Saturday, January 09, 2010

Successful Organizations Are Made of Ordinary People

One of the books I am reading as an Acts 29 candidate is called The E Myth by Michael E. Gerber. More than a million copies of this book have been sold to people desiring to learn how to operate and grow a successful business. The book has some good transferable concepts for church leadership. Today the following quote struck me...
The typical owner of a small business prefers highly skilled people because he believes they make his job easier- he can simply leave the work to them. That is, the typical small business owner prefers Management by Abdication to Management by Delegation. Unfortunately the inevitable result of this kind of thinking is that the business also grows to depend on the whims and moods of its people.

If they’re in the mood the job gets done.
If they aren’t, it doesn’t.

In this kind of business, a business that relies on discretion, “How do I motivate people?” becomes the constant question. “How do I keep them in the mood?”

It is literally impossible to produce a consistent result in a business that depends on extraordinary people. No business can do it for long. And no extraordinary business tries to! (Page 101-102)
I think one of Gerber’s points is that we have gone wrong thinking that the way to build a successful organization is with successful people. More than successful people, organizations and businesses need successful systems that can accommodate and empower people with many diverse gifts and many abilities. If the organization is dependent on successful people the success of that organization will lack in consistency because its effectiveness will always fluctuate based upon who is on the team.

The transferable concept for churches is to reconsider how we view leadership and staffing. The temptation of church leaders is to say, all we need is highly talented people and we’ll succeed. I believe Gerber would argue that a room full of highly talented people, with their own dreams and passions, is far less effective than a room full of ordinary people with one shared dream and passion. Is it possible to have a room full of highly talented people who also share one dream and passion? It may be possible, but I think it is extremely rare and difficult to maintain.

Unfortunately we live in a society that gravitates to celebrities. Can you think of any large church that isn’t built off of a personality? John Piper, Tim Keller, Andrew Stanley, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, and Mark Driscoll are a few of the examples. What happens to most of those churches when the celebrity dies or grows irrelevant? Under those circumstances most of these churches will die or suffer because the celebrity is no longer able to motivate the people and guide the vision.

Would it be possible to build a church whose only celebrity is Jesus? A church whose mission and systems are effective and reproducible on a grand scale? This is certainly a question I long to answer with a “yes”. I think the scriptures have given us this model but our cultural methods and environment often get in the way of this type of church becoming a reality.


John C said...

This is an interesting post. I feel like he's walking a fine line in making a lot of generalizations however. I've certainly worked with MANY extraordinary highly talented people, all humble and devoted to one shared dream and passion and they work very well and need little motivation. Of course, some people start out "ordinary" (whatever that means -again, a huge generalization) and become outstanding in their field and highly talented. What happens to them then? Do they suddenly become unmotivated and unable to share the common dream/passion? I think the key is not so much if someone is "highly talented" or "ordinary" - again, I kinda hate making those broad generalizations. I think the key for someone starting up a new business/church is to find people with the right giftedness and chemistry with one another. If they're highly talented in an area - great. But sometimes, especially for a church plant, that's someone who may not be a rock star in any one field, but has the temperament and giftedness to jump in anywhere, roll up their sleeves, and start doing. One thing to be careful of however: Most churches/businesses start with an individual who is the motivating leader - and they may start out being the most behind the scenes, humble, "ordinary" person in the world. But their position and acclaim for what happens under their watch will turn them in the "public eye" into the "outstanding/talented/rock star" persona that their image becomes - even if they're still the same "ordinary" person inside. I know Bill Gates, Steve Jobs, Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, John Piper, Mark Driscoll etc. - none of them started out wanting to be rock star pastors. (well, maybe Driscoll did! *grin*) But their position and place that they achieved to turned them into that. So it's inevitable if the work under them is successful that will happen. And very well may happen to you in the "public eye" of the church (and maybe already has at PV to an extent) even though those of us that know you well know that's the farthest from who you are as a person. But it's hard to remove that image in the public eye once it's there. Unless you constantly week after week, every Sunday make it very apparent that Jesus is the only rock star in this church and no other.

Scott Sterner said...


I definitely think you’ve got some good points here. The post definitely deserved some push back. I probably didn’t represent Gerber very well. The set-up for this quote was an examination of companies like McDonalds and FedEx. They were able to build the success of what they do off a well established system where any one can come into that system and, with a reasonable level of training, can succeed and can make the whole organization succeed. I think he was trying to argue that if your business or organization requires highly trained / highly successful people to thrive, then it is a very fragile business whose success will be entirely based upon your ability to keep and motivate genius level employees.

When I think about this in terms of churches, my mind gravitates to the church planting movements that are growing today. Their success is their ability to perfect a simple way of doing church and then reproduce that again and again. The problem with complex churches is they are very difficult (if not impossible) to reproduce. The beauty of Gerber’s analysis is that it gives those of us, who depend upon church members to operate our ministries, an ability to see how well organized simple systems can be a means to effectiveness.


M.A.C. said...

Hi Scott,

Couldn't resist making a comment here about growing a church like a business. All successful businesses have one common denominator. They have an excellent sales system.

If the people selling the product in this case Jesus. Must believe beyond a shadow of a doubt that what they are selling is true. So starting out with a solid foundation of faith would be a good start.

Then developing a system that works. Apparently the modern gospel message is lacking when you hear that 90% of Christians fail to share their faith with another through their whole lifetime. Having a program that helps your people share their faith could be very effective.

Sharing your faith is as simple as telling others why you believe. Giving your testimony over and over. Sounds like a sales pitch to me. And a good sales pitch can convert unbelievers to believers daily.