The Advantage: 3. What Do We Do?

We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.

Lencioni spends very little time on this one, but I suspect it’s because he mainly works with businesses.

He suggests that the organization should, in plain, simple terms, state what it does. A car maker might say, “We design, build, and sell motor vehicles.” Simple, right? Except for many churches.

He lists as an example from a Catholic church —

“We provide Sacraments, outreach services, counseling, and religious education for people in our parish.”

How many Churches of Christ would say, “We provide sacraments” or “We provide baptism and communion” as a definition of what it does? Well, not many. It would be true, but that’s not quite how we see ourselves.

Most would follow the mainstream, evangelical answer, “We offer worship services, classes, and services to the community.” But how many would say, “We work within God’s mission to bring the Kingdom in its fullness”? Or even “We introduce the lost to Jesus”?

Maybe we should say, “We affirm our members in ways that avoid stepping on toes and keep them attending and giving.”

I don’t know. Maybe that was a bit cynical. I just don’t see many churches who would define what they do as “working with the Spirit to transform believers into the very image of God.” Like most other denominations, we’re more about providing a range of services. We’re selling rather than compelling.

Therefore, to me, this may be the hardest step of all, because it’s just so very difficult to escape our American consumer culture and define what we do in terms that sound different from Wal-Mart.

Ask some members of your church — leaders included — what it is that your church does. Ask them to answer simply — just as simple as Ford saying “We make and sell cars.” I’ll bet 95% of the answers come back in terms of what services we offer to the members — rather than what we do for God.

And that’s  problem.

Profile photo of Jay Guin

About Jay F Guin

My name is Jay Guin, and I’m a retired elder. I wrote The Holy Spirit and Revolutionary Grace about 18 years ago. I’ve spoken at the Pepperdine, Lipscomb, ACU, Harding, and Tulsa lectureships and at ElderLink. My wife’s name is Denise, and I have four sons, Chris, Jonathan, Tyler, and Philip. I have two grandchildren. And I practice law.
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15 Responses to The Advantage: 3. What Do We Do?

  1. John says:

    The truth is most Churches of Christ are very careful and guarded as to what they do so as to not look as if they are following the lead of “the denominaitons”. So, they do nothing.

    Christmas and Easter, which are wonderful opportunities to make inroads into the community’s attention, are avoided, even though they are just as scriptual as Vacation Bible School or Gospel Meetings. I know of a congregation that would present its budget to the congregation on Easter Sunday and the Sunday before Christmas just to keep the minister from preaching sermons for these holidays.

    Also, the only time many CoC congregations work with other churches is to keep the county or community free from alcohol sales. To work with them in order to feed and cloth the poor is out of the question. There is still the fear that to care for those who cannot take care of themselves becomes a social gospel.

    The CoC does not have to “follow” other churches and lose its identity in order to take advantage of the opportunities mentioned above. It can become bold and creative, asking other churches to work with them, or accept invitations from others with great confidence in who they are. But whether or not we see that kind of healthy growth and progress in the majority of congregations in our life time is still the big question.

  2. Alan says:

    We make disciples and teach them to obey Jesus. I actually think that’s what our leaders and many of our members would say, because it is emphasized from the pulpit repeatedly and regularly.

  3. And, IMO, I don’t believe that what Alan suggests is generally what we are really doing. We say “make disciples”, as though we understand what that means and as though we had a plan to accomplish it. Instead, what we really do is teach people certain portions of the scripture which we find important, over and over again, in hopes that said biblical education and warnings against sin will somehow combine to “make disciples”.

    In addition, we only teach people to obey Jesus in the one-off, indirectly, second-hand, only in the realm of scripture in the absence of the Person. What we teach them is to obey certain things that we say the Bible says. We don’t want much to do with turning the other cheek or taking no thought for tomorrow or letting the guy who stole our coat take our pants as well. We do want a lot of “decent and in order” church-going, something completely absent from Jesus’ recorded teachings.

    And we really struggle with the idea of following Jesus in real time, of being helped and guided directly by the Holy Spirit who Jesus said would reveal Jesus to us. In fact, too many congregations teach clearly and forcefully that such things do not even happen. Under their teaching, we cannot follow Jesus in any meaningful way; instead we are taught to follow some of the things that were said by people whom Jesus actually DID lead.

    I cannot see Jay’s words as cynical, because I don’t hear cynicism in his spirit. Within cynicism is hopelessness. What I hear here is honesty, with maybe a tiny flinch at the reality of it all and at the challenge of bringing about needed change in an existing organization. I will be the first to admit that it is much more difficult for men in Jay’s position to face these realities. I have a responsibility to speak such things to the church generally, but Jay has accepted the responsibility of presenting a particular group of people complete in Christ. I must say that while it is important for someone like me to say, “The Emperor has no clothes!”, it is another thing entirely to convince the local Emperor of this reality and to get him into a suitable pair of pants.

  4. Doug says:

    I will have to admit that I have problems answering this question with regard to my church… not that I would ever be asked to actually do that anyway. I am not sure what we do. I know that we can be pretty generous in providing money when a need is clearly stated. It seems to me that we aren’t so generous with our time and outreach to the spiritually needy in our community. We aren’t even very generous with our compassion to fellow church members unless those members fit certain specifications. I wish that my church leaders would ocassionally tell us what they talk about every Wednesday night in their meetings but that seems to be an improbability. And quite frankly, even if they did that, I doubt that insight would help me feel that we are doing what we ought to be doing. I have resolved myself to the belief that my church gives me a place to worship on Sunday and a small group with which to reach out once a week to those Christ came to save. It seems like there should be more but that’s all I can come up with right now. Allan, I found your statement to be somewhat akin to what I am hearing from the politicans everyday… it’s pretty short on specifics. Specifically, what does your church do beyond what my church does?

  5. Alan says:


    Jay asked for a simple statement, like Ford’s “We make and sell cars.” I’m sure there are many details behind that statement, just as there are behind mine.

    Blog comments are inadequate for describing all the details about what our church does to accomplish what I stated. We share the gospel with our neighbors, we baptize them, we teach the scriptures publicly and from house to house, we strive to live by them, and we urge one another to live by them. We don’t always hit the target, but we try to align everything we do with making disciples and teaching them to obey Jesus.

  6. Doug says:

    Alan, you are 100% correct. I glossed over Jay’s last paragraph. Sorry! I would have a hard time coming up with a statement for my church that met Jay’s criteria. It would likely be mostly member service related (as Jay suggested) with a couple of items of service to people outside the church in meeting physical or spiritual needs. I am always told that much more occurs outside the purvey of the church. That is, by individual members. Would you include “What members do” as part of “What the church does?”. That seems reasonable to me but I thought Jay was talking about things organized by and led by an organization that we loosely call the church.

  7. Alan says:

    Yes of course what “the church” does is what its members do. I’m looking at this from the perspective of leadership: the vision, direction, and example we set before the church. In other words, where are the shepherds taking the sheep. Of course we don’t get 100% cooperation from every sheep. But even in those cases, our efforts involve urging them to obey what Jesus taught. There’s really nothing we do that doesn’t fit under that simple statement.

  8. Doug says:

    Alan, I guess that’s where the problem lies… I have no idea where the leaders at my church are trying to lead. Furthermore, I wonder if that is really all that uncommon?

  9. Alan says:

    Doug, maybe it would help if you were to have a few individual side conversations with the leaders about that. If they don’t have a clear idea of how to answer, maybe you could help them with that.

  10. Alabama John says:

    Save the lost!

  11. I cannot completely agree with Alan’s assertion that “what the church does is what the members do”. We are speaking here of the local congregation as a corporate entity, with corporate identity, not just an accidental and occasional aggregation of independent particles. A member may well have evangelism as a personal priority without this being a point of emphasis by the congregational leadership. It is one thing for members to carry out a mission publicly established and effectively supported and funded by the congregation as a whole and by its leaders. It is another thing for those members to carry out a variety of personal missions largely on their own, and for the congregation and its leaders to “count coup” for things in which their real participation is simply associative. It’s not unlike my alma mater’s football team winning a game. The coach may shout, “We won!” and be able to claim real participation, even though he did not play a down. But when the other students shout, “We won!” it’s only “we” because they co-inhabit the same classrooms.

  12. Bob says:

    The problem is with using business-oriented organizational materials in church settings is that it is very problematic describe the function of the Kingdom of God in terms designed to be understood by – and applied to – the Kingdom of Man.

    Take the “what does Ford do?” question. It’s not enough to say that “we make and sell cars.” The more complete answer is that “we make and sell cars for a profit for our owners and managers.” The motive behind what a business does is as important as the reason for the existence of the company. And to the extent that Ford offers a product, it also offers a service for that product: customer service is essential to even the most successful manufacturing entity.

    Churches, on the other hand, regardless of orientation, are not a manufacturing industry by the world’s standards: they’re part of the service industry sector if anyone is going to lump them somewhere. So to say that the answer such as “we offer services to our members” is inadequate is itself inadequate: the world’s commercial values include customer service.

    “Leadership” in the early church was exasperatingly confusing to what passed for business and political elites and elite wannabees back then. As far as they – the secular elites of their day- can tell, the contemporary answer to the “Ford question” was the equivalent of “we make and sell cars and aren’t really worried if anyone pays for them or not; we expect our reward in Heaven.” The motive question completely confounded outside observers and opponents.

    It continues to confuse and confound us and our outside observers and opponents today. The church is not meant to be efficient; it’s meant to be holy.

  13. The parable of the ninety-nine safe sheep and the one lost sheep seems to underscore the level of God’s concern with efficiency.

  14. Doug says:

    Charles, I don’t know about “counting coup” but much of the ministry that I do, I do it with people who are not members of my church. I would do it with members of my church but no such ministries exist within the framework of my local congregation. So, I do them with people who go to other churches. I think some people in my church do good ministries on their own initiative and those who answer the question as directed toward my church of “what do we do?” are pretty quick to include these activities. I am okay with that but it seems to me that a church should have many ministries that are initiated, staffed and performed by members of only that church if they are to give a good answer to the question directed to them of “what do you (the church congregation) do?”. That’s where many congregations fail IMO. The real answer they probably should give to that question is “We provide religious consumerism for the members of our congregation”.

  15. Doug wrote: “I am okay with that but it seems to me that a church should have many ministries that are initiated, staffed and performed by members of only that church if they are to give a good answer to the question directed to them of ‘what do you (the church congregation) do?'”. Doug puts his finger on something important here. The very LAST thing we want to do is to limit the connection of people in one congregation with those in another group. But when we are successful in coming together in mission across congregational or denominational lines, this very success undermines in some way the congregational system in which each religion provider claims such accomplishment in hopes of earning a larger market share. What to do, if doing what God calls me to do does not benefit my congregation– or worse, actually gets claimed by a competitor?

    This is an essential problem. We cannot both cooperate and compete. These are mutually-exclusive motives. You cannot let spiritual siblings come together and then hope the siren song of your own religion club will outweigh the filial attraction. So, the congregation finds it in the interest of organizational survival to keep the children busy and away from their siblings. This cannot and will not last. Jesus will have his bride, not his harem.

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