Turnaround pastors know a secret sauce – that magic formula that brings fresh hope and new life to stagnant churches They know a covert recipe the rest of us don’t.[1] Some just have a knack for turning dead churches into vibrant ministries.

Would you like to know how?

Want to know the secret to being a turnaround pastor?
Want to know the turnaround pastor’s secret?

Even if you weren’t born with the recipe hardwired into your temperament, you can still learn the recipe and act like a turnaround pastor Acquiring a few simple leadership behaviors helps even the most dispirited pastor increase her effectiveness and move toward becoming that turnaround pastor (TAP) the church needs.

Become a Turnaround Pastor by putting 1st things 1st

Confirming your identity in Christ prepares you to be a turnaround pastor

The first step – most important of all – isn’t a technique, a time management tool, a formula to follow or a new program to start.

The first step in becoming a TAP is to confirm your identity in Christ.

If you don’t nail this down, the rest of the process will be painful, perhaps too painful. For those who aren’t hardwired as TAPs becoming one requires a hard look deep within. You’ll have to embrace the porcupine (an honest assessment of your shortcomings). You’ll have to own the sinful ways you’ve dealt with your deep-seated needs for affirmation, love and security. Or – as Paul David Tripp puts it in his excellent “Dangerous Calling: Confronting the Unique Challenges of Pastoral Ministry“- you’ll have to own that you’ve looked to churches and church people to be your messiah.

I don’t have a study I can cite. I don’t have a number I can prove. But my colleagues and I have batted this around. We suspect that better than 60% of pastors serve – at least in part – to satisfy these deep-seated ego needs.

TAPs aren’t immune. But they’ve enough self-awareness and enough independence to avoid the trap.[2] They’re not dependent on others for emotional fulfillment and ego satisfaction.

Get in touch with root causes

All of us are born broken and needy. By virtue of being descended from Adam we’re alienated from God. This leaves a gaping hole in our souls; we experience this as an insatiable need for affirmation (to know that we’re worth something), love and security.

From birth we’re indoctrinated in the merit system. Our worth is a relative measurement; we’re assessed against others and assigned a place in the pecking order. Security, we learn, is earned by our own effort. We’re secure in relationships as long as others value us or find us useful. We’re secure in food, clothing and shelter as long as we’re able to provide these things for ourselves. Love, we believe, requires that we hide the worst elements of our nature from others – who could love us if they really knew us?

So your first assignment is to get in touch with the root causes that have contributed to your feelings of worthlessness, being unlovable, and never able to count on anyone or anything else. For me, the formative experiences that contributed to my feelings of worthlessness occurred in grade school. I felt like I didn’t have friends. Nobody like me, or so I thought, and as a result I didn’t like myself.

Let me suggest you try this to get in touch with those root causes that have contributed to the brokenness with which you were born:

1. Make it an object of prayer. Spend significant time before the Lord with nothing but an open Bible and an open heart. Ask God to remind you of the early life experiences that were painful, that made you feel diminished.

2. Make a list of your “hot buttons.” What are some sure-fire things people can do to make you angry or cause you to feel injured? Once you’ve identified them carry on a dialog with the Lord and ask him, “Why does this set me off? Why is this so painful for me?” This will take time. I was five or six months in this process before I connected present events to past hurts, which were linked to feelings of worthlessness, inferiority and the rest.

If you’re unsatisfied with your ministry, perhaps it’s time to find out why.

If you’re discouraged over your church’s failure to thrive, this might be a signal that you need to develop the leadership behaviors of a TAP. If so, this is where you begin.

Up next: Continuing the process of confirming your identity in Christ


  1. See Gordon E. Penfold. “Defining Characteristics of Turnaround Pastors Among Evangelical Churches in the Rocky Mountain States.” DMin diss., Talbot School of Theology, 2011 and Jared Roth. “The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Pastor Leadership in Turnaround Churches.” Ed. D. Diss., Pepperdine University, 2011.  â†©
  2. According to Roth emotional self-awareness and independence are two of the five hallmark distinctions of successful TAPs.  â†©

Question for pastors

What has been the most hurtful or injurious experience you’ve had in ministry? Why did that pierce so deeply?