Once upon a time, I was a young, optimistic student pastor appointed to a small Methodist church in Hinson’s Crossroads, Florida. The church, nestled at the end of a paved road that gave way to a winding red clay path, had just 38 members. Despite being told that growth was unlikely, I rolled up my sleeves and got to work. Within two months, attendance had doubled, and spirits were high.

But then, the third month hit like a hurricane. As the congregation swelled, so did the undercurrents of conflict. A heated debate over the location of the water fountain broke out and created a major brouhaha. Some wanted the fountain moved from the front of the sanctuary to the back. Others were adamant that it had always been in the front, why mess with something that wasn’t broken? The fight grew so fierce that every single new member stopped attending, and even one of my most supportive core families walked away, convinced the church was destined to implode (it took a couple years, but in the end, they were right).

The lesson clear to me: growth alone isn’t enough. Without a solid foundation and a unified vision, even the most promising progress can crumble. It’s a story I’ve seen play out in churches across the country, and it begs the question: How can we avoid these pitfalls and cultivate sustainable, healthy growth?

The answer lies in rigorous – dare I say ruthless – self-examination. As Socrates famously said, “The unexamined life is not worth living.” In the context of ministry, I’d put it this way: “An unexamined church is destined for disaster.” Just as doctors conduct post-mortem examinations to understand what went wrong and prevent future tragedies, I believe church leaders must regularly assess their ministries, diagnose problems, and make course-corrections before it’s too late.

That’s where the Ministry Post Mortem Assessment comes in. This powerful tool helps pastors and church leaders take an unflinching look at what worked, what didn’t, and why. By systematically evaluating everything from leadership and resources to expectations and accountability, the assessment provides a roadmap for turning failures into opportunities for growth and transformation.

The Crisis

As a student pastor still in “Preacher School,” back my pre-seminary days, the rapid growth of the church in those first two months was exhilarating. Seeing the congregation double in size felt like a testament to the power of faith and hard work. However, what seemed like a blessing soon showed itself to be a potential curse.

When the conflict over the water fountain location erupted, it caught me completely off guard. As attendance neared the doubling point, an undercurrent of tension had been building, a power struggle bubbling beneath the surface. In my inexperience, I missed all the warning signs.

Honestly, I was devastated by the whole crisis. I considered quitting ministry – obviously, I didn’t have what it took. However, a friend talked me off of the ledge and I began to take stock of the new reality. In the wake of the crisis, I started to realize the critical importance of regularly assessing and evaluating church ministries – not just the growth spurt, but every ministry in the church. I started to develop what would eventually become the Ministry Post Mortem Assessment, a tool designed to help church leaders learn from their failures and prevent the same mistakes from happening again.

Looking back, what I came to call The Failure Continuum, a key component of the assessment, would have been invaluable in diagnosing the issues I faced at the Panhandle church (see the illustration below). By providing a framework for understanding where the primary cause of failure lies, whether it’s with leadership, resources, or external circumstances, the continuum helps leaders pinpoint problem areas and develop targeted solutions.


The experience at the Panhandle church also drove home a powerful lesson for me: growth alone isn’t enough. Without a solid foundation of unity, communication, shared vision, and competent leadership, even the most promising progress can crumble. This realization would go on to inform my approach to ministry and shape the development of the Post Mortem Assessment as a tool for fostering healthy, sustainable growth.

The Reflection

As I matured and got more experience in ministry, I came to realize that the challenges I faced weren’t unique. Many pastors and church leaders find themselves in similar situations, grappling with unexpected conflicts and setbacks that threaten to derail their ministry. Back then, I felt isolated and unsure of where to turn for guidance. I reached out to my district superintendent, but in hindsight, I suspect he wasn’t entirely surprised by the church’s implosion, and he had little to add to the situation.

This experience planted a seed in my mind, one that would eventually grow into a passion for coaching and mentoring other pastors. I wanted to be the kind of support system I wished I had during those difficult times – someone who could help leaders navigate the treacherous waters of church growth and conflict, learning from their failures and emerging stronger on the other side.

As I began to develop the Ministry Post Mortem Assessment, I was guided by a fundamental principle I learned from John Maxwell: Everything really does rise and fall on leadership. While congregations have their own unique cultures and members have minds of their own, a leader’s awareness (or lack thereof) of the causes of ministry failure can make all the difference. It’s easy to fall into the trap of playing the blame game, but in the vast majority of cases (and I mean VAST Majority), ministry failure is a leadership problem. This doesn’t necessarily mean bad leadership, but rather misapplied leadership or leadership in a misguided direction.

Looking back, if I had been aware of the potential effects of rapidly growing a church, I could have better prepared myself and the congregation’s key leaders for the inevitable pushback. We could have weathered the conflict over the water fountain location and moved forward rather than watching helplessly as new members and core families walked away.

This realization poured gasoline on my desire to become a student of church growth, leadership, and sociology. By understanding the complex dynamics at play within congregations and being able to predict the likely outcomes of various actions, I knew I could better equip myself and other leaders to handle the challenges of ministry. The Ministry Post Mortem Assessment was born out of this desire – a tool to help pastors and church leaders diagnose problems, learn from failures, and chart a course for healthy, sustainable growth.

The Application

As I’ve shared the lessons learned from my own experiences and the development of the Ministry Post Mortem Assessment with other pastors and church leaders, I’ve seen the power of this tool firsthand. For many, the assessment serves as an eye-opener, revealing the true causes of ministry failure and challenging long-held assumptions.

As I suggested earlier, one of the hardest truths to face is that most ministry failures can be traced back to leadership issues. Whether it’s putting the wrong person in a leadership role, failing to adequately prepare and support leaders, or trying to empower “leaders” who are more focused on doing than leading, these factors are at the root of most struggling ministries. It’s a difficult pill to swallow, but understanding this reality is crucial for anyone seeking to build and grow an effective church. And with apologies in advance, pastor, too often the crux of the matter falls at your feet.

When pastors and church leaders use the Ministry Post Mortem Assessment, they start off getting some serious insights into their own leadership and the health of their ministries. But knowledge isn’t enough – it’s what you do with that knowledge that counts. The assessment provides a framework for applying these insights, making necessary adjustments to leadership approaches, ministry strategies, and even personnel decisions.

I regularly advise pastors who are facing ministry challenges to start by taking a step back and honestly assessing their situation using the Post Mortem Assessment. It’s an opportunity to gain clarity, identify areas for improvement, and develop a plan of action. By embracing this process of reflection and learning, leaders can transform even the most difficult situations into opportunities for growth and renewal.

Of course, the Ministry Post Mortem Assessment is not a silver bullet. It’s a tool that requires a willingness to engage in self-examination, to ask tough questions, and to make changes when necessary. But for those who are committed to leading thriving, impactful ministries, it can be a game-changer.

Ultimately, the goal is to help pastors and church leaders break free from the cycle of ministry failure and frustration. By taking the time to stop, evaluate, and reflect on their experiences – both successes and failures – they can chart a new course toward healthy, sustainable growth. It’s a journey that requires courage, humility, and a willingness to learn, but the rewards are well worth the effort.

Getting Clarity

Ultimately, one lesson stands out above all others: the importance of clarity in roles and responsibilities. In many churches – most?! – there’s a lot of confusion surrounding the roles of the pastor, the board, the staff, ministry leaders, and the congregation as a whole. This lack of clarity lies at the heart of many ministry failures as leaders struggle to navigate the complex dynamics of church life.

I’ve come to understand that ministry failure is almost always a personnel issue – a leadership issue. As Jim Collins famously wrote in his book Good to Great, it’s about getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats. But for too many pastors and churches, this is easier said than done. Without effective mentorship and coaching, the tools and strategies needed to build and lead a thriving ministry can seem out of reach.

That’s why I believe that all leaders, regardless of their experience or expertise, need a coach. Not just occasionally, but continuously. We need someone to hold us accountable, to keep us focused on our mission and vision, and to help us navigate the many landmines that litter the path of ministry leadership.

As I’ve worked with pastors and church leaders over the years, I’ve seen how easy it is to fall into the trap of living from crisis to crisis – playing an endless game of whack-a-mole with the problems that pop up in ministry. When we succumb to this mindset, we fail to take the time to step back, reflect, and assess what’s really going on. We make hasty judgments based on incomplete information, and we miss the opportunity to learn and grow from our experiences.

If I could go back and give my younger self one piece of advice, it would be this: get a coach, and stay in communication with them. Not just any coach, but a true mentor – someone who has walked the path before you and can offer wisdom, guidance, and support along the way. A coach who will challenge you to be your best self, to confront the hard truths, and to keep growing in your faith and your leadership.

And So …

The journey of ministry leadership is not for the faint of heart. It’s a path marked by challenges, setbacks, and failures. But as I’ve learned through my own experiences, from the struggles at the Panhandle church to the insights gained through years of coaching and mentoring, these failures are not the end of the story. They are opportunities for growth, for learning, and for transformation.

The Ministry Post Mortem Assessment is a powerful tool in this process of self-reflection and leadership development. By providing a framework for evaluating the health of our ministries and identifying areas for improvement, it helps us move beyond the blame game and take ownership of our roles as leaders. It challenges us to confront the hard truths, to seek out the wisdom and guidance of others, and to keep pushing forward in our mission to serve Christ and his church.

So take the assessment. Embrace the journey. And trust in the God who has called you to this great and noble work. Together, we can learn from our failures, celebrate our successes, and keep pressing on toward the goal of building thriving, impactful churches that transform lives and communities for the glory of Christ.

Get the Ministry Post Mortem Assessment here … and it’s free, just in case you were wondering.