Will settled pastors of the future need to have the personal qualities of a church planter, the unique abilities of a turnaround expert and the specialized skills of an intentional interim pastor?

If the trends currently changing the face of American culture continue – and they seem to be accelerating – the settled pastor of the future won’t be “settled” and neither will the church. We’ve already entered into a period of churning cultural turbulence that is redefining the American church; mainline denominations face imminent extinction and evangelicalism is being transformed into something wholly new.

Churches, denominations, Bible colleges and seminaries will need to furnish our future pastors with precisely tailored skills that go far beyond exegesis and homiletics. Our future pastors will need to be trained to think like a church planter and mentored to operate like a turnaround specialist.

Fortunately, there is solid research to point us in the right direction.

The church planter

In the near future settled pastors will have to learn how to think like a church planter but without the headaches of raising support and funding a startup operation.

Charles Ridley, Professor at Indiana University and pioneer in church planting assessment, has identified 13 characteristics that distinguish effective church planters. His research was funded by a group of denominations that needed a solution to the common problem of church planter misplacements. Since then, for well over a decade, church planting networks have used Ridley’s work to assess potential church planters. With minor tweaking the list serves as a short assessment tool, sort of an “initial impressions” view of whether we’re cut out for a church planter’s ministry.

The 13 characteristics Ridley identified in successful church planters will eventually be minimum qualifications for the settled pastor:

  1. Visioning capacity
  2. Intrinsically motivated
  3. Creates ownership of ministry
  4. Relates to the unchurched
  5. Spousal cooperation
  6. Effectively builds relationships
  7. Committed to church growth
  8. Responsive to community
  9. Utilizes giftedness of others
  10. Flexible and adaptable
  11. Builds group cohesiveness
  12. Resilience
  13. Exercises faith
In looking at this list I find myself wondering, “Why isn’t every pastor possessed of these qualifications?”

The turnaround specialist

In addition to the characteristics Riley identified, Gordon Penfold has demonstrated that  (“Turnaround Pastors: Characteristics of Those Who Lead Churches from Life-Support to New Life“) turnaround pastors (those whose ministry demonstrated an average annual growth rate of at least 2.5% for five or more years) may be distinguished by strengths in several areas:
  1. They most often score mid to high D or I or both on the DiSC profile
  2. They are passionate, visionary pastors who are able to draw followers after them
  3. More often than not they have a mentor or a coach
  4. They are more outgoing, with excellent people skills
  5. They are more innovative than traditional
  6. They are more energetic
  7. They are “young in ministry” regardless of age
  8. Better team players
  9. Better at training new leaders
  10. Focused and determined in ministry
  11. They embrace necessary change and are willing to pay the price to lead change
  12. Good conflict resolutions skills
  13. Better than average communicators
  14. Passionately pursue their primary spiritual gifts and empower others to use their gifts
If you take a moment you’ll find a number of similarities in the results of these two studies. It may be that successful church planters and turnaround pastors are interchangeable!

Every pastor will need to be a planter and turnaround specialist

Church planters do something unique: they gather a group of people around a mission, they infuse that group with passion and vision, and then deploy them into the community to turn vision into reality. Along the way souls are saved and disciples are made. Turn around pastors do something similar, with one critical distinction: they are presented with a low-functioning church and marshal the resources to accomplish the same goal as the church planter. The net result in both cases is a vibrant church which enjoys conversion growth, expanding influence in their mission field and spiritual growth in the lives of those who become part of the organization.

Every settled pastor should have the same objective. But as the culture changes by moving further from a theocentric worldview the pastor will need to operate like a church planter. When people enter into the life of the congregation they bring dysfunction with them, requiring the pastor to operate like a turnaround specialist.

I believe the days of settling comfortably into the pulpit to “preach it that they might come” are rapidly coming to an end.

Question for those considering or now entering ministry

How will you develop these characteristics, qualities and skills?

Additional Resources