Innovative Churches Have Pastors with a Healthy Curiosity

Curious BoyThere are some really boring pastors out there. Boring pastors of bored churches.

At least I assume so, because I’ve heard the tales from their church members – usually former church members.

But, despite all the stories, I haven’t actually met many boring pastors.

Because boring pastors tend not to hang out with other pastors. They don’t come to conferences. They don’t read books or blogs. They don’t do much of anything, because they lack one vital ingredient that’s found in pastors who are always open to new ideas and vibrant relationships. A healthy curiosity.

(To be fair, that’s not the only reason many pastors don’t read the latest books or go to conferences. Many Small Church pastors would read the latest books if they could afford them, and most bivocational pastors would go to conferences if they could get the time off. They’re not the boring ones. They’re the unsung heroes.)


No Easy Answers

I’ve spent a lot of time hanging out with pastors in my three-plus decades in ministry. Not to mention being raised in a pastor’s home before that.

In the last couple of years, because of writing The Grasshopper Myth and blogging at, I’ve had opportunities to meet a whole lot more. From a wonderfully wide variety of denominations and faith traditions.

I’ve celebrated with pastors of thriving, healthy churches. I’ve offered whatever help I could to struggling churches. And I’ve cried and prayed with pastors of churches whose situation seems hopeless without direct divine intervention.

Sometimes the pastor is to blame for a failing church. Sometimes he or she was dropped into a toxic environment that seems all but unfixable. There are innumerable factors that go into why some churches get healthy, innovative and thrive, while others stay sick, stuck and dying.

None of the answers are as easy or obvious as many blogs (including mine) may lead us to believe. And size has nothing to do with it.

But I’ve discovered one often-overlooked factor that is absent in most churches that are stuck and stagnant, yet is almost always present in healthy, innovative churches.

A pastor with a healthy curiosity.

Here’s why.


Pastors WITHOUT a Healthy Curiosity…

  • Lack a passion for learning and growing (numerically and spiritually)
  • Are stuck in the past
  • Repeat the same themes, illustrations and ideas
  • Talk more than they listen 
  • Judge others too quickly
  • Never lose an argument – even though they argue a lot
  • Condemn new ideas before giving them a fair try, or…
  • Follow trends without knowing why
  • Are busy, but not productive
  • Wear out their welcome
  • Are boring

Are always complaining about (take your pick)

  • Shallow megachurches
  • Out-of-touch Small Churches
  • Disrespectful youth
  • New musical styles
  • Their denominational leaders
  • Their deacons
  • Lack of revival
  • and more


Pastors WITH a Healthy Curiosity…

  • Have a joyful spirit
  • Are OK with unanswered questions
  • Are comfortable saying “I don’t know”, “I’m sorry” and “I was wrong” when they need to
  • Are willing to learn from people they disagree with
  • Change their minds when they’ve been wrong
  • Are fun to be around
  • Attract great people to the team
  • Draw fresh ideas from a wide variety of sources and experiences
  • Go against the prevailing current when necessary
  • Put truth ahead of politics, denominationalism and ideology
  • Like working with people who are smarter than they are
  • Become more fun and interesting the more you know them
  • Look to solve problems instead of complaining about them
  • Are great mentors and teachers, because they’re avid learners

We Attract People Who Are Like Us

After a while, people start looking like their leaders.

As the late church consultant Norm Shawchuck used to say, “If you’ve been the pastor of your church for five years or longer, it’s time to stop blaming your predecessors, your circumstances and your congregation. Like it or not, after five years, your church looks like you.”

Pastors without a healthy curiosity will see their negative attitudes duplicated in the rest of the church (those that choose to stay, that is). Inevitably, their negativity becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Pastors with a healthy curiosity also attract like-minded people, so they are far more likely to end up with healthy, innovative churches filled with curious, fun, passionate, interesting, problem-solvers like themselves.

Curious how that works, isn’t it?


So what do you think? What other characteristics do pastors with a healthy curiosity display?

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(Curious Boy photo from David Carroll • Flickr • Creative Commons license)

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6 thoughts on “Innovative Churches Have Pastors with a Healthy Curiosity”

  1. Robert Van House

    I like this article and only wish there is a cure for not being curious. Only God can do miracles. Maybe that is the answer, if a non-curious wants it.

  2. The intellectual quality called curiosity has a moral counterpart called humility. I see them both in some pastors I work with. The best outcomes in my consulting have all been with men and women who are both curious and humble. Your outline of their temperament is spot on.

  3. Agree with your observations. It’s almost impossible for those who set under someone’s ministry for any length of time to not reflect some of the illumination,good or bad, that they have been exposed to.
    Keep sharing, God Bless, Woody

  4. “As the pastor goes so goes the church” is a scary thought sometimes! But I encourage fellow pastors to take an honest look. Sometimes the problem is not the pastor but a wave of negative momentum that happens for all kinds of reasons. Like in football, the coach gets the blame sometimes, but is it always the coach’s fault? It is important to figure out what part of the problem is me and what part of the problem is out of my control. When things are not good we just have to “keep showing up” to do what God has called us to do! Just sayin’

  5. Non-profit fundraisers all know the beauty of a “new idea” to attract donations. Witness the “Ice bucket challenge” for ALS. $160 million and a new drug brought to market in 2 months instead of years.
    Okay—we church-hoppers all know the problems. Let’s share now the successes and new ideas. After all, we are made in God’s image and God is the Creating Holy.

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