A church in your bailiwick asks for help. The Search Committee is screening candidates to be the next pastor. They’ve been on plateau – gradual decline if truth be told – for a decade. You’ve got to find a turnaround pastor who can change their trajectory.

What do you do?


The Denominational Executive’s Dilemma

Denominational Executives (DE) of every stripe face their own unique set of challenges. The polity structure they must work with will shape how they interact with churches. Some traditions give DEs a lot of authority over the churches, while others must rely on influence rather than authority. Some DEs have direct control over which candidates a church may consider, others have the prerogative of moving and placing pastors as they see fit. Still others have no direct control and can merely offer counsel when asked.

But, regardless of the scope of their authority, every DE faces the same basic dilemma: how do I help churches identify who will be effective turnaround pastors right out of the gate?

Given the fact that “natural born” turnaround pastors are few and far between (10% – 15% of the talent pool), how do you find them? Do you study their resumés? Make a few phone calls to check track records? Use inadequate personality typing instruments? Stick your thumb in the wind and guess?

A Better Way to Find Turnaround Pastors

First, two caveats.

Caveat #1: there are no foolproof systems that match pastors and churches. There never has been and there never will be. But, fortunately, with the right data, DEs can significantly increase the likelihood of identifying which pastors will be effective turnaround agents and which won’t be.

Caveat #2: At the risk of over simplification, three things are required for a church turnaround. One of them is beyond human control; the other two can be managed.

  1. Jesus’ intent to build that particular church (over which we have no control)
  2. A willing congregation (an unwilling congregation can sink the strongest turnaround leaders. Fortunately, many unwilling congregations can be moved toward willingness with effective planning and patience)
  3. A competent pastor

Packed within the notion of “a competent pastor” are two elements:

  1. A pastor who knows what to do
  2. A pastor who knows how to do it

As a DE, you have two options for helping a church call a competent pastor.

  1. Find one of the 10% (the naturals)
  2. Identify someone who can be coached and engage him or her in a professional development plan

Both are effective.

Identifying Turnaround Pastors

In the conclusion of Pastor Unique: Becoming a Turnaround Leader we state the “value add” for DEs by showing the predictive power of the Pastor Unique model.

Greg’s success as a turnaround pastor could easily surprise people if they relied solely on instruments such as the DiSC or the MBTI. His profile in those instruments marks him as highly unlikely to be an effective TAP. He is different than “all pastors” in significant ways. For example, all pastors tend to be “direct and straightforward” and “friendly and easy to get to know” (Esteem and Acceptance Usual, in Birkman terminology). Greg is the exact opposite in both these Relational Components, and in several others.

However, if you had access to his Birkman profile, you would see that he very closely matches the TAP profile in six of the seven distinguishing traits! Based on that fact alone, you could predict that Greg would be an effective turnaround pastor.

His story gives us a great deal of satisfaction on two levels. First, it demonstrates the Birkman’s predictive value in identifying turnaround pastors with great reliability. Second, Greg’s story (and others like him whose stories we have not told in this book) tell us that we achieved one of our primary objectives: to build on Gordon’s original research to develop a statistically significant profile of a TAP (see page 44). In our discussions together, we had regularly hoped and prayed that we could “replicate his research and take it further.” God has answered our prayers.

Ken’s story gives us further satisfaction because it tells us that we achieved a third goal for this project: to identify best practices and to develop training and mentoring protocols that will help NTAPs become effective turnaround leaders.

Ken, unlike Greg, does not fully fit the TAP profile. But his story (like others that we haven’t told) proves our central thesis: those who are not naturally turnaround pastors can learn to lead beyond their limits, to pull off the improbable – leading static or declining churches in turnaround that results in new life and conversion growth.

There’s no longer any reason to guess which pastoral candidates might be effective turnaround pastors capable of leading plateaued and declining churches into revitalization and life-giving ministry.

Take the guesswork out trying to find a turnaround pastor

Chances are that 75% of the churches within your oversight are struggling. They are led by wonderful pastors (for the most part) who love Jesus, love the people, and serve sacrificially. But they are ineffective turnaround leaders. When they leave, those churches desperately need pastors capable of moving them off the plateau and returning them to effective, life-giving ministry.

If you are a DE burdened with the responsibility of screening pastoral candidates, or if you are tasked with providing assistance to Pastor Search Committees maybe it’s time for you to try something different.

If you are a DE, or the member of a church Search Committee, it won’t cost you anything to contact us to learn more about how you can pinpoint a turnaround pastor.