What Pastors learn from ANE kings …

There’s a “gotcha” in the Bible’s term for the person your church calls to do the preaching, run day-to-day operations, and superintend the church’s ministry to its members and its mission field.


The New Testament uses four words for the church’s spiritual leaders: “elder,”1 “overseer,”2 “shepherd,”3 and “teacher”.4 They all refer to the same person. We see this in Peter’s admonition that his “fellow elders” must “shepherd” (verb form) and “exercise oversight” (verb form of “overseer”).5 When Paul summoned elders,6 calling them overseers7 he told them to “shepherd”8 the church, which he referred to as “the flock.”9

That’s the “gotcha.”

When the modern English reader – separated from the New Testament world by several thousand years, by language, and by a very foreign culture – reads these terms we immediately and unthinkingly associate the term “pastor” with someone who tends livestock.

In contexts about leading and governing the church, that is not the first thing that would have occurred to people in Bible times. The word “shepherd” has a rich history that includes a much larger and more important meaning than one who takes care of sheep.

Lexical history of “Shepherd”

Groundbreaking research almost ready…


Why are a small percentage of pastors (about 10%) adept at leading plateaued and declining churches into renewal and growth while most are not? Can other pastors lead more effectively by learning from their colleagues?

Those are the questions we’ve been studying the last several years.

In this groundbreaking research we’ve identified many important, statistically significant differences between turnaround pastors and nonturnaround pastors. “Statistically significant” means our findings are reliable – they’re consistent and reproducible – and valid – we’ve measured what we intended to measure. A professional statistician confirms our findings.

Here’s a taste of what will be in the book.

What is God’s intention for pastors?

A personal story – one that has the happy fortune of also being true! – illuminates why pastors and churches find it hard to answer this question. The sad reality is although the answer is clear in the Bible, no one likes what they find there.

I didn’t see the ambush for myself. I got wind of it over the grapevine.

I knew this would be a tough church when I accepted the assignment. It had been in decline for decades. The facilities were a tired, shabby architectural oddity. The departing pastor left under a cloud of bewildered discouragement. The worship music teetered between uninspiring and amateurish. There had been no baptisms or conversions in years.

And many of the members thought everything was just dandy.

In retrospect it became clear that their idea of a turnaround amounted to polishing the doorknobs, spraying the weeds around the parking lot, and waiting for the community to stream in to help keep the doors open.

Had I known then what I know now, my change leadership style would have been very different. But, as the old Yiddish proverb goes, “too soon old, too late smart.” Fortunately, managed to cut the agitators from the rest of the heard, avoid the ambush and press on.

That church was my introduction to the art of managing resistance while leading change. It was painful. It was humbling. It was maddening. It the learning experience of a lifetime. I learned three lessons that have shaped my ministry ever since.

  1. Churches don’t want their pastors to lead; they want them to manage.
  2. Leadership isn’t a recipe, a checklist or a series of steps; it is a mindset.
  3. Churches don’t want to change; they want the status quo to keep working.

It is my conviction that problems in leadership and change are at the heart of the crisis in the American Church. They aren’t the only factors. But they are, humanly speaking, in our control that can guides us out of the crisis.

In this post I’d like to begin consideration of the historical and biblical data that lead to an inescapable conclusion: God intends pastors to lead.

“Pastor” is a strong leadership term

Every sermon must include this

Preachers are never lacking in what to preach. Topical and verse-by-verse preachers share the same library of 66 books. Every page is filled with stuff to preach.

But sometimes we lose sight of why we’re preaching.


  • Expository preachers think they’re supposed to preach the geek stuff.
  • Topical preachers think they’re supposed to make the Bible relevant.
  • Series preachers think they’re supposed to grip the unchurched with practical advice.

Strike three. Expository, topical and series preachers whiff this one.

Too bad, because the Bible tells us the objective of preaching – our why: to prepare and motivate Christian people for active service in behalf of Jesus Christ!

2 Timothy 3:16-17 puts it this way:

16 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, 17 that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work.

  • “Information” and “knowledge” aren’t foremost.
  • In fact, they aren’t even listed.
  • Scripture is used for four instructive purposes.
  • The objective is maturity and service!

Ephesians 4:11-16 puts it this way:

11 And he gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the shepherds and teachers, 12 to equip the saints for the work of ministry, for building up the body of Christ, 13 until we all attain to the unity of the faith and of the knowledge of the Son of God, to mature manhood, to the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ, 14 so that we may no longer be children, tossed to and fro by the waves and carried about by every wind of doctrine, by human cunning, by craftiness in deceitful schemes. 15 Rather, speaking the truth in love, we are to grow up in every way into him who is the head, into Christ, 16 from whom the whole body, joined and held together by every joint with which it is equipped, when each part is working properly, makes the body grow so that it builds itself up in love.

Notice what the text actually says:

  • shepherds / teachers are given for a purpose.
  • That purpose is to equip believers to do the ministry.
  • When shepherds and people do their job, good things happen.
  1. Unity of faith and knowledge
  2. A mature church
  3. Immune to false doctrine
  4. Truth, love and spiritual growth
  5. The church grows

If the “appeal to authority” matters to you, consider what Thielman has to say on this matter.1

The notion of equipping or preparing, in the sense of making someone adequate or sufficient for something, best suits the context. However, it does require an object: people are prepared for some purpose. That purpose is for the work of ministry”, an activity of the saints for which the leaders are to prepare and equip them. Christ has given “special ministers” so that they will “make God’s people fully qualified,” thus enabling them to serve their Lord by serving one another.

Preaching isn’t the only tool in the pastor’s toolbox. But the descriptors in v. 11 are clear that teaching is one of the primary tools to equip believers to minister.2

Bottom Line

Your people should expect and you should be preaching sermons that enlist them in and make them ready for the Lord’s service.3


  1. Thielman, Frank. Ephesians. Baker Exegetical Commentary on the New Testament, 303-4. 
  2. Whether you read “the pastors and teachers” as a compound term (the pastor-teacher) or as two duties of the single office (shepherding and teaching), the point is the same. 
  3. Additional means may include personal instruction, coaching, live demonstration, “watch one, do one, teach one” and other training methods. 

5 Leadership Lessons Learned By Disappointing Others

Life’s most important lessons are often the costliest. They may cost suffering. They may cost time. They may cost failure. They may cost loss. They may cost loneliness. Some even cost money.


Life has taught me some hard lessons.

  • God will provide when the cupboard’s empty and the paycheck stopped coming in.
  • You will recover and life goes on after the death of a loved one.
  • Your biggest fans might be the people who bait the trap.
  • Sometimes “I’m praying for you” means “I wish you’d straight up and fly right.”
  • Purpose is waiting to be discovered when we’re feeling useless or purposeless.
  • Praise and affirmation doesn’t survive until Monday morning.

Learning leadership lessons can be especially troubling. For me the lessons included frustration, aggravation, bewilderment and disappointment.

Among my most valued leadership lessons is the wisdom I gained by disappointing others.

The backstory

The trait good mentors look for in pastors they coach



Humility is not thinking less of yourself, but thinking of yourself less.

  • C. S. Lewis

Humility expresses itself in a teachable spirit. Something the coach can work with to help the pastor achieve personal and professional performance levels he couldn’t have dreamed of on his own.

  • Eager to listen.
  • Ready to admit fault
  • Sober awareness of strengths and skills
  • Willing to take direction.
  • Hungry to improve.
  • Thinking about themselves less so they can focus on the task at hand.

These traits make it possible for us, as pastors, to think about ourselves less so we can think more clearly about what is best for the church we serve. But most of us (pastors) find it hard to think clearly about our churches.  There are lots of reasons why.

  • We’re flying too close to the flame
  • Our egos and sense of self-worth are involved
  • A paycheck – and our ability to feed the family – might be in jeopardy
  • Our feelings of inadequacy and failure draw focus to ourselves rather than the church

So we become isolated and lonely. We’re mystified about the real problems in our churches. We’re clueless about what really ought to be done.

Is it any wonder pastors are burning out at record rates.1

Pastor, you need support, personally – to say the least – and professionally.

But where do we find the help and support we need? Its hard to know who to approach. Who do you talk to about what’s happening (or not happening) in your church? Elders, staff, and trusted advisers may be helpful, but they may be too close to the problem. But a coach (or mentor or counselor – pick your own term) who is outside the church can fill a crucial role.

But here is the challenge: Getting a coach takes humility.

It means being vulnerable, asking for help to see things more clearly and to see yourself more realistically.  But it’s more than worth the risk.  Humble yourself, and God will lift you up.  (James 4:10)  And God may raise up a coach to do this.

4 reasons you need a coach.

The foolish pastor’s guide to self-worth

They couldn’t have been more wrong.

They thought they were all that and a bag of chips because they did well on a task they’d been given. They figured the Boss would be all over them with praise.

They were walking on clouds.

But they missed it by a mile because they bought into the lie that their value hinged on their production. Here’s the story:

This is how turnaround pastors lead

They lead like Dwight Eisenhower, Omar Bradley and George Marshall led the invasion of Nazi Europe. They trust their team. They give freedom to innovate. They expect others to speak candidly. They listen.

The Generals listened before deciding

Soon after Allied forces stormed the beaches of Normandy in June of 1944, the American advance stalled in France’s infamous hedgerows. Hedgerows were several feet of packed soil topped by tall brush and vines. Tanks cresting the hedgerows exposed their vulnerable underbelly to devastating anti-tank weapons.

The Allied invasion soon fell behind schedule due to tenacious Nazi defense of the hedgerows. Michael Stallard continues the story (source):

One day in a discussion between officers and enlisted men, the idea arose of mounting saw teeth on the front of the Sherman tank. Many of those present laughed at the suggestion. One soldier, however, took the idea seriously. Sergeant Curtis G. Culin, a cab driver from Chicago, immediately designed and built a hedgerow cutting device made from pieces of steel rail that the Nazis had strewn across the beaches to slow down an amphibious attack. When tested, the new device easily sliced through the hedgerows…..

Within days of testing the Rhinos, the idea was presented to General Omar Bradley, head of the First Army. In short order, he attended a demonstration of the Rhino tank and immediately ordered 500 of Culin’s devices. Within two weeks, sixty percent of the First Army’s Sherman tanks were modified into Rhinos. With the Rhinos the First Army were able to proceed through the hedgerow country in time to crush the Nazi army.

Curtis Culin’s innovation might not have occurred had it not been for a chain of command consisting of Generals Omar Bradley, Dwight D. Eisenhower and George C. Marshall, each of whom gave the soldiers under his command the freedom to share and test ideas.

This is how turnaround pastors lead.

Note: What follows is an excerpt from our upcoming book about the distinguishing characteristics and best practices of effective turnaround pastors.

Turnaround Pastors are Collaborative Decision-makers

How Pastors Lead Beyond Their Limits

It was far beyond his abilities.

It was the toughest church he would ever serve.

Note: This is an excerpt from our upcoming book about the distinguishing characteristics and best practices of effective turnaround pastors.

His mentor, who suggested he take the church, had warned him that it was rife with false doctrine, preoccupied with biblical trivia, committed to legalism that wholly misapplied Old Testament Law, and was dominated by two hypocritical liars who threatened to ruin the faith of many others. Even the man who planted the church knew trouble would crop up when he left.

The church was a mess. So was the city where it was located. A wealthy, godless cosmopolitan center of government, culture, trade, military, and finance – it was the regional center of every ungodly idolatrous passion that wages war for the human soul. Christians and Jews alike had run afoul of trouble there on more than one occasion.

He was the unlikeliest person imaginable to lead a church as tough as this one.

He was quite young to be stepping in to lead a well-established, troubled congregation. Although he had a bit of ministry experience under his belt, it was all in subordinate roles under direct supervision. He’d finished a few stints on his own, but they were short term, narrowly focused projects. He was bookish, often preferring to retire from the vigor of sharp elbows and sharper debate for the quiet of the study. His health seemed fragile at times and, although we can’t be sure, he may have been given to self-doubt.

Not the sort of person you’d send into the fray to straighten things out, instruct people how to manage their households and their finances, and to exercise church discipline when it was called for. If ever there was a minister called to lead beyond his limits, it was him. His name was Timothy.

How did he pull it off?

Help Us Help Your Pastor

Chances are you’re in a church that’s on the plateau, or on the down hill slide. The chances are great, in fact. 85% of the churches in America are either stuck on the dime or they’re in a death spiral.

It takes a special kind of pastor to turn these churches around. But those pastors are few and far between.

That is why churches are closing left and right. Thousands of once vibrant congregations turn off the lights, close the doors and quit every year.

That’s why most pastors – when you can get them to open up and share their real “stuff” – are discouraged. They feel like failures because, no matter how hard they try, it just isn’t enough.


Even pastors of churches that seem to be thriving struggle with discouragement, depression and thoughts about quitting the ministry. Despite desperate prayers, long hours of hard work and every trick in the book, they’re stuck. They’ve tried everything. Nothing’s worked.

  • They’ve prayed and fasted
  • They’ve scoured the scriptures
  • They’ve sought wisdom and counsel
  • They’ve been to the seminars and conferences
  • They’ve read all the books
  • They’ve worked with a coach

And what do they have to show for all that effort?


  • Lots of useless notes
  • Stacks of three-ring binders that will never be opened again
  • A shelf full of books that promise to make it rain
  • An arm load of files filled with “must do” projects
  • A discouraged congregation
  • Desperate feelings of fear and failure
  • Thoughts about quitting

Where does a desperate, discouraged pastor turn when nothing else has worked?



How do we know that we can help when all else has failed?

  • Our research has discovered statistically reliable data about pastors who have and can lead turnarounds.

  • We have pinpointed the distinctive practices and behaviors that characterize how turnaround pastors conduct themselves and their ministries.

  • We have developed effective ways to teach discouraged pastors how lead church turnarounds.



I was cynical about what another test could tell me after all the testing I had gone through in the process of becoming ordained, but I was pleasantly surprised at how accurate and applicable the results from the Birkman were. Most other tests either identify problem areas or areas of interest. The Birkman helped me to understand better how some of my stress behaviors could affect my effectiveness in ministry (and we all know that there are stresses in ministry). I also gained additional insight into why certain aspects of my work were so fulfilling and others so challenging for me. Overall I felt the Birkman test results combined with coaching from Rev. Dr. Gary Westra allowed me to be my best in ministry.

Rev. Rebekah Schmidt
Still Waters United Methodist Church

As Bud Brown and his partners invested in me, I received an amazing encouragement and clarity in direction for my leadership. I had ended up in a difficult church, but in the midst of the turmoil their findings helped me to hold on to who I am and emphasize the strengths that are crucial to successfully lead a turnaround church forward. I’m truly thankful to these guys, and I hope that I get to have their continued involvement in my ministry!

Rev. Pontus Karsund
Desert Sun Baptist

Gary and Gordon, you have been a delight and a beacon of light for us this week. Thank you for giving of yourself and your knowledge, in this new adventure. We are honored to have been “pioneers!” with you.

Dr. Esther Cottrell
Associate Director, Ohio Ministries Church of God

“TAP Bootcamp was awesome! Every pastor of a plateaued or struggling church would benefit greatly from this. I understand my mission, and know myself way better than before. It has been an eye-opening, intense, and immensely helpful experience for my ministry. Don’t miss it!”

Scott Hodge, Sr. Pastor
Landmark First Church of God

“Thanks for a great week. The time with you and Gary was life-changing! This was awesome. I wish I had known this stuff years ago. It would have saved me so much grief in my ministry.”

Drew W.,Pastor from Ohio

I am new to being a Senior Pastor. Even though I have been involved in the ministry for over 30 years; as a Chaplain’s Assistant in the military, as an Associate Pastor for over 11 years, and now as a Senior Pastor for two years, I thought I had a pretty good resource of tools in my tool belt. I couldn’t have been more naive. I attended a Pastor’s Bootcamp and my eyes were opened.

So, many things were taught during this time. The Birkman Assessment, and the numerous reports that help us in areas that we didn’t realize we needed assistance with. Now I am receiving some coaching, have a mentor, and I am involved in Cluster Groups with other ministers that attended the Bootcamp to continue to grow as a spiritual mature Christian.

I have learned so much, I am anxiously awaiting to the follow-up Pastor’s Bootcamp in a years time. God Bless those that are a part of this wonderful ministry.

Pastor Harold Boyd
First Church Of God Norfolk

State Men’s Ministry President

“Thanks for a great week. The time with you and Gary was life-changing! This was awesome. I wish I had known this stuff years ago. It would have saved me so much grief in my ministry.”

Drew W.
Pastor from Ohio

I had an amazing week. Thanks for your time. I know time is one thing we never get back and I am certain your time and the time of the other brothers and sisters will reap a generous harvest. What strikes me about you is your passion. I don’t see that in people I am around.

Duane B.
Pastor from Indiana

I have already been sharing with those who are willing to listen and the response has been favorable . . .One fact I was reminded of this week: The church is the only organization in the world that does not exist for its own members. I am truly excited about the future of our church and feel more equipped to tackle some of the tough challenges that lie ahead, including a couple of bullies.

David D
Pastor from Ohio

We know it works. Pastors have proven it works. The research is solid, the results are reliable and reproducible.


Now it’s time to roll our findings out to the rest of the world. Our vision is to train 100,000 pastors to become turnaround leaders in the next 10 years.

The next milestone toward our goal is to write the book. And that’s where we need your help

So far we’ve done everything out of our own pockets. Recruited the subjects. Gathered the data. Run the analyses. Paid for the statisticians. And we’ve done it out of our own pockets.

But writing the book is beyond our means. It is going to take six months’ of devoted effort from all three of us. We will have to forsake a regular paycheck. That will give us time to write and publish our book.

But we need still need to put beans and tortillas on the table. Oh, and paying those utility bills would be nice, too.

So we need to raise $35,000 ASAP. This will enable us to finish the book before the end of the year.

Join us in this important ministry to pastors by hitting our GoFundMe page!

Will you help pastors who desperately need it?