“Blessed are the flexible, for they shall not get bent out of shape.”

If you’re going to be a turnaround pastor, you’ve got to be flexible.

But what does that mean? And how is flexibility different than indecisiveness?

What bends you out of shape?
What bends you out of shape?

Flexibility lets a turnaround pastor adapt adjust to new information and changing situations.

There is a “significant difference between senior pastors in growing churches and declining churches on the flexibility EI factor.”[1]

A couple of other researchers state it this way.[2]

Flexibility is the ability to adjust your emotions, thoughts, and behavior to changing situations and conditions. This component of emotional intelligence applies to your overall ability to adapt to unfamiliar, unpredictable, and dynamic circumstances. Flexible people are agile, synergistic and capable of reacting to change, without rigidity. These people are able to change their minds when evidence suggests that they are mistaken. They are generally open to and tolerant of different ideas, orientations, ways, and practices. Their capacity to shift thoughts and behaviors is not arbitrary or whimsical, but rather in concert with the shifting feedback they are getting from their environment. Individuals who lack this capacity tend to be rigid and obstinate (my emphasis).

Churches exist in a rapidly evolving environment. Turnaround pastors innovate, seeking new ways to offer an unchanging Gospel to a non-stop culture.

Flexibility is the order of the day. It is mission critical

Inflexible pastors will continue to lose ground. So will the churches they lead.

Inflexible pastors

Pastors serially incapable of bringing growth to plateaued or declining churches are typically inflexible.

They press on once they’ve made a decision.

They are undeterred by new facts.

They resist new tools, new methods and new challenges.

They tend to insist on staying the course even when they’re headed over a cliff.

But don’t fret. You can learn to become a turnaround pastor. You can learn flexibility.

Becoming more flexible

You will face two challenges when you move toward flexibility.

First, you’ll need for wisdom to know when new facts call for a change in plans.

Second, you’ll need to reassure your church that the mission hasn’t changed, this is a mid-course correction to line up your sights on a moving target.

But you can learn to meet these challenges with mindfulness and persistence.

Flexibility involves being able to train yourself to reinterpret unexpected situations that may at first inspire gloom or alarm. These range from the merely annoying (the babysitter suddenly develops a pressing engagement elsewhere) to the major and life-altering.[3]

How do you acquire flexibility? Let me paraphrase a few suggestions that Stein and Book offer.[4]

  1. List of the set routines that your ministry and your church follow.
  2. Note the predictable routines that you follow week in and week out.
  3. Ask your spouse, your children (if you have any at home), any staff colleagues and trusted congregational leaders how they see you – as flexible or rigid.
  4. Identify one or two personal or ministry routines you can change profitably – to accelerate movement toward an important ministry milestone.
  5. For that one or two items, write down a sequence of steps you’d take to effect change. What will keep you from making this change? What will help you to accomplish it?
  6. Start a daily working journal. At the end of the business day make note of situations in which you took advantage of opportunities to be flexible or in which you remained inflexible.
  7. In your day-to-day activities push yourself to be open to new ways of doing things, new ways of thinking and new ways of behavior, especially when you find yourself tempted to return to the “old ways of doing it.”


What experiences or disciplines have helped you learn to be more flexible in your relationships and in ministry leadership?

Image credit: prometeus / 123RF Stock Photo

  1. Jared Roth, “The Relationship Between Emotional Intelligence and Pastor Leadership in Turnaround Churches” (Ed. D. diss., Pepperdine Univeristy, 2011), 62.  â†©
  2. Steven J. Stein and Howard E. Book, The EQ Edge: Emotional Intelligence And Your Success, 187.  â†©
  3. Stein and Book, 191.  â†©
  4. Stein and Book, 193.  â†©