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Book review: Pastor Unique

| by Brian Thorstad

This is not just another book. We didn’t need another indictment of the American Church or American pastors. But in Pastor Unique,authors Lavern Brown, Gordon Penfold and Gary Westra have given us a roadmap for real change, and it is practical and doable—by the grace of God. 

One clarification: Pastor Unique is about turnaround pastors in the sense of long-term (not transitional or interim) pastors, who seek to lead their stagnant congregations to great commission effectiveness.  

The possibilities

It allows for the possibility of its readers becoming serialturnaround pastors—who stay five to 10 years until a turnaround is completed and then move on and do it again. But it is not written specifically for those amazing individuals. 

Here’s the backstory: readers of Church Central have heard the statistics dozens of times: 80 percent of American Evangelical (not all churches or all Protestant churches) are plateaued or in decline. That’s a given.

The wonderful work of Aubrey Malphurs and Gordon Penfold (ReVISION: The Key To Transforming Your Church), demonstrated that those 80 percent churches need turnaround (or “revisioning”) pastors. Our hurting churches need the best leaders.  

Sadly, about 10 percent of evangelical pastors are capable of leading church turnarounds. About 20 percent are not turnaround pastors and have no interest in becoming turnaround pastors. They might be loving men, but they are “sheep petters,” not shepherd-leaders.   

Fortunately, that leaves the 70 percent—who are not yet turnaround pastors. These are capable of becoming turnaround leaders and are interested in becoming what they need to become in order to do what God has called them to do.

This is where Pastor Unique comes in. Brown, Penfold and Westra maintain that we can identify the best practices of turnaround pastors, and with the help of the Spirit of God, accurate assessment, immersion training, mentoring and cluster groups of like-minded individuals, we—non-turnaround-pastor types can become turnaround pastors. 

Assessment resources

The authors have a strong suggestion regarding the assessment tool needed: they highly recommend using the Birkman Method.  

Regarding the immersion training needed, they encourage readers to attend their Turnaround Pastor, Inc. Bootcamps. 

Mentoring—tied to the pastor’s Birkman Method results—can come from a variety of practitioners, including those associated with Turnaround Pastor, Inc.

Cluster group leadership, as presented by Paul Borden in a guest chapter written for judicatories (denominational/association leaders), needs to come from the 10 percent pastors, recruited to help the 70 percent become true, turnaround leaders. No association leader has the time to lead all of these groups himself, but he can probably recruit the strongest pastor leaders from each region to join in the joy of equipping their brethren.

Learning to lead

This is not, of course, a simple formula. Learning to lead in ways which are contrary to our temperamental “bent” is hard work. I would be “exhibit A” for that truth. 

But our authors contend, and I agree, that we are far more likely to overcome our poor leadership habits if we gain a clear understanding of our strengths and weaknesses, learn how to leverage our strengths and overcome our weaknesses in an immersion training setting, receive personal follow-up from a ministry mentor and ongoing peer-group encouragement in a turnaround pastor cluster group. 

Denominational/association leaders need to buy this book and use it as a model for judicatory ministry.

Effective pastor/leaders should buy this book and use it as a springboard for powerful ministry to their fellow pastors. 

Pastors who desire to become turnaround leaders should buy this book, take the Birkman Method assessment and attend the immersion boot camp training. I’ll see you there.

Brian Thorstad

Brian Thorstad is a Redevelopment Transitional Pastor. He is the author of Heaven Help Our Church! (A Survival Guide for Christians in Troubled Churches) and Redevelopment: Transitional Pastoring That Transforms Churches.

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