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.