Pastor Fred (not his real name) was excited, energized, and confident after attending a Turnaround Pastors Boot Camp. He learned what to do and how to do it. Tom (not his real name), a key lay leader in the church who attended the Boot Camp with Fred, was on board. Maybe, just maybe, this would be what the doctor ordered to get the church off plateau. Three months later, in our second follow-up coaching session with Fred, it was clear that he was swimming against that riptide - the status quo.
Folks in the church were glad that Fred had a plan, the tools, and the support resources needed to lead the church off the plateau. Like Fred, they wanted the church to once again be a vital, life-giving church that wins people to faith in Jesus and develops them into mature followers.
But their unspoken expectation that Fred would somehow shoehorn the necessary tasks into an already busy schedule became a roadblock. Even Tom expected that Fred would maintain the schedule he’d been working for the previous six years of his ministry. They still expected him to preach 50 times a year, do home visits with every member, follow up personally with visitors, manage day-to-day operations, and meet regularly with staff and lay leadership.
When confronted with the need to revise Fred’s schedule so he could engage in turnaround leadership, they were unwilling to let him revise his workload. You can be sure that when it comes time to evaluate Fred’s performance, he will be graded on how well he fulfilled ministry duties that were “hard wired in” when he was called. His performance as a turnaround leader won’t figure prominently in his yearly evaluation, if at all.
Fred was trapped. He'd been set up to fail. Unless something changed, the church would not benefit from the time, money, and hard work Fred had invested in leadership training.
Why Leadership Training for Pastors Fails
This is a primary reason why pastors who have invested in leadership training fail to lead church revitalization: the church does not revise his job description to rewrite his responsibilities and the goals for which he’ll be accountable. A large study of the effectiveness of leadership training in the business world found that the when companies fail to change the way they evaluate leadership behavior, nothing changes.1
We frequently find that companies pay lip service to the importance of developing leadership skills but have no evidence to quantify the value of their investment. When businesses fail to track and measure changes in leadership performance over time, they increase the odds that improvement initiatives won’t be taken seriously.
Church consultant and denominational executive Paul Borden observes how this failure (to adopt metrics that create room for the pastor to lead change and hold him accountable for results) works out2:
Most congregations in the United States are designed to be small, remain small, and function ineffectively in the twenty-first century. These structures, from their inception until now, reflect the cultures in which they were created. Unlike in the Scriptures, authority is divided from responsibility to act. There is little if any accountability for results, and the little that does exist is not applied with consistency throughout the system.
Solution: Restructure the pastor’s job description
Churches that are serious about getting off that plateau (or pulling out of that death spiral) will restructure the pastor’s job description. Specifically, they will look at the following issues:
- The pastor’s responsibilities will be revised to free up time to focus on leading the church through the turnaround. (The time required will vary from church to church, but in the beginning this will require 30 hours per month. It takes a lot of work to get a stalled car rolling!)
- The annual evaluation will include how well he succeeded in achieving the goals and objectives that must be met lead to church turnaround.
- The pastor’s responsibility must be matched by his authority - the church must grant the pastor the authority he needs to fulfill his responsibilities; that authority should be spelled out in writing and once granted, he is free to exercise that authority without constantly checking in with oversight.
A great example of his this works is found in Acts 15. There we see the “Council of Jerusalem.” An authoritative, deliberative body of elders and apostles established a guiding policy that emerged from their biblically knowledgeable, Spirit-lead, consensus. By means of open discussion and debate that they ultimately settled on a set of guiding principles that were put in writing.
In other words, the Council of Jerusalem established a governing principle and delegated to the pastors the responsibility and authority they needed to implement the principle as they saw fit for their unique ministry settings.
Make the pastor accountable for the church’s mission
When churches (and businesses) don’t track and measure changes in leadership performance over time, they increase the odds that improvement initiatives won’t be taken seriously.
The vast majority of stagnant and declining churches admit their need for turnaround. Many will express the desire to once again be vital, life-giving congregations that see people coming to faith in Christ.
But once they invest in their pastor’s training, so that he is equipped and ready to lead the turnaround, the reality is that they will fail.
Because they do not give him permission, they do not set him free, they do not delegate the authority he needs, and they do not hold him accountable for leading the church toward greater fulfillment of its mission.
Bottom line: Leadership training for pastors is a waste of time for churches that don't bother to change the pastor's job description to delegate the responsibility and grant the authority needed to lead the turnaround - and then hold the pastor responsible for the results!
- Pierre Gurdjian, Thomas Halbeisen, and Kevin Lane, "Why leadership development programs fail" McKinsey Quarterly, January 2014.
- Paul Borden, Direct Hit: Aiming Real Leaders at the Mission Field, p. 21.