stressed Kyle, the degree it stressed him, nor why grabbing the bull by the horns was unproductive.

This is where the unprecedented clarity afforded by The Birkman Method™ came to Kyle’s rescue. His profile disclosed that he is a persuader and communicator. He is a big picture thinker. He is an expediter.

But a skilled organizer capable of drawing up plans on the fly that include the rest of the team?

Definitely not.

Rather than telling Kyle that, for the sake of the system, he would have to set boundaries and tough it out, we can offer specific help that makes this new behavior much easier to master.

Leadership Team Tension: Change and Structure

Kyle’s willingness to step into the breach enabled an underperforming system. It blocked others less willing to put themselves forward an opportunity to serve. And it placed Kyle in a state of chronic stress; this had serious, adverse consequences for his working relationship with Chuck.

This was clear in their Birkman profiles. The reports reveal their conflicting styles and needs in two Birkman Components: Change and Structure. This is the second leg on which the tension between them stood.

“Change” in Birkman terminology measures our appetite for variety and our response to the unexpected. “Structure” evaluates how they organized their respective duties. Their scores for these two Components pinpointed a significant problem in their working relationship.

Chuck and Kyle have similar Change scores. Both enjoy variety and novelty, with Kyle having greater appetite. This means neither is well suited for working in a cube farm cranking out daily TPS Reports.

When I evaluated and compared their Structure scores, things got interesting. The problem was evident. The Birkman Method™ pinpointed the issue and suggested effective ways of bringing about successful resolution.

Kyle has a low Structure score (both Usual and Need). His typical behavior includes the freedom of taking initiative while avoiding a routine. He is a “go with the flow” type. He relishes change. When his plan for the day is interrupted, he’s happy to embrace it. He moves from one thing to the next with minimal disruption and a high level of productivity. He’s an exception to the received wisdom that changing focus and getting productive after an interruption takes at least fifteen minutes.

Chuck has a high Structure score (Usual and Need). He likes his day and his work organized around a definite plan, even though he avoids planning as much as possible. He wants and needs detailed organization in life and work. He’s interesting in that while he enjoys change, it must be anticipated! He’s thrown for a loop when something comes at him from left field. At the moment of interruption he moves into stress. He becomes resistant, insistent, controlling, and even rigid.

During our interview Jack acknowledged that yes, he likes variety in his day. But it has to be planned! Every evening he and his wife review the next day’s schedule, so he knows what to expect. Each day life and work are structured, so he’s prepared to tackle the to do list with maximum efficiency. But if something unexpected changes his schedule, he’s flummoxed. He loses his footing and becomes unsure of himself.

A fractured team

So the men at the top of the leadership team have different ways of grappling with the constant interruptions that are inevitable in a fluid, dynamic congregation. One turns on a dime, the other pauses. One jumps in to figure out what to do, the other returns to whatever he was focused on at that moment.


This dynamic introduces significant stress in the working relationship.

Consider this scenario: an emergency phone call comes in to the church office. The unmarried daughter of a key church leader is pregnant. The family is devastated. An emergency response needs to be mounted. How will we care for the family? How will we support the girl? What do we tell the rest of the church leaders? Should we break this news to the congregation, and if so, how?

At first no one is sure what to do. No one on the staff operates comfortably on an ad hoc basis. Kyle (manifesting his high Freedom Usual and Need scores) steps in to take over. This positions him in to engage in stress behavior. Chuck, thinking about everything on his schedule, is frozen. He feels overwhelmed, even threatened.


Multiply this one typical scenario dozens of times over the course of a work week which is typical in ministry leadership.

What happens?

Kyle steps into the breach, hoping someone else will help. Chuck returns to the task at hand. In time, Kyle sees Chuck as inflexible, uncaring, and uncooperative.

Chuck sees Kyle as a loose cannon, someone who runs off with little thought or preparation – half cocked, making it up as he goes along. He begins to doubt that he can know what to expect from Kyle, an important value in Chuck’s world

This is one, perhaps the primary, reason that mistrust had built up between them. This had been going on for three years. The team had deteriorated to the point that they and the church Board needed outside help.

A Team Building Resolution

The resolution to this dilemma lies in the area of Emotional Intelligence. The Birkman reports suggested the path: self-awareness, self-management, other-awareness, and relationship management behaviors – coupled with a healthy dose of confession and forgiveness – would lead them out of the cul-de-sac in which they were trapped.

One of the Birkman Comparative reports highlighted the issue: “Kyle tends to be flexible and often espouses new approaches, while Chuck prefers to be more methodical and focused on existing procedures.”

If they are to work together as a pastoral leadership team, Kyle must take Chuck’s need for structure and guidelines when he grabs the bull by the horns. Kyle must be careful to avoid jumping over previously established processes when he jumps in to address those unanticipated opportunities to serve. He must also be careful about being opaque or vague about what he’s doing, which is how he behaves when operating under stress.

Chuck for his part must respect Kyle’s need for a general sense of direction and recognize that he is prone to jump over formal policies and procedures when the unanticipated arises. Rather insisting on rules and procedures (what Chuck does under stress) he must trust Kyle work within broad guidelines and church values.

Together we crafted a solution that operates within these guidelines in ways that capitalize on their strengths and keeps them out of their respective areas of stress.

About the Birkman Method™

The Birkman Method™ is a multi-dimensional assessment that gives reliable insights into personality and occupational interests. It give looks at 9 Relational Components of personality and 10 Occupational Interests. It digs down deep into the Components, exploring emotional intelligence by offering feedback on our usual behaviors, needs to be effective, and stress responses.

The rich report sets help people understand themselves, and how they interact with the world and with their work colleagues. The Comparative Reports give great insight into the interactions between people. This was of great help in exploring how to build a stronger relationship between Kyle and Chuck.


Turnaround Pastors conducted a lengthy study into the unique leadership behaviors that lead to church revitalization. With The Birkman Method™ we can pinpoint behaviors that either contribute to or hinder effective leadership that results in church turnaround.

From our findings we have derived a set of best practices that allow pastors to lead in ways are congruent with their needs and “hard wiring” (given them by God) while moving toward more effective revitalization leadership.

For denominational officers

Denominational officers at the local and regional levels are responsible for the care, training, and success of their pastors. But they are hard pressed for time, resources, and adequate tools that will help unproductive pastors and plateaued churches.

With the judicious use of The Birkman Method™ we can pinpoint why their pastors are struggling. With this information we can help denominational officers craft training and remediation programs customized to fit the unique needs of each pastor. (We can also help denominational officers screen candidate to identify who is most likely to succeed turning a plateaued church around and how to support them most efficiently and effectively in that effort).

If you are a denominational officer who has responsibility for underperforming pastors and churches within your domain, please contact us. Let’s discuss how we can be of help to you.

For church boards

Churches are often at a loss when it comes to helping their pastors deal with problems that keep the church from achieving its qualitative and quantitative potential. This is especially true for independent churches that do not have denominational resources available.

By evaluating the pastor, the staff, and the church’s officers we can identify the source of the problem(s) and recommend a course of action that will free the church to move forward. Please contact Turnaround Pastors to see how we might be able to help.


There’s no reason to rely on guesswork, intuition, or previous (bad) experience to resolve the leadership problems that plague the local church. A careful analysis of a pastor’s preferred behaviors, personal needs, and stress responses will quickly show the precise nature of the problem and suggest the appropriate solution.


Chuck and Kyle have only begun the work on their relationship. Each one has a personal development plan suited to his specific needs. Time will tell whether they make it as a team, but if the follow the course of action laid out for them, they will become a powerful team together.

They certainly have the potential.