Turnaround Pastors and the Key to Transforming Your Church

Today Baker Books is releasing Re:Vision: The Key to Transforming Your Church – a book written by me (Aubrey Malphurs) and Gordon Penfold. I would like to use this opportunity to share about the book so the Christian public in general and lead pastors and staff more specifically can be aware of what it takes to see God turn around struggling, declining churches (ie before they have to do an autopsy of a deceased church).

turnaround pastors

Re:Vision is based on our exploration of envisioning and non-envisioning pastors (or turnaround pastors) and their churches. Thus, our work is observation-based. We’re not sitting in some ivory tower guessing at the characteristics of turnaround pastors or basing our work on hearsay or one or two unique examples. We’ve conducted quantitative research (using a tool entitled the Pastoral Leadership Survey), which we’ve given to over one hundred pastors in all 50 US states and in all Canadian provinces. We’ve followed this up with qualitative research, where we interview each pastor one-on-one.

I must confess that initially I was concerned about using a research approach. Would it turn some people off? Would it turn some pastors off? Would it confuse others who aren’t familiar with such terminology? We realize that the average leader isn’t as interested in the research itself or how it was done, but in the results. Therefore, we’ve tried to be careful not to overwhelm our readers with research terminology, statistical studies, and other concepts and have put some research in the appendices and endnotes.

Using a research approach has turned out to be a delightful process of exploration, resulting in exciting discoveries. We’ve discovered much about how God has created and wired his leaders to lead his church. We’ve also discovered much about how he’s wired us for ministry as well.

We believe that we have a biblical solution to America’s dying churches. But before we look at the solution, we need to grasp the problem we’re trying to correct. Previously, I discussed three problems facing the America church. In this blog I ask: how are church leaders doing in the midst of this decline? How are YOU doing at transforming your church?

turnaround pastors

How Are Leaders Doing at Transforming the Church?

If 80 to 85 percent of our churches are struggling, what does that say about our pastors? Far too many churches are characterized by an inward, self-serving focus. Territorialism, idolatry, power brokers, passivity, disillusionment, and lack of a clarity all lead to division and conflict. The consequence of such attitudes and actions is a mass of churches that are plateaued or declining. In membership, attendance, and vitality…they are declining. Many have become havens for the disgruntled and fortresses against the Great Commission. These “country clubs” have become the antithesis of everything that the Gospel represents. Do these sound familiar? Do you recognize these characteristics in your own church? How can you start transforming your church?

restart your church

Where are the turnaround pastors in all of this?

Many pastors feel they have their backs against the wall. They want to make changes, but they are either too afraid or don’t know how. Church bullies often intimidate them. Church boards may be uncooperative and controlling. Consequently, pastors struggle, and so do their churches. Instead of transforming the church, they question their call to ministry and whether they are truly leaders (few pastors have ever been taught how to develop leaders). Other pastors are simply on cruise control. They draw their pay and are careful not to rock the boat. Many are content to leave Jesus outside knocking at the door (Revelation 3:20). Some also lack the skill to develop a vision of a preferred future and pursue it to a fitting conclusion. Some don’t have the traits of turnaround pastors. Others are walking down the path of ministry, blissfully ignorant of the impending cliff before them.

The Problem: The Lack of Strong, Visionary Leadership

The problem is there’s a lack of turnaround pastors with strong, visionary leadership, not necessarily leaders. (And there is a difference!). Churches aren’t really developing visionary leaders who are turnaround pastors. How many churches have in place a process for developing leaders at every level of the church? The answer is few. Turnaround pastors do. Can you name one? How many churches in the search for a new pastor or staff person asks about their abilities to develop leaders? Do we really we believe leadership development is an important part of their ministry? Do we analyze their traits as turnaround pastors if that is what the church truly needs? The following are some insightful questions that every pulpit committee should ask of potential turnaround pastors:

  1. Do you know how to develop leaders?
  2. How many leaders have you developed over the years?
  3. Who are you currently developing as a leader?
  4. Who has developed you as a leader?
  5. Who is developing you now as a leader?
  6. Is it okay to include your development of leaders on your annual evaluation?

Don’t be too surprised, however, if the answers to these questions aren’t positive. J. L. Penfold, Gordon’s brother, clearly articulated the leadership crisis in the American church. One of his district superintendents in Florida lamented, “Only about 25 percent of our pastors can get the job done. We simply hope the churches can endure through three pastors before we can finally send another good one.”

The problem is not a lack of pastors. It is the lack of capable, visionary pastors. A large segment of pastors occupy the pastoral position, but don’t lead their congregations into fruitful ministry as turnaround pastors.

Enough of this doom and gloom thinking. You get the message. Our churches, along with our leaders, aren’t doing well. So what can we do about it? How can you start transforming your church?

Scott Ball is the Vice President and a Lead Guide with The Malphurs Group. He lives in East Tennessee with his wife and two children. (Email Scott).

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