The Advantage: Four Disciplines

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.

As the chart above shows, Lencioni urges leaders to adopt four disciplines —

1. Build a cohesive leadership team

In a church, the leadership team is likely the elders and the preacher or the elders and ministers. Lynn Anderson likes to say that all he needs to ask to learn how healthy a leadership is is whether the preacher always meets with the elders. If the elders refuse to have the preacher in their meetings, it’s likely an unhealthy setting.

Lencioni would add much more to the equation, but picking the right people is key.

2. Create clarity

Lencioni will pose six questions that the leadership team must agree on — with no daylight between them. That is, they must completely agree on the answers.

3. Over-communicate clarity

Then the team must communicate the answers to the church. Repeatedly. And over and over. And again and again.

Now, by the team sorts through the questions, they’re likely pretty tired of it all and have thoroughly internalized their conclusions. They’ll struggle to repeat what they’ve concluded over and over (and again and again), because it’ll be such old new — and obvious — to them.

And that would be a classic church leadership mistake.

4. Reinforce clarity

Finally, systems must be installed to reinforce clarity. Rather than merely haranguing the members from the pulpit, the message should be communicated in countless ways — through Bible class, through small group lessons, through the bulletin — with key personnel trained to head off anything that is off message.

Hence, if the leadership wants to be all about evangelism, then the ladies committee can’t set a calendar that emphasizes nothing but internal relationships for the next year. The leadership of that committee should be on board, and if they forget (we’re all creatures of habit), they should be kindly and gently reminded of the church’s priorities.

Now, to accomplish these goals, the leadership must overcome at least three biases that are common in nearly all organizations —

Sophistication bias

In an age where we have come to believe that differentiation and dramatic improvement can be found only in complexity, it’s hard for well-educated executives to embrace something so simple and straightforward.

Actually, I don’t find this simple at all, but it’s simple to explain. It’s short, easy-to-read book and does not involve new, exciting theological insights. The leaders won’t be credited with genius. They’ll just get to lead a healthy organization that actually accomplishes its goals.

The adrenaline bias

As simple as this may seem, it remains a serious obstacle for many dysfunctional organizations led by executives who don’t understand that old race-car drivers’ axiom: you have to slow down in order to go fast.

Many elders and many preachers are so busy dealing with today’s crisis that they can’t take the time to do these things. The preacher will desperately want to preach that new sermon series on Lamentations based on this book everyone is reading that he learned about at a seminar that just revolutionized some church in a big city somewhere. Some elders will be overwhelmed with the budget or personnel issues. Others will be dealing discontented members.

You just have to find a weekend, leave town, turn off the cell phones, and work through the steps necessary to have a healthy organization. This may be less urgent (seemingly) but it’s more important than just anything else a smart, biblically learned leadership will face.

The quantification bias

Organizational health permeates so many aspects of a company that isolating any one variable and measuring its financial impact is almost impossible to do in a precise way.

Some of us only believe in the measurable. Some of us need a measurement for positive reinforcement, to stay motivated to keep up the program.

Things may get worse before they get better. You may lose some staff members along the way. Some may quit rather than buy into the program. Some may have to be fired because they refuse to be team players (very common problem among the ministry class).

The membership may protest the vision just because it’s hard to get that many people on the same page — especially if it’s a challenging vision. There may even be some elders who protest because they have to give up individual power and submit to the leadership as a team.

Therefore, it may be very hard indeed to see things getting better for a while. The transition could be tough. But (and I speak from experience, albeit limited experience) the change will be obvious. The improvement may not be measurable, but it’ll be very real indeed.

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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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3 Responses to The Advantage: Four Disciplines

  1. Kent Gatewood says:

    Firing staff members over a failure to get on board can be followed by a membership revolt.

  2. Jerry says:

    Kent, we in the church of Christ do no really believe that elders have any power over them. For years I heard it preached that though the Bible says mouthing about Sunday evening worship all were duty bound to be present because the elders had decided it was good for their spiritual health. But what happened when the elders decided small groups meeting in homes would be better for their spiritual health? You guessed it! A membership revolt. So of course the beloved staff have more power than the elders.

    That is why the themes Jay has been discussing are so vital, especially the submitting to one another theme.

  3. People vote with their feet. This is the nature of all clubs, including religion clubs. To change this reality would require changing the entire nature of Christian religious organization as we know it today. Not that I would object to that.

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