top of page

The Passively Imbalanced Pastor

Pastors are generally passively imbalanced. Many of us didn’t get into ministry as a means to exercise our dynamic behavioral traits. Most of us chose ministry because we love people, we love Jesus and we love pointing people to Jesus. We also intensely/profoundly love books. We love the Word of God and deep theological teaching. We love terms and their full-bodied definitions. Some could say our vocational breadth is quite narrow—we could be a pastor or a librarian. Pastors are generally passively imbalanced.

My statement is not based on opinion. It is what my doctoral thesis discovered using the Harrison Suitability Assessment (HSA). You can download the full copy of my thesis, “The Traits and Characteristics of Pastors who Collaborate in Mission” here. The HSA is different from other assessments. Most assessments, like the Myers Briggs and DISC assessments, study personality traits. The HSA focuses on behaviors. Personality is mostly static and set. Behaviors can change over time.

The Harrison Suitability Assessment (HSA) has a high degree of content validity because it measures a wide range of factors (156 traits) including motivations, personality traits, interests, work values, and work preferences. Consequently, there will be 30-40 factors that will have a relationship to job performance for any specific profession, including the pastoral vocation. This range of items is much broader than any other assessment I encountered in my doctoral thesis research.

The HSA is made up of two primary theories: The Performance Enjoyment Theory and The Paradox Theory. The Performance Enjoyment Theory asserts that certain jobs require certain behaviors. If you love demonstrating the behaviors a job requires, you’ll likely receive positive feedback and continue to display those behaviors. The theory also works in the opposite direction. If the job requires behaviors you dislike or lack proficiency at performing, you’ll most likely experience more negative feedback. In turn, you’ll enjoy the job less.

Do not despair, pastor. There is no more complex job description than that of a local pastor. You’re not only called to be an extraordinary communicator. You’re also called to provide strategic direction for the ministry, handle congregational conflict with grace, marry, bury, baptize, counsel, consult, and be there at a moment’s notice for the sick and dying. No one person can fulfill the average pastor’s job description. The HSA shows the “Life Themes” that fill you up. Let the congregation know what you really enjoy doing. Then, build teams around the job descriptions you don’t enjoy doing but that must still be done to spread the Gospel. You do not have to handle all of the ministry alone. Develop others to help you with ministry (Ephesians 4:11ff). The Performance Enjoyment Theory could help you toward that end.

The Performance Enjoyment Theory is quite easy to understand. It reminds many people of the Strengthsfinder assessment. The HSA’s second theory, The Paradox Theory, is more nuanced. The Paradox Theory asserts that combination traits are necessary for the well-rounded leader. For example, the characteristics of “frank” and “diplomatic” are combination traits. “Frank” is an aggressive trait. “Diplomatic” is a passive trait. Forthright diplomacy displays balanced relational versatility. For instance, if a person or group is behaving in an overly diplomatic manner, worried about what others are thinking, the balanced leader should be able to respond in a frank and forthright manner. The opposite is true. If a person or group is overly frank, bordering on rude, the balanced leader will respond in a diplomatic manner.

Now this gets interesting and applicable. As stated above, American pastors of all denominations are passively imbalanced. My doctoral thesis of 33 active LCMS pastors displayed the same. This fact should not surprise or cause shame. Only Jesus is perfectly balanced with dynamic and passive behavioral traits.

The HSA measures traits on a 2-10 continuum. 2 is low and 10 is high. Scores in the 8-9 range display traits that the individual loves to perform. Scores in the 4-2 range display traits the individual will most likely not perform. The “managing stress well” score is key to understanding the Paradox Theory. The average “manages stress well” score among American pastors is 3.2. Pastors struggle handling stress. Let’s be honest—pastoring is a stressful job.

Follow me here. The Paradox Theory states that if an individual is passively imbalanced with

a low “managing stress well” score then the likelihood of a passive-aggressive “flip” occurring increases. Passive-aggressive behavior becomes the norm in a stressed system. I have observed the LCMS culture my entire life. I’ve often wondered why pastors were unlikely to partner with one another to expand the Gospel. I’ve often wondered why we struggled to create an environment where dynamic leaders could thrive. The HSA research gave me one explanation. Too many pastors are passively behaviorally imbalanced, manage stress poorly, and in stressful situations flip to uncharacteristic passive-aggressive behavior. This pattern does not invite dynamically imbalanced lay leaders to partner in the Gospel. The pastor’s insecure flip in stress almost subconsciously tells dynamic and missionally driven lay leaders, “This is my job. Do not do what I am called to do.”

So what can leaders within the LCMS do? Invite their current and future pastors to take the Harrison Suitability Assessment and use the collaboration and mission profile set I developed for my thesis. Email us at to set up an appointment.

LCMS leaders could use the HSA to find balanced circuit visitors who set space for shared collaboration in mission. In general, the HSA will help pastors identify their passive and dynamic leadership traits and build complementary leadership teams that are collectively strong where the pastor is weak. Pastors of all Christian churches should be encouraged to identify ways area churches can unite in mission. This could include smaller churches sharing staff, collaborating in sermon writing, and sharing central operations functions such as marketing and human resources.

Imagine if the Christian church started to see themselves as one church on mission to make Jesus known in their community. Imagine if churches truly internalized and acted on Jesus’ words in John 17: “The glory that you have given me I have given to them, that they may be one even as we are one, I in them and you in me, that they may become perfectly one, so that the world may know that you sent me and loved them even as you loved me.”

Pastors of all denominations who collaborate in mission could unite to accomplish such a mission and heed the clarion call of Jesus to “go and make disciples of all nations.” Brothers and sisters in Christ, now is the time to take action together on behalf of the lost. The days are short. “He who is the faithful witness to all these things says, ‘Yes, I am coming soon!’ Amen! Come, Lord Jesus! May the grace of the Lord Jesus be with God’s holy people.”

The ULC is here to help you discover your strengths and build complimentary team members to accomplish Christ’s mission!

182 views1 comment

1 Comment

Excellent analysis Tania! Well done! I hope that pastors book appointments with your team. It would be well worth their time.

bottom of page