Things Leader Teams Should Know

Larry Osborne, in Sticky Teams (Zondervan, 2010), proposes that all church leadership teams should be aware of six principles that are initially counter-intuitive but which should become axiomatic.

1. Ignore Your Weaknesses

Conventional wisdom is that teams (or churches) identify weaknesses and improve them to reduce vulnerability in that area. Osborne rejects this, and proposes instead that teams focus on their strengths. This certainly has appeal in that it frees a congregation and its leader team to focus on gifts God has provided the group. But what if a group’s strength is worship, but its weakness is disciple-making? Or what if the strength is teaching, but its weakness is worship?

2. Surveys are a Waste of Time

I’ve come to agree — mostly — with this. Surveys and polls and similar assessments are a spillover from the prevalence of their ubiquitous cousins in politics, and suffer from the same problem: people tend to answer such things as they think they should answer them, rather than how they really think, or how they will ultimately act. Yet preachers and teachers are encouraged to “exegete” the learners, and shepherds must know the sheep. Is there a role for the survey?

3. Seek Permission, Not Buy-In

Osborne means that many leaders tend to want everyone in the church to become zealous for, and an advocate of, any plan proposed by the leaders. People rarely do that before they see the program in action. Consequently, leaders seeking “buy-in” don’t get it, and opt out of many good new proposals. Osborne suggests the better approach is to simply seek the group’s permission to give it a try.

4. Let Squeaky Wheels Squeak

Proverbially the “squeaky wheel gets the grease.” In the case of churches, the squeaky wheel brings the wagon to a complete stop. Osborne points out that when leadership teams attempt to satisfy the “squeaky wheel” — the member who is constantly critical, perpetually pampered, and seldom satisfied — there is little energy or desire left to actually shepherd the rest of the flock. He proposes to “let them squeak.”

In decision-making, Osborne is mostly right. But what of the need to shepherd that “squeaky” member, with exhortation, reproval, admonishment, encouragement? I would be interested in what Osborne does — from a disciple-making perspective — with the squeaky wheel.

5. Let Dying Programs Die

And, of course, the corollary: “Let Dead Programs Stay Dead.” Churches frequently sustain ministries and programs simply because it is deemed “un-Christian” or “not loving” to that program’s participants and advocates to end them. But a healthy church is constantly reviewing whether what it does is actually accomplishing the church’s mission and that program’s intended place in mission.

6. Plan in Pencil

No real doubt about this one.

Conclusion: Osborne offers much good, practical advice to help leader teams shepherd their congregations. One concern, however, is that he seems resigned for leader teams to delegate more and more of the shepherding responsibility as a church grows larger. In that case, the shepherding is not being done by the shepherds.

Even so, a leader team that balances their continuing responsibility to shepherd with Osborne’s practical advice will find useful material here.

Leader or Tour Guide?

Ten spies with a bad report outvoted the two with a good report, and the word they brought back to Israel about the Promised Land reflected their attempt to justify their own reaction (Numbers 13:30-33).

Israel then 1) raised a loud cry; 2) wept; then 3) grumbled against their leaders (Numbers 14:1-4) — a familiar sequence in ministry. In their dialogue with themselves (there is no record that they actually discussed this with Moses, or with God) they concluded “Let us choose a leader and go back to Egypt.”

In this instance they did not want a leader: they simply wanted a tour guide. They had already decided what they wanted and “leadership” — from God or otherwise — was the last thing on their minds. Leaders such as Israel wanted in this instance are the ones used to trip the booby traps or be the first ones eaten in a bear attack.


In a recent post to his website (, Al Mohler refers to an article in Foreign Policy entitled “Why Men Rule — and Conservatives will Inherit the Earth.” The gist of the article is that society will experience a return to patriarchy, and despite feminist doom saying, this will be a good thing.

One wonders whether — if accurate — this prediction will also affect the evangelical church, which, while almost exclusively patriarchal in terms of pastoral gender, has become almost exclusively matriarchal in government. There is no dispute that there have been abuses in the exercise of male authority. We are, after all, sinners. But there is also abuse when the authority pendulum has swung to the other extreme and matriarchal influence is in ascendancy.

Some church women, aware of the virtually all-male leadership in evangelical churches, might now be thinking “What female authority?” But one must realize that there is official authority and then there is unofficial authority. Most churches present a paradigm of de jure male leadership and authority, but engage in practices and procedures that result in de facto female leadership and authority. Deacons (and/or elders) are typically male, but the various systems of committees and ministries ensure that women, who generally are more involved in the average church, are the ones actually doing things and exercising authority.

Some might say that this is not so bad, and given the fact that many male church leaders don’t measure up to the biblical standard of spiritual leadership, that argument has legs. But it is not the picture of the church that God paints in Scripture.

Female influence typically — perhaps stereotypically — includes such concerns as unity, affirmation and nurture. The paternal instinct, by contrast, includes the interest in assessment, progress, classification and repair. The resulting conflict can be readily seen in the interest of the male Sunday school director attempting to implement a method of training and evaluating bible teachers when it meets the maternal interest of teachers themselves, who are far and away predominately female, to preserve unity and harmony. The director wants to ensure that all bible teachers are properly handling the word of God, while the female teachers see that effort as a threat to the self-esteem of teachers.

The tension between the patriarchal and matriarchal influences can also be seen in how each proposes to handle the problems that inevitably arise in churches. The feminine response to problems includes: 1) “I don’t want to talk about it” or “There is no problem”, 2) it is not ‘loving’ to speak of the problem, 3) it will go away, 4) if we ‘love on each other’ all will be well. Men, too, have been feminized to the extent that they avoid conflict, contention and struggle of any kind.

Much has been written about the reasons men are staying away from churches in droves. David Murrow wrote about this in Why Men Hate Going To Church. There is also The Church Impotent: The Feminization of Christianity (Leon Podles), No More Christian Nice Guy (Paul Coughlin) and Manly Dominion in a Passive-Purple-Four-Ball World (Mark Chanski), to name a few. Undoubtedly one of the reasons that men stay away from church is the feminization they find there, which is most significantly manifested (how’s that for irony?) in the exercise of authority and the style leadership employed.

Women are vital for the health and vitality of the church. The maternal instinct, influence and interests are crucial for the church to fulfill its role in God’s kingdom. But male interests and passions are also indispensable for the balance and vigor of the church, as can be readily seen where the masculine influence has been forsaken in favor of the feminine.