Turnaround pastors face a grim reality.

When they introduce change that will eventually produce life and growth in the church, people will jump, many without good reason. It is painful to watch because, with a little patience and a little mentoring, these folks could probably be rescued to the cause.

But there are others that transition pastors are happy to give a little shove.

Specifically, there are ten kinds of people that turnaround pastors should show and perhaps even shove out the door.

1. People who temporize on sexual purity

I’m going to reveal my conservative, evangelical bias here. And I’m glad to do it on this issue.

Ministers of the Word have no business pulling their expository punches on the biblical teachings about sexual purity. Tolerance for homosexual marriage and cohabitation before marriage is a line in the sand for some. They’ll be quick to leave because you’re “judgmental” (the irony is they don’t recognize it in themselves).

If they are unresponsive to instruction and intolerant in their tolerance, let them go. They will only pollute the rest of the congregation.

1 It is actually reported that there is sexual immorality among you, and of a kind that is not tolerated even among pagans, for a man has his father’s wife. 2And you are arrogant! Ought you not rather to mourn? Let him who has done this be removed from among you. (1 Corinthians 5:1-2)

2. People who press you to change your preaching style

Everyone preacher drops the occasional stinker. We’re not proud of it, but it happens. And we’re sensitive about criticism of our preaching.

But, if you’re a workmanlike expositor rather than an artful seeker of relevance who comes under fire by those few folks who would remake you rather than bear with you, show them the door.

Turnaround pastors don’t let the need du jour set the preaching schedule. They’ve got a much larger and more important task: change the culture of the church.

Listen to Steve Jobs in this case: they don’t know what they need until you show it to them.[1] If they continually push against competent, evenhanded and systematic expository preaching then they are sheep of another flock.

Release them to return to their own.

I charge you in the presence of God and of Christ Jesus, who is to judge the living and the dead, and by his appearing and his kingdom: 2  preach the word; be ready in season and out of season; reprove, rebuke, and exhort, with complete patience and teaching. 3  For the time is coming when people will not endure sound teaching, but having itching ears they will accumulate for themselves teachers to suit their own passions, 4  and will turn away from listening to the truth and wander off into myths. (2 Timothy 4:1-4)

Caveat: If godly people in the congregation tell you to “work on your preaching,” they’re doing you a favor. They’re not telling you what or how to preach; they’re telling you that you need to improve your skills, whatever your preaching style.

Listen. They’re not trying to bend you their will. They’re trying to mold you into a better preacher.

3. A new circus opened down the street

A new circus opened down the street with a better light show and kiddie rides so a few consumer Christians left to check it out. Don’t worry, they didn’t take anything you need.

Ridding the nest of a few baby birds (“Feed me! Feed me! Feed me!”) will make a turnaround pastor’s job less toilsome and free up ministry time for other important tasks.

Church hopping and consumer Christianity is a new phenomenon, unknown in the New Testament. So I couldn’t come up with a good passage that speaks to this directly.

Do you know of one? I’d like to hear it.

4. They don’t like the God they find

God is not the missing answer to life’s “How come I’m not happier (or richer or thinner or _________)?”

He isn’t going to jump at our command or pump out the blessings when we utter the magic formula or exchange the secret handshake.

Rather than remove your suffering, he’s more likely to let you walk through it in dependence upon his sufficient grace.

Rather than lift the darkness, he’s more likely to let it descend further until the sinfulness of sin is so apparent that none can deny it.

Rather than the promise of ease consumer Christians hear the call to sacrificial death.

This is a tough call.

You don’t want to send the immature out the door because they’re immature. But those who recruit others to join in rejecting the divine attributes they find objectionable need to be held loosely.

If they become disruptive, push them out the door.

8  The saying is trustworthy, and I want you to insist on these things, so that those who have believed in God may be careful to devote themselves to good works. These things are excellent and profitable for people. 9  But avoid foolish controversies, genealogies, dissensions, and quarrels about the law, for they are unprofitable and worthless. 10  As for a person who stirs up division, after warning him once and then twice, have nothing more to do with him, 11  knowing that such a person is warped and sinful; he is self-condemned. (Titus 3:8-11)

5. They want to follow Jesus, but not too close

Jesus didn’t try to hang on to anyone. He allowed disciples to self-select. He called everyone but only invested himself in those who stayed the course.

After the Bread of Life Discourse, when the crowds were abandoning him, Jesus asked the Twelve, “Do you also want to leave?” Implication: You’re free to go if you wish.

Peter’s reply (my paraphrase): “If we had any place else to go, we would. But you have the words of eternal life.”

If people don’t want to follow Jesus, there’s nothing you can do to make them. Let them go so you can focus your energies on those who self-select for Jesus.

6. They don’t have patience for simple answers

Some things are complicated. Some questions require complex answers

But not everything. And not every question.

Some big questions have simple (notice I didn’t say “easy”) answers that can be further unpacked for the intellectually curious.

  • Why am I here?
  • What is the meaning of my life?
  • Do I matter to anyone?
  • Is there life after this?

But theological fashionistas for whom doubt is an accessory Doubt is in fashion these days; some have no patience for simple answers to simple (but troubling) questions. They would rather fret over doubt than come to grips with the Bible’s simple answers to life’s tough questions. [2]

Let these people go because they are like economists. You can lay them all end-to-end and they still won’t reach any conclusions. If you let them hang around they’ll pass their ailment to the unsuspecting.

The rest of the Exiles

It’s about time for me to lace up the shoes and hit the road for a four mile eye-opener. So please indulge me. Let me list the last four types of people I’d tell turnaround pastors to release.

  1. They don’t like the community they found.
  2. They discovered they couldn’t co-opt you to their cause.
  3. They don’t like the way you handle the Law – Gospel thing
  4. They use their tithe as a policymaking tool


Please don’t mistake a breezy voice or light-hearted patter for indifference toward these ten people. Ideally, the turnaround pastor would like to see everyone get on board.

But not everyone will.

This is where turnaround pastors call on two of their most important emotional and relational skills (skills that distinguish them from their colleagues).

When confronted by any one of these ten people a turnaround pastor will call upon the emotional skills of independence (doing what needs to be done regardless of who likes it) and assertiveness (being firm without being aggressive or hostile).

Yes, turnaround pastors feel the pain just like other pastors. We hate to see these people jump off. But we know its for the best. So, if they insist on hanging around, we push them out the door.


Who have you pushed out the door lately – for their good and the good of the church?

And what was the net result?

  1. Take a quick peek at what’s trending on Internet searches or the top 100 at Amazon. Why would we imagine people have any earthly idea of what they really need to hear? I don’t have proof (but I am looking into it), but I suspect that preachers obsessed with being relevant are either poorly trained or ill-disciplined in exegesis and exposition. I find that the biblical text reveals its own relevance during the course of study  â†©
  2. I’m not fan of theological Luddites, intellectual laziness or offering pat answers. But a lot of what passes for legitimate doubt is an admixture of chronological arrogance, lazy epistemology and a mindless embrace of religious pluralism.  â†©