The Advantage: 4. How Will We Succeed? Part 1

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 advises his readers to select three “strategic anchors” that will define how the organization will succeed. Why three? Well, experience dictates that most organizations can’t focus on more than three things at once. It’s not about business vs. church or whatever. It’s just the nature of the modern human being. We have very limited attention spans, even in church. Maybe … especially in church.

The competition

[T]he next question the leaders would need to answer, and the one at the heart of the strategic anchor activity, is, How will we succeed? Or put another way, How will we make decisions in a purposeful, intentional, and unique way that allow us to maximize our success and differentiate us from our competitors?

Now, this raises an interesting question: who are our competitors? Think about it.

I bet the first thought for many readers is that other Church of Christ in town. Or the Baptist Church across the street. Is that right? They are no more our competitors than the Northport Wal-Mart is a competitor with the Tuscaloosa Wal-Mart (Tuscaloosa and Northport are adjacent cities here in West Alabama.)

We act as though those other congregations are our competitors. We think that way. Our members even act and think that way. But those churches are only competitors because we’ve divided into so many too-small churches that there aren’t enough volunteers and contributors to go around! That’s what the Bible calls sin. And we lean into the punch, we further the division, by acting like we were saved and joined into the body of Jesus Christ to compete with other parts of his body.

Try again. Who’s really our competitor?

I’ll accept two answers. First, “Satan” would work just fine, because it’s true. Second, “worldliness” or “selfishness” or “materialism” or “individualism” or “consumerism” or any of the many -isms that define the world in contrast to Christianity would be a good answer, too.

When we seek to save someone for Christ, what are we saving them from? Well, “hell” is not a bad answer. It’s true. But isn’t it also a life based on the lies told by Satan? Isn’t it also self-indulgence, the works of the flesh, indeed anything that keeps us from becoming like Jesus?

But we just don’t think this way. Not really. We preach far more sermons against transubstantiation than against selfishness or self-indulgence. After all, we’re pretty solidly against transubstantiation and yet we remain, as a people, very self-centered. Indeed, we reinforce self-centeredness, as shown by the fact that we often become more self-centered and self-indulgent the longer we attend church. Yep — the more sermons we hear, the more classes we attend, the more experiences we have in worship, the more selfish we become.

I say this with confidence because I’ve polled elders from across the country, asking which segment of their churches is most demanding and selfish, and they uniformly respond that this is most true of their long-term members. You see, this is what happens when we see the church down the road as our competitor rather than all that tempts us to be unlike Jesus.

When it’s that other church, we celebrate our superiority. Our identity becomes “the people who cared enough to obey the Bible” rather than “a people striving to become like Jesus.” The first makes us arrogant. The second makes us humble. And it’s not hard to distinguish who among us has been raised on which gospel.

For every one soul we might win from the Church of Christ down the road by disputing over instrumental music, fellowship halls, or whatever, there’s a thousand or more souls we might win from Satan by lifting up Jesus by living like Jesus.

So before you decide how to compete well with your competitors, think hard about with whom you are really competing. Get it wrong, and you’ll not only compete effectively, you might just turn your members into parodies of real Christians.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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3 Responses to The Advantage: 4. How Will We Succeed? Part 1

  1. John says:

    The foeces of selfishness, materialism and consumerism that battle for the souls of human beings with their promise “I can make you into SOMEBODY”, though in truth they fill the soul with nothing, win out against the church because they are ususally the first to extend their hand to those who are different, the first to recognize those who need to be recognized, those who need to be needed.

    The problem has been that the CoC, and other conservative denominations, were, and are, usually dragged kicking and screaming into the present. Changes in society such as the population growth of those whose customs are different, those who do not look like us, dress like us or talk like us are are not trusted and are slowly embraced. In the mean time, business, politics, sports, etc, reaches out to them with grand promises. It is only when we see them being accepted by our “competitors” that we run after them screaming, “But, we like you, too!”

    I truly believe that the church that learns how to set aside its fears, live in the present and make “radical” first moves will be the one that this changing country finds as its spiritual home, and that may be very difficult for “Bible-belt, easy like a Sunday morning” members.

  2. Jay, you done stopped preachin’ and gone to meddlin’, as we say around here. Not to make a bad thing worse, but when elders report that the most selfish and demanding members they have are long-term members, it does not speak well of our accomplishing the Pauline objective of “presenting every man complete in Christ”. It is correctly pointed out that our long-standing habit of competing with other providers of Christian religious thought actual creates this stunted developmental state among us.

    The Spirit within us reminds us that “it should not be thus”. As a result, young sheep become disillusioned with the church as an expression of Jesus, or worse, become co-opted into the system we have, and become as stunted as some of their more tenured peers.

    There are no small solutions to this difficulty. No program, no sermon series, no staff restructuring, will even help. Only some bold and admittedly frightening steps can kick the train from the track we have laid and long traveled. Most of these begin in the realm of publicly “admitting reality” by the leaders. First of all, there is some corrective teaching to be done, some error to be admitted.

    “Congregational autonomy” is not from scripture, it has its roots in Protestantism. The independent, disconnected, unrelated nature of the congregational system we have created is just that, our own creation. We CAN change it.

    Congregational membership as we know and practice it today serves to limit fellowship, foster competitiveness instead of cooperation, and serves only the organization, not its members. We as believers are members one of another, not members of a non-profit corporation. Congregational branding of those who belong to The Shepherd must stop.

    Being wrong is a part of our lives. Not one of us has outgrown this reality. We cannot refuse to consider other believers as our brothers simply because we believe them to be wrong about some things. We are not immune to this disorder ourselves, and we must stop separating ourselves from others who love Jesus. If we do know something our brother does not know, that makes us responsible to benefit him, so to hold ourselves apart from him violates that responsibility. Such a basis for our current separations is ungodly.

    These are hard-hitting statements. They will create problems and pushback. But these are just simple things, easily discerned even by the young believer. Admittedly, these are only symptoms of serious gaps in our own faith and in our own love for the brothers. But the willingness to acknowledge wrong is the basis for repentance and repentance is the only way we will see change.

  3. For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the powers of this dark world and against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms. (Ephesians 6:12)

    Your excellent post is fine commentary on this powerful verse from the pen of Paul. Our competition is not other Christians, though they may differ from us in many things. Our competition is the Devil and his angels of darkness, even when they pose as angels of light. May God give us the wisdom and grace to distinguish angels of the dark realm from those angels of God who are our servants. I fear that too many times we mistake the light that may have a different shading that that light we possess for darkness – and attack that “darkness” with all our might instead of turning our spiritual armor against the demonic forces and powers.of hell.

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