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Can ordinary pastors become turnaround pastors?

| by Brian Thorstad

The short answer is a happy “Yes!”

I should define my terms. “Ordinary” or “traditional” pastors preach sermons, teach classes, pray, give pastoral care and do administrative tasks. Those are all important.

The turnaround pastor does all of those things and is also able to provide the visionary and strategic leadership which can take a willing (key word!) church from a maintenance ministry to genuine effectiveness at transforming the raw material of lost people into devoted followers of Christ.

The basic facts of the matter are indisputable:

1. The percentages vary, but most American evangelical churches are plateaued or dying, therefore,

2. Most churches need turnaround pastors; pastors who can take them from stagnation to great-commission success.

Thanks to the research done by Aubrey Malphurs, Gordon Penfold, Bud Brown, Gary McIntosh, Paul Borden and others, we have a pretty good idea of what turnaround pastors look like:

1. They are spiritually and emotionally healthy and unusually Christ-confident.

2. They have learned how to practice the basics of leadership.

3. They are self-disciplined and focused.

4. They do not give a high priority to personal, pastoral care.

5. They may be introverts, but they have learned to act like extroverts.

6. They are optimistic and enthusiastic.

7. They proclaim their visions publicly and they “drip” them privately.

8. They are good at getting along with people and dealing with conflict.

Most pastors are not turnaround pastors yet, but they have the potential to change. About 10 percent of senior or solo pastors are highly capable, turnaround pastors. About 20 percent of pastors surveyed are not strong leaders and have no desire to change. 

That leaves about 70 percent of currently serving pastors who are not “there yet,” but want to get there and have the potential to change and grow.

It took me almost twenty years of stumbling along to grow from being a traditional pastor to becoming a turnaround pastor. I’m not going to say that because “I could change, anybody can change.”  But I know that many, many pastors can change, especially with the great resources which we have now.

The skills needed for turnaround leadership are well known. The character traits required have been spelled out clearly. The habits and practices which must be adopted have been identified.

Following are some key factors for success in making a successful transformation from traditional pastor to turnaround pastor:

1. It’s vital to become proactive. Before the church can be turned around, the pastor must have his own turnaround, from a life of overwhelmed reactivity to a life of proactivity.  Stanley Hauerwas commented that many pastors are “a quivering mass of availability.”

2. It helps to get a coach. Find a pastor who has turned a church around and persuade him to guide you through the process and around the pitfalls.  10% pastors can help turn 70% pastors into 10% pastors!

3. It’s important to have guiding and praying coalitions. You need a guiding coalition to meet and plan with you. You need a praying coalition working behind the scenes on their knees.

4. You must set the example.You must first become what you want the people to become.

5. It might take some serious time.It takes miles to turn an aircraft carrier around. The older your congregation the longer this process will take.

6. It helps to get a fresh start. By the time I was ready to be a turnaround pastor, it was too late for me to be that pastor in that church. It’s not wrong to get the fresh start you need to be an excellent leader. 

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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