The Advantage: 6. Who Must Do What?

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.

This is not that difficult of a concept: Make a plan; work the plan. But to work the plan, you have delegate the work to a particular person or persons. And we elders are just terrible at that.

We tend to either —

* Announce grand ideas and not assign the work to anyone, as though the universe will magically bend to our will just because we utter the words.

* Dump it all on the preacher, who is already overloaded.

* Dump in on the staff but not on a particular staff person — forcing the staff to work it out later, and perhaps in a way the elders aren’t happy with.

* Just do it themselves — even though we really don’t have the time or lack the requisite skills.

You see, elders tend to be conflict averse — in the extreme. Therefore, we avoid decisions that might give offense — such as picking A to chair the committee when B might take offense — or A has the necessary gifts but is a little lazy and might resent the extra work.

It’s not conscious. It’s just an easy way to avoid disagreement.

The solution? Well, a team that is open and honest and vulnerable enough so that someone at the table says, “Who is going to do all this?”

Of course, often times no one volunteers (everyone is busy), and so the elders really need to assign the work. They may need to set up a committee to handle. They may even need to hire some expertise.

But here’s the key: Picking the right people can be more important than picking the right task. After all, if you do the fourth most important thing really well, you are doing some good. If you do the first most important thing very poorly, well, you’re wasting your time.

Therefore, late in the meeting, when everyone’s tired and wanting to go home, take some time, say a prayer for guidance, and very carefully choose the right people to lead the church in this task, and then appoint someone to meet with them and instruct them.

Don’t let all that hard work and dedicated thought go to waste because you picked a willing but inept leader or — worse yet — you didn’t give the task to anyone at all. Get the people part of the program right.

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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2 Responses to The Advantage: 6. Who Must Do What?

  1. When I was a missionary on my first trip to New Zealand, we would close each planning session with the question, “Whose back is the monkey on?” By this, we meant exactly what you talk about here.

  2. “Therefore, late in the meeting, when everyone’s tired and wanting to go home, take some time, say a prayer for guidance….”

    Have to say this part surprised me. This paragraph runs exactly counter to the whole rest of the article. It puts the decision on tired people with rapidly decreasing levels of interest, tosses in a Hail Mary (in the spiritual AND football sense) and then “carefully selects” someone? This is the exact opposite of careful selection. It’s more like getting the compromise candidate on the 29th ballot of the convention. It’s less leadership and more simple desperation.

    If you have a program in mind, but you have no champion willing and able to stand up and commit to it and lead it, then go back to the prayer closet. Keep the project there -in the prayer closet- until God raises up that champion. Don’t settle for less– or that is exactly what you will get.

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