Doctor of Leadership in Global Perspectives: Crafting Ministry in an Interconnected World

Don’t just do something….stand there

Written by: on March 24, 2017

The Art of Leadership – Max DePree

In “An Hour on Sunday”, Nancy Beech quotes Gordon MacKenzie on the tension between creative types and management types:
“He asks the reader to imagine a serene pasture where a dairy cow is quietly eating grass, chewing her cud, and swishing her tail. Outside the fence stands ‘a rotund gentleman in a $700 powder-blue, pinstripe suit.’ This gentleman is livid that the cow is not working hard. He doesn’t understand that whatever milk the cow produces when placed on the milking machine is directly related to the time the cow spends out in the field – ‘seemingly idle, but in fact, performing the alchemy of transforming grass into milk.’ Gordon skilfully compares the rotund gentleman to management leaders all over the country who have no patience for the “quiet time essential to profound creativity.”[1]


In his memoir, The Pastor, Eugene Peterson reflects on “the pastor he wants to be” with the image out of Herman Melville’s Moby Dick of the harpooner who is quietly poised and waiting in the midst of the frenetic activity of sailors all around fighting the tempest. He quotes a sentence, “To insure the greatest efficiency in the dart, the harpooners of this world must start to their feet out of idleness, and not out of toil”. Then this paragraph:

“The metaphor, harpooner, was starting to get inside me. Somehow it always seems more compelling to assume the work of the oarsman, laboring mightily in a moral cause, throwing our energy into the fray that we know has immortal consequence. And it always seems more dramatic to take on the outrage of a Captain Ahab, obsessed with a vision of vengeance and retaliation, brooding over the ancient injury done by the Enemy. There is, though, other important work to do. Someone must throw the dart. Some must be harpooners”.[2]


This juxtaposition of creative types and management types, between contemplative and activist, is an interesting one, and one which Max De Pree draws out with his own analogy of the baseball pitcher and the baseball catcher: “every great pitcher needs an outstanding catcher”.[3]

The creative types need the implementers and management types, and the management types need the creatives. The great designers in his company (George Nelson, Charles Eames and co.) need the practical implementers (Pep Nagelkirk).

“Now a fastball may be enough for a pitcher, but it is never enough for a team. Corporations and people can throw good ideas around as often as they want. Without giant catchers like Pep Nagelkirk, those ideas may eventually disappear…. Without giant catchers there can be no giant pitchers.”[4]


I have felt this tension within myself, and I have observed it in staff teams that I have worked with. There is sometimes great tension and misunderstanding between the pitchers and catchers, the oarsmen and the harpooners, the businessman at the gate and the cow chewing the cud (slightly stretching the metaphor now…) The organised, administrative types think the creatives are lazy and unproductive, the creatives think the organisers are petty-minded, too detail-oriented and legalistic.

But we desperately need both. We need the sense of diversity and inclusivity and empowerment championed by DePree –the marriage of management and creativity, of the contemplative with the active, of ideas and implementation.

This was borne out by DePree’s chapter on his company’s “giants”, a number of different employees whom he named and valued – and the challenge to release the giants at every level of our organisation or church, whether it’s the giant cows or the giant suits. I better leave this metaphor alone now, I can’t go around calling people big cows at church – it could end badly.

[1] Beach, Nancy. An Hour on Sunday: Creating Moments of Transformation and Wonder. Grand Rapids, Mich: Zondervan, 2004.

[2] Peterson, Eugene H. The Pastor. Reprint edition. New York: HarperOne, 2012, 282.


[3] DePree, Max. Leadership Is an Art. Reprint edition. New York: Crown Business, 2004, 35.

[4] DePree (2004), 76-77.

About the Author

Geoff Lee

7 responses to “Don’t just do something….stand there”

  1. Mary Walker says:

    Geoff, I really appreciated the metaphor of the pitcher and catcher also. Another book I read talked about quarterbacks and receivers and further, the fact that the ball really can’t get into the end zone without all eleven players doing their jobs.
    Loved the cow. No, your congregation probably wouldn’t like to hear ‘bull’ either!
    (ha ha couldn’t help myself. It’s the end of term and I’ve got Spring fever.)

  2. Katy Lines says:

    Funny story– in Kenya, all the missionaries receive Turkana names. I am “Asinyen,” meaning “white sand by the river.” My friend received the name “Aite,” meaning “cow.” She was not too pleased at being called a cow. 🙂

    A shared love of Peterson’s The Contemplative Pastor. Peterson suggests we stay busy because we’re vain (pride), or perhaps because we’re lazy. Like DePree’s approach to leadership, Peterson’s approach to pastoral leadership is art-full, and his poetry subversive and apocalyptic (his words).

  3. I love the cow story. You have intrigued by interest to reading that book.
    Now if you exegesis the purpose of a cow, I believe the church congregation would not mind being called a cow. smile

  4. Great post, Geoff! Love this sentence “We need the sense of diversity and inclusivity…the marriage of management and creativity, of the contemplative with the active, of ideas and implementation.” The million dollar question though is how does one place interest, manage, and attract all types and help them work together? Aside from the work of the Holy Spirit, a deliberate strategy is needed to make this happen. Any suggestions?

  5. Geoff I enjoyed your pastoral perspective on leadership as it relates to DePree. Yes often times the lack of understanding and patience causes the process to be overlooked when a leader is solely focused on the end result.

    I too agree with the notion of needing both “the sense of diversity and inclusivity and empowerment championed by DePree –the marriage of management and creativity, of the contemplative with the active, of ideas and implementation.”

    Great post! ?

  6. Geoff, nice work…. even though we are spring break, you should pop online and let us know you made it through Sunday services without accidentally calling someone a ‘cow’…..
    You highlight a critical point – that the ‘fastball’ might be enough for a pitcher, but never the whole team, so we need that diversity….. and I think that is where the greatest appeal of Du Pree’s approach lies for me: it is art or artistry to be able to create space for all of that diversity or, perhaps even better design a system or organization where that diversity is essential (the pitcher and the catcher).
    Thanks again!

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