Turnaround Church Leaders

By Gary McIntosh May. 8, 2012 3:51 p.m. Church Life, Ministry and Leadership


   Ken Priddy, a church redevelopment specialist, points out that there is a difference between a “revitalization pastor” and a “revitalization leader.” According to Dr. Priddy, revitalization pastors tend to see the church as their client. Thus, whatever they do must serve the interests and needs of people already in the church. This means that such pastors view themselves as an employee of the church. And, since they work for the church, the process of revitalization is seen as gaining consensus to take the church where it wants to go. Lastly, a revitalization pastor desires to lead the church with affirmation and joy. Such pastors do not handle criticism well, and they definitely do not want people to leave the church.

  In contrast revitalization leaders believe God is their client. Thus, whatever they do must serve the interests and desires of God rather than church members. They view themselves as leaders who take the church where it does not want to go but needs to go. This most often means they lead without affirmation and often with pain. Revitalization of a local church causes pain. As a wise person once told me, “If you are succeeding without suffering, someone has suffered before you. If you are suffering without succeeding, someone will succeed after you.” It is clear that turning around a church will take a leader rather than a revitalization pastor. Leaders are willing to suffer the pain needed to revitalize a church, while pastors often are not willing to do so.

   So, what are some other aspects of revitalization leaders?

   1. Outgoing personality. Studies have shown that revitalization leaders have an outgoing personality. Using the familiar DiSC personality categories, turnaround leaders are normally either a D or I personality type, but rarely a C or S personality type.

   2. Stay long enough. Revitalization leaders are committed to stay in the church for an extended period of time. Since it normally takes five to seven years to revitalize a church in a city, or ten to fifteen years in a rural community, pastors must be willing to stay in order to see a church turned around.

   3. Takes the initiative. Revitalization leaders are proactive rather than reactive (D's and I's are proactive, while S's and C's are reactive). Revitalization leaders do not wait for a consensus, but take control and set direction.

   4. Cares for the people. While revitalization leaders build a new church, they must also keep the old church in place. They must work from the top-down and the bottom-up, while rallying the people publicly and privately.

   5. Moves fast, slowly. Revitalization leaders take advantage of every opportunity realizing there is no time to wait in a crisis.

   6. Communicates. Secrecy breeds fear. It also signals to people that a leader does not trust them or think they are competent. Revitalization leaders communicate openly and regularly to all, while looking for others who can help.

   7. Lives the mission. Leaders set an example by living out the mission and focusing on what CAN be done rather than what CANNOT be done.

   8. Prays. To a great extent, a fruitful ministry hinges on the heart of the pastor. Remember: If a church is to capture the heart of its community, Christ must first capture the heart of the pastor. Leading a church through a period of revitalization takes a great toll on a pastor's emotional well-being. Remaining whole emotionally, spiritually, and physically is a fundamental necessity for those leading churches in fresh directions. Spiritual disciplines of prayer, rest, quietness are prerequisites for lasting spiritual health. Pastors leading turnaround churches will find their emotional lives taxed to the limit.

   9. Lives a godly life. Terry Walling, an expert in assisting pastors in revitalization, reminds us that, “For churches to transition into a new era of ministry, courageous, godly leadership is paramount.”

   So are you a revitalization pastor or a revitalization leader?



  • Andrew Faris May. 8, 2012 at 10:57 PM

    There is a lot of wisdom in this post, and I agree with the content almost entirely. I might add that it seems to me the revitalization "leaders", in the midst of their long tenures, commit to faithfully preaching the Word. It seems like the week in, week out preaching of God's Word really shapes a church's directions and also can serve to establish credibility (i.e. if a pastor is preaching the text faithfully, then at least some if not most will see that he is committed to God's Word). It's not the only thing you need, but it seems like an important part.

    One critique: it seems strange to use "pastor" as a pejorative and "leader" as a positive. Mostly, it smacks of business-leadership-book language instead of biblical language. I understand why this language has been used in this post, and again, I agree with the overall content. But I wonder how much we need to reclaim and redefine what a biblical pastor is. In particular, the idea that a revitalization pastor has the church (not God) as his client flies almost exactly in the face of what a pastor is called to do in 1 Pet. 5:1-4, where a shepherd is explicitly an under-shepherd of the Great Shepherd.

    So here's my suggestion for more helpful language: let's use "chaplain" as the pejorative term, and "pastor" as a positive term. Doesn't that get at the distinction while retaining the biblical name better? And doesn't that also allow us to fill in the broader call of the pastor (who is surely not <i>just</i> a leader) more fully while also recognizing the importance of the kind of stuff mentioned in this post?

    Andrew Faris

  • Anita Regehr May. 9, 2012 at 11:54 AM

    Andrew, Andrew, Andrew. . . How come you made the "chaplain" the bad guy? I'm thinking "Adjunct" might have been more appropriate!

    Anita Regehr
    Talbot Receptionist
    Wife of Chaplain Chuck

  • Owen Smiley May. 9, 2012 at 12:33 PM

    Thanks for the great post, Dr. McIntosh. Keep 'em coming!

    PS: We just finished reading Taking Your Church to the Next Level in our church's Core leadership team. Very helpful, instructive, and challenging--thank you!

    PPS: CA Mom-ahem, I mean, Anita... I'm scared to write anything more than this because you'll chide me too...

  • Andrew Faris May. 9, 2012 at 11:17 PM


    Because chaplains are the worst people ever. Duh.

    Andrew Faris

    P.S. Just kidding. Chaplains are awesome, especially when people are good at it. It's just a different role than a local church pastor. But even that was just the first term in that way that came to my head. I'm sure someone has a better word. I'm more concerned that we don't use "pastor" as a negative.

  • Gary McIntosh May. 13, 2012 at 8:55 PM

    Yes, maybe we could say "pastoral-leader" and "pastoral-chaplain".

  • Tim May. 16, 2012 at 4:55 PM

    The following may be more prophetic or rebuke and correction, than most believers can handle. If you have ears to hear, then continue..

    I think the whole thing is contrived and flesh driven. Any time one man is the focal point for what a church hears, thinks and does, is a contradiction to what the Bible says a spiritual leader and a body of believers does. It's a contradiction to our identity as a body of many members and one head - Christ. I'll bet this revitalization leader will lecture the saints on being the body of Christ week after week, yet he will never let them be it and do it when he is in the room. He will never model mutuality or any of the one another instructions because he is the Bible lecture expert and has little time for heart to heart discipleship.

    Why should it matter if a church as 75 or 7500 if both churches are going to:
    1. Consume 75 - 85% of their giving to buy buildings and staffing to benefit mostly themselves. (This is considered normal budgeting.)
    2. Gather for worship and only 1 - 3 people dominate the expression of truth and what is sung to benefit the body. Eph. 5:18-20 Heb. 10:24,25
    3. Children are sent to another room so the parents can be "free" of their kids and vs. versa for 99% of church life.
    4. The teaching will never be reproductive. Every believer will need a continual dose of sermons on prayer, reading the Word, obeying Jesus, Bible stories, etc till the day they die. No one will be "fully trained to be like" the teacher. Luke 6:40 (Very rare exceptions to this do occur by accident, not by plan.)
    5. Rates of abortion, promiscuity, porn, divorce, etc will be very close to the same as among unbelievers.
    6. No matter what the preacher says about tithing 10%, the average giving unity will give 2.3%.

    I'll stop there.
    So, what does it matter if there are 75 or 7500 bodies in the building if all of the above is true for both?
    Is one more revitalized than the other?

  • Greg May. 20, 2012 at 4:01 PM

    Helpful post. My church is going through a deeply needed turn around right now. We are very blessed to have a pastor, staff, and congregation that is committed to see the church focused itself back on the Gospel.
    For me, I have been struggling with the idea of the MEGA CHURCH. Seeing thousands come and go without understanding what it means to follow Jesus but in reality the same thing could happen in a small church.
    So, I guess the focus should be whether big or small, the church needs to be focusing on the Word of God and reaching the lost with the Gospel of Jesus Christ.
    Therefore the Pastor should be a servant leader focused his eyes on Jesus and the well being of the souls in his congregation.
    A good example is in 2nd Corinthians 11:28 Paul says, " And, apart from other things, there is the daily pressure on me of my anxiety for all the churches."
    This is how all pastors should think about their congregation and all congregations should be responsible in giving respect and care to their pastors who are carrying such weight for the souls of God's Church.

  • Gary McIntosh May. 23, 2012 at 1:01 AM

    After working with churches for the past 37 years, I've found that God uses ALL sizes of churches to fulfill His purposes in the world. A great number of smaller churches are highly dysfunctional, while most larger churches are healthier than some think. Be sure to read BEYOND MEGACHURCH MYTHS: What We Can Learn from America's Largest Churches (Jossey-Bass Leadership Network Series, 2007) for a solid report on mega churches. You'll be surprised what the research reveals.

  • Tim May. 28, 2012 at 5:02 AM

    God is big on grace and will use many things that contradict what He has asked for. The size of a church, it's budget, it's facilities, it's staff, as far as revelation is concerned, is not the important question. The important question is does the church say and do what revelation specifically calls for. When pulpits and pews are in play, no matter what size, the hard spiritual work of the specific "one another" instructions will be largely minimized and on the back burner, no matter what is claimed or pushed. The bulk of believers will gravitate to the easy performance / expert driven options.

    In our last mega church, a small group expert was hired to push the saints into this dynamic. At the peak, only 25% were showing up for that. When that leader left, it all fell apart. This cycle went around 3 times in 8 years. Even with the best expert team pushing good programs, you will have 80% of the saints stay in consumer mode. That is: 1. I will only connect with people in my little niche of similarity. The hard spiritual work of crossing boundaries is rejected. 2. Do I get anything out of it is what I care about. Putting something it to it is mostly ignored. 3. Is there a dynamic personality who sparks the whole thing. I won't be there for ordinary stuff. 4. I'll try it because the pastor says I should. If I don't like it, I'll slide out. There is almost zero walk with God in any of this. If you only count heads (ignore percentages), and read studies it looks shiny and nice.

    The flesh orientation is staggering. I've experienced it all. It's systemic to believers when they devote 75 - 85% of their "giving" to buy stuff for themselves (considered normal), and average 2.3% giving of their income is all good with God. God's law of the heart says "where your treasure is, there will your heart be also".

    Believers can do better than this, but not if they keep the same system. New lingo, personalities, perks, and nuances of the same old thing will bring in a crowd but not change anything at the heart level or bring reproductivity (discipleship). I think Jesus called this white washing sepulchres. The core must change. Clean the inside of the cup, not the outside.

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