Monday Morning Meltdown

It's Monday morning. Pastor Richard slips into his study, broken, defeated, and exhausted. He sits at his desk and stares into space. What went wrong? He poured himself out for this church. He has loved the people, but nothing is good enough for them.

On Sunday morning one family criticized him for failing to visit a sick family member. He couldn't drop by because he was counseling a couple that was steering their marriage toward the rocks. In the midst of that he received a call from another person who was suicidal. Then an unbelieving friend died. The friend had asked for him, but by the time he shook loose from the other emergencies, it was too late. It was the one visit he desperately wanted to make, but he let other crises keep him from reaching the hospital in time.

So many demands, so little time. No matter how hard he worked, it was never enough. His pleas for help were met with constant reminders that this is what the church had hired him to do. The work of the ministry was on him.

So, on this Monday morning he's a spent shell casing, empty. There's nothing left to give. He places his head on his folded arms. He doesn't want to weep, but he is unable to stop the flow of tears. His thoughts turn to his wife, a beloved partner in life and in ministry.

She has been supportive through the years, but he knows that she too is exhausted. She couldn't cope with the unceasing demands on her husband. She did what she must to be the pastor's wife, but the demands of a challenging church overwhelmed her. She secretly despised a church she once loved.

Overwhelmed by the relentless demands of the church and by concern for his wife, he opens his laptop computer and composes his letter of resignation. He doesn't want to quit, but in his mind, it is his only option. His grand vision for ministry has broken apart on the rocks of ceaseless demands and unmet expectations.

After he prints the letter out and scribbles his signature at the bottom, relief and guilt wash over him. Relief, because he's finished. Guilt, because he feels that he's failed the Lord and the church. Most of all, feelings of self-betrayal flood his soul. His dream is crushed by the unbearable weight of relentless demands he could not satisfy.

Do you identify with Pastor Richard?

This true-to-life story is based on the experience of one of Gordon's friends. Richard loved the Lord and loved Jesus' people. He worked hard. He did the best he could with what he had, but it wasn't enough. He left the field in defeat.

This tragic scene is relived by many pastors across America today. Some quit when they realize that they're not wired for ministry; they lack the temperament, skills and gifts for fruitful pastoral ministry. Others resign (or are terminated) due to moral failure. Then there are those who move every three or four years in search of a "perfect" church, never finding what they seek.

But we are convinced that most pastors who leave their positions do so because they have run out of ideas. In spite of heroic effort and great personal (and family) sacrifice, their churches remain stuck in the death spiral. These pastors have done all they know to do, but nothing has worked. They're worn out and no longer able to sustain the burden of serving God the best they know how without results.

Chances are you're reading this because you're a pastor who has tried everything to lead your church off that plateau, but you're stumped.

Your bookshelves groan under the weight of all those church leadership, church growth and health books. Somewhere a stack of three-ring binders, proof that you've tried the conference circuit, lies untouched in your office. You've spent a lot of time, energy and leadership capital getting the church to spruce itself up, put on friendly faces for visitors, and work toward a higher standard of excellence.

But nothing has worked.

You see few, if any, professions of faith or baptisms from one year to the next. Your visitor retention rate is in single digits. The annual budget is an exercise in faith, but the monthly balance sheets tell a different story.

Your back is against the wall. You want to make changes, but you are either afraid to roil the waters or you don't know how to lead change. Church bullies intimidate you. Church boards are uncooperative and controlling. As a result, you struggle, and the church you pastor struggles. Because of the gridlock in your church fellowship, attendees leave in frustration.

In spite of everything you've tried, your church is still on the plateau or headed down the slope. But you haven't quit. Not yet. You're still looking for answers.

Keep reading.

Our central thesis in this book is that you've unknowingly neglected to put your church's most significant growth resource to its highest and best use. It is the one resource over which you have absolute control to do with as you please.

What is this marvelous, untapped resource?


Pastor Unique is about you.

The Mess We're In

The American Church is a mess. We'll have more to say about that in the next chapter, but here we want to set a few items out in full view.

First, it should be a given that most pastors are righteous people who give themselves to Christ and serve his Church sacrificially.

Second, it is common knowledge that the vast majority struggle in and with the churches they serve. This problem is aggravated by the fact that educators, denominational executives and Christian leaders often don't know how to help.

Third, of the myriad of factors that contribute to church malaise and pastoral struggles, most are beyond the pastor's ability to control. We will examine several of these in the next chapter.

That's the mess we're in: godly pastors struggling to lead stagnant churches against opposing forces over which they have little or no control.

We have two options. We can wring our hands and say, "Woe is me. The church is beyond rescue" and hunker down in the futile hope that something will change. Or we can ask the hard question: “How do we arrest the downward trajectory of churches and their pastors?” Pastor Unique proposes that we ask the hard question and respond proactively as change agents.

The Research Behind Pastor Unique

We have studied the characteristics of pastors whom God seems to have naturally hardwired to lead stagnant and deteriorating churches into renewal and conversion growth. God has hardwired these turnaround pastors (TAP) to lead failing churches to vitality. Others aren't hardwired in the same way. Although these non-turnaround pastors (NTAP) serve with vigor and commitment, they struggle, and their churches wither.

We studied and compared eleven personality Components of the two groups. We were able to identify seven statistically significant differences between the TAPs and the NTAPs, five of which we will explain at length.

In addition to the eleven personality Components, we also identified ministry competencies discoverable in effective pastors that are often lacking or present in a lesser degree in other pastors. These "ministry best practices" become the focal point of practical training designed to move pastors toward greater ministry effectiveness.

Our purpose is to help you understand the unique way God created you. We will also help you grasp what God says about who you are and how he has developed you. As this book unfolds, you'll discover that every pastor is unique. You'll also discover ways of moving toward more productive ministry with a personal and professional development plan that will help you master the best practices of turnaround leadership.

We discuss these best practices and how to master them by a process of assessment, using The Birkman Method® (TBM), and mentoring by an experienced, successful pastor. The Birkman Method® allows us to "drill more deeply" with its information about both Relational Components and Areas of Interest. It identifies Usual Behavior (what others see us doing when we're not under stress), Needs (our expectations and the things that motivate us), and Stress Responses (how we act when our needs are unmet). This provides a high degree of detail that enables us to provide mentoring that is customized to each pastor's unique needs, thereby accelerating mastery of the leadership behaviors that are correlated with church renewal in statistically significant ways.

We recognize two primary sources of difficulty with pastors. First, Bible college and seminary do not adequately prepare pastors for ministry in Postmodern American culture. Turnaround Pastors, Inc. addresses this problem through its Turnaround Pastor Boot Camps©. This immersion training presents the practical tools pastors need to become more adept at the ministry. The combination of Turnaround Pastor Boot Camps©, personal assessment and a regimen of mentoring helps NTAPs learn how to master the best practices that are proven to result in church renewal.

Second, many pastors lack important relationship skills. Our research has been able to distinguish which behavior patterns lend themselves to effective relationship management, and therefore more productive ministry, from those that don't. We have developed and are now testing coaching protocols to help pastors acquire the skills needed to recognize their emotions and the emotions of others, and the techniques that will help them manage relationships more effectively.

We recognize that ministry effectiveness is a multivariate phenomenon. It includes calling, spiritual gifting, physical and spiritual energy, theological training, missiological perspective and other factors, many of which are subject to divine prerogative. Yet, it is our conviction that careful analysis of which pastoral behaviors help and which hinder ministry effectiveness has been a missing critical element in the literature on church renewal.

This is puzzling since church planting organizations now assess candidates to determine their suitability for the rigors of that calling. Why not assess pastors for church turnaround and then train them on the basis of those assessments? Since 80-85% of the churches in North America are either plateaued or declining, it is time for the Church in America to give serious consideration to different ways of preparing and training pastors to lead these dying churches into renewal.

We do not pretend that turning a church around is a walk in the park. It's difficult, arduous work. The accounts described in this book portray the reality of this difficulty. Here's an account of the trials and triumphs of turnaround pastoral ministry.

A skilled pastor is the first of two essential ingredients for a church turnaround. The second is a willing congregation. Occasionally, church and pastor click, and the ministry soars. On other occasions, either the church or the pastor are deficient in some way, or the two parties are unclear about their expectations and desires for ministry. When this happens, things don't end well.

From Trial to Triumph – one pastor's story

Pastor Buckman accepted a call to his first church after graduating from Bible college, a humble congregation of twenty-nine. He was the eighteenth pastor. His predecessors lasted an average of three years and three months.

He soon discovered the church did not want a servant-leader but just a servant. They thought they were calling a pastor who would "call on the elderly and sick, preach Sunday morning and evening, and lead a Bible study on Wednesday night." They wanted a hired gun to "do the work of the ministry."

In sharp contrast, Pastor Buckman wanted to reach people for Christ. An avid bow hunter, he launched a ministry called "Bull’s Eye" to connect with others who shared his passion. He anticipated developing relationships with unbelievers with whom he could share Christ. He also instituted an annual wild game dinner at the church.

He was a prime candidate for a Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp©. In the midst of his second year of frustration, he jumped at the opportunity to learn ministry best practices, tools not furnished by his formal training. He returned to his church, developed an action plan, and began to execute it.

  • He showed the church where it was headed by plotting the last 25 years' attendance and membership.
  • He worked with a vision team on Sunday evenings to create a ministry map that included core beliefs, core values, and a vision statement.
  • He developed a blended/contemporary morning worship service.
  • He dressed more appropriately for the community, dropping the suit coat.
  • He developed a strong emphasis on winning the lost.
  • He transformed the focus from inward to outward.

Unfortunately, his frustration grew as the church refused his guidance. In his third year, his college classmate took two significant steps. She apologized for not submitting to his leadership. Then, two weeks later, she asked to become the associate pastor. He rejected her request because the church could not support another employee. Her mother, the treasurer, drily asked him, "How do you know if you're going to get a pay check next week?" The girl's father and uncle also sat on the Board.

Pastor Buckman's goose was cooked.

The Assistant District Superintendent visited the church to assess and intervene. He happened to ask the church secretary, "What would you do if you walked in one Sunday and you saw five new families in your church?" She placed her head in the palms of her hands and bemoaned, "I would say, 'I just lost my church.'"

On the day Pastor Buckman resigned, he realized his tenure had lasted three years and three months. He made the average.

Gordon asked him, "What lessons from the Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp© did you find most helpful?"

In Bible college we were taught to pray, preach, fast, and be faithful. The Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp© jarred my thinking and whetted my appetite for a turnaround. My focus shifted to disciple-making. I also learned from the other pastors from my denomination who wrestled with membership issues. Their struggles helped me identify important issues related to membership in the churches I serve. Finally, I discovered that a change of venue helped me see that I can engage in fruitful ministry.

Gordon's final question was, "Would you recommend a Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp© to others?"

Yes. Most of us from college or seminary will go into a declining church (emphasis ours). When I attended the Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp©, I got a kick in the pants!

On opening day of hunting season at his new church, Pastor Buckman’s sermon title was "Opening Day." A mounted deer provided the backdrop for the message.

If I sight in my shotgun, lay out my clothes, and then go and sit in the truck all day and wonder why I never got a buck, the answer would be obvious. In the church, we often do the same thing. We talk about reaching people, but we never get out and do what needs to be done. In ministry, as in hunting, we must prepare, participate and then celebrate the harvest. We have the trophies we want in life. However, reaching lost people is the greatest goal and celebration of all. Whose story can you be a part of in sharing Christ. Today is opening day! 

Linking the pastor and the people around mission, vision, and values propels them toward celebration when they bring in the harvest together! For Pastor Buckman's church, it was a new Opening Day! Pastor Buckman is leading this church in the right direction, and they are following.

Although there are numerous differences between the two churches, one of the most important differences is in Pastor Buckman himself. As a result of the training he received in one of our Turnaround Pastor Boot Camps©, he knows what he needs to do, he has a plan on how to do it, and he is successfully leading the church to buy into it!

Pastor Buckman 's experience illustrates four important truths about leading turnaround churches. First, it illustrates an unpleasant truth: turnaround ministry is exceptionally difficult, and success is not guaranteed. Second, it highlights the unpleasant truth that many a church has no desire to do and be what Christ desires. Third, it encourages us to move and try again – with proper training – when we fail. Fourth and finally, it demonstrates that training in best practices coupled with personalized mentoring may be an important factor in successful turnaround leadership.

The Pastor Unique Model

Every pastor is unique.

Pastors, as a group, are unique. All pastors differ from the general population in thirteen statistically significant ways (see Chapter 4). Pastors are similar in more ways than they are different. All have the same mission because all are Jesus' gift to the Church. All work from the same authoritative text, and the same Holy Spirit empowers them all as they fulfill the ministry to which they have been summoned.

In this regard, pastors stand apart from the general population.

Among pastors, however, there are important distinctions. TAPs are distinct from NTAPs in seven statistically significant ways (see Chapter 5). Pastors differ from one another in the "how" of ministry because each has a unique personality that is expressed in distinct leadership behaviors, needs, and stress responses.

This is why a one-size-fits-all approach to leadership training is ineffective. For example, a mentor may tell a protégé, "Create a change-friendly culture." This may seem like good advice, but it isn't. It overlooks a mission-critical reality: how God "hard-wires" a pastor and how work/life experience shapes a pastor have a direct bearing on the actions a pastor will or won't be able to sustain over long periods of time.

Our approach to Ministry Mentoring and Best Ministry Practices recognizes and accounts for this mission-critical reality. The following diagram summarizes our approach.


Figure 1.1: Pastor Unique

Each pastor's unique identity – and his or her ministry "sweet spot" – lies at the intersection of these three life-realities. The first set is the focus of our research. "How God Formed You" is about the personality with which God gave you. The second set, "How God Developed You," concerns your training and life experience. Finally, "Who God Says You Are," evaluates your worth as a person and a pastor. A biblically sound self-worth is essential to good leadership, particularly when you're leading change.

The focus of Pastor Unique is primarily on how God has formed your personality.

Note that while the formation of your personality is our primary focus, the other aspects of our model are equally important.  How God designed you, what God says about your identity in Christ, and how God developed you in your education and life experience are all important!  Our primary contribution is grasping our design and personality as it relates to church turnaround and revitalization.

This is what makes you unique. You have a unique personality given by God. You have been shaped by life experiences and training that are uniquely yours. You are a special treasure, highly prized by God himself, just because of who you are. That is the Pastor Unique model.

As the book unfolds, particularly in the later chapters, you'll see the strength of this model emerge. You'll find insights into the distinct ways that TAPs and NTAPs might apply specific findings to themselves. The power of the Pastor Unique model is released when a mentor helps you evaluate your profile, your life experiences, and the unseen needs that that shape your approach to ministry and people.

About This Book

Part 1: Foundations

Chapter 1 introduces the fundamental need for assessment-based training and coaching. The chapter analyzes factors that contribute to congregational malaise and ineffective pastoral leadership. It summarizes cultural realities that lead people to complacency in the face of decline.

Chapters 2 and 3 prepare the reader to gain the maximum benefit from the research results. "The Pastor's Worth," chapter 2, explains why pastors must break that link between self-worth and how well (or poorly) their churches perform. "Leading Beyond Your Limits," chapter 3, lays out the biblical case for paying close attention to and learning better ways to do ministry from others.

Part 2: Research

Chapters 4 and 5 reveal our research method and our findings. "Why We Use the Birkman Method," Chapter 4, introduces this personality profiling tool. Chapter 5, "What Distinguishes Turnaround Pastors", discusses the statistically significant differences between pastors who regularly lead church turnarounds from those who struggle to get off the plateau.

Part 3: Practice

Chapters 6 – 8 move into practice. Chapter 6, "God Intends for Pastors to Lead," explains why "firm leadership" is primary when scripture uses the shepherd motif for spiritual leaders. "Leading Change," chapter 7, integrates our research findings with the disciplines of change-leadership and change-management to offer simple planning and management tools any pastor can use to lead successful change initiatives. Chapter 8, "Managing Conflict: Responding to the Inevitable Consequences of Change," explains how pastors should use their personality profile when mitigating congregational conflict.

Part 4: Next

Chapters 9 and 10 move to the next steps. In Chapter 9 Paul Borden speaks directly to denominational leaders. He identifies the state of mid-level denominational entities in the U.S. and outlines a plan that includes steps for the pastor, the local church, and denominational turnaround. Chapter 10, "What's next?" suggests the way forward for pastors who want to leverage their most valuable ministry resources (humanly speaking, of course) – themselves – for greatest ministry effectiveness. The way forward includes participating in Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp© training, ministry coaching, church assessment and board training–all vital pieces in the church transformation puzzle.


In Pastor Unique we use these definitions:

Turnaround Pastor (TAP)

A pastor who has led his church from plateau or decline to a growth of a minimum of 2 ½ percent per year for a minimum of 2 ½ years.

Average Annual Growth Rate (AAGR)

A method of calculating church growth rates over a time period so that the growth rates may be fairly compared with one another. A church's growth rate is converted into an average annual growth rate by calculating its "compounded" growth rate for a period of years. When you think of AAGR think of compound interest.[5]


Different ways of executing existing policies and procedures. It is external in the sense that it does not affect a person's or a church's identity. The change leadership literature often refers to this as "first-order change." "Second-order change" is a different way of thinking, a modification in how a person views himself or how church members view their congregation. We will also use the term "transformation" as a synonym for second-order change. Note that the Birkman Change Component is a personality characteristic and is only tangentially related to first and second-order change.


A fundamental shift in how people view themselves, their churches and their roles in God's mission. Often called "second-order change," this results in a new mission focus and, in time, a change in the church's DNA.

The Birkman Method (TBM)

A psychological measurement assessment that identifies a person's passions, behaviors, motivations, and interests. It is a powerful tool for improving people skills and aligning roles and relationships for maximum effectiveness.

Ministry Mentor

We choose the term Mentor over Coach, because we believe in Mentoring with Assessment. Once we use assessment and the information imparted by it, we have moved beyond coaching to mentoring. A Ministry Mentor offers knowledge and wisdom to a pastor based on assessment and ministry experience.  The strength of our research is that we can now compare any pastor to a TAP profile and demonstrate measurable growth areas.

Best Practices

Declarative statements of the best way to do things, based on observing and learning from the successes and failures of others.

How to Read This Book

How can you get the most out of this book? Here are our suggestions for pastors, denominational leaders, and Bible college and seminary teachers.

First, if you are a pastor or a leader in any Christian ministry, please read with an open mind. We're going to introduce some ideas that you've probably never heard. We're also going to introduce some perspectives that may seem counterintuitive and perhaps even contrary to what you've been taught. Pay close attention to those chapters that delve into applied pastoral theology. Do your best to track those chapters that introduce psychological measurements, statistics and our research methods.

Second, take time to work through the discussion questions you'll find at the end of each chapter. If you take time to consider them prayerfully and slowly, they'll prompt creative and critical thinking on your part.

Third, consider taking advantage of our training. A year of personal and professional development begins with total immersion in a week of Turnaround Pastor Boot Camp©, followed by a year of mentoring and participation in pastor training clusters. It will be a life-changing experience that will leave you wondering, "Why didn't anyone tell me this stuff before?"

If you are a denomination leader, pay close attention to Paul Borden's counsel in Chapter 9. Then contact us to arrange a customized training regimen for the pastors and church leaders within your association. Let us help you develop pastors in the way that Paul exhorted Timothy (2 Timothy 2:2).

Finally, if you serve as a faculty member in a Bible college or seminary, we sympathize with your plight. There are so many things that prospective ministers must be taught that you can't teach it all in four years, or eight for that matter. What you teach is necessary, but it is probably not sufficient for fruitful ministry in contemporary American culture. And, sadly, even if you really were to teach everything your students need to know, they would be incapable of learning it. Until they're thrown into the breach and shot at a few times, they will not be capable of learning the most important skills of all.