The Advantage: Patrick Lencioni’s Latest Book

Long-time readers will recall that I’m a big fan of Patrick Lencioni’s work, especially The Five Dysfunctions of a Team: A Leadership Fable and Silos, Politics and Turf Wars: A Leadership Fable About Destroying the Barriers That Turn Colleagues Into Competitors.

Anyone who’s spent much time doing committee work in a church — or being on staff or an elder — should immediately recognize the relevance of those two books!

Yes, Lencioni writes about business management, but he frequently consults with churches. In fact, I learned about this new book reading about a seminar he taught at the Willow Creek church in Chicago.

The reality is that people are people, and the principles about working together do not vary much with the organization. The goals of the organizations may differ quite a lot, but once the goals are determined, getting people to work together toward those goals is pretty much the same task whether they are working in business, a church, or a nonprofit organization.

I read an outline someone had prepared of Lencioni’s class at Willow Creek, realized that he was speaking words I needed to hear, and immediately ordered the book (on Kindle — so it took about 30 seconds to get the book in hand!) he was summarizing: The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.

The book is about organizational health — and what church couldn’t be healthier? In fact, most aren’t healthy at all. After all, our churches are run by elders and preachers with little or no training on how to, you know, run a church. I mean, ministers can attain a D.Min. and know nothing about management — as though preachers aren’t ever going to be asked to chair a committee meeting or organize a team.

Elders, well, some are professional managers in business, but most are not. And even if they’ve been taught business management principles, they’ve likely received no guidance at all as to how to apply those principles in the context of a church. Most likely, they’ll just run the church the way those who preceded them did.

Oh, by the way, I have little patience with the attitude that “We shouldn’t run the church like a business!” Really? Just what does that mean? That we shouldn’t care about results? That we shouldn’t train our employees and members? Just what is it about businesses that’s so anti-Christian that you can’t say “business” in a Bible class without someone saying “We shouldn’t run the church like a business” as though this is just so oh-very-profound.

The problem isn’t that we lead churches like business. It’s that we don’t properly define “profit.” In other words, if we run churches to maximize the bank balance, we’re lousy elders. But every organization has a purpose, the church included especially. And if you don’t lead the church to achieve your purpose, well, you can pretty much count on not achieving it.

The advantage businesses have is that they know what they’re trying to do — make money. They may not know how they plan to do it, but they know the ultimate end of their organization. Most church leaders have never seriously thought about what their goal is — even those with a mission statement, a vision statement, and quarterly visioning retreats. Having a vision and having a right vision are two very different things.

Now, I suppose some people have a sense (perhaps from hard-earned experience) that businesses can be cutthroat and unfeeling. But well-run businesses care deeply about their customers and employees. After all, they can’t survive without them!

No one wants to lead the church like a badly led business, but then no one wants to lead the church like a badly led church! But those who study such things have found that well led churches and well led businesses have quite a lot in common — although they are trying to accomplish different things by different means.

People are people, and good management is simply wise application of what we know about people to the purposes of the organization. Not how to use or manipulate our employees and members, but how to help good, motivated people achieve what God wants from his churches.

And this does not come naturally to most of us. Old habits, the pressures of emergencies,  and institutional inertia get in the way. It’s just so much easier to do today what you did yesterday, even though yesterday wasn’t that good of a day.

Here’s the chart that explains it all —

Notice that Lencioni is pretty big on clarity. He makes that pretty clear, doesn’t he?

And so, to be clear, I’m going to blog through the book chapter-by-chapter. In the meantime, buy the book. Buy copies for each elder and each staff member. And encourage them to spend time reading and studying the book together.

Is that clear?

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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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