Easier Said Than Done
I remember reading Good to Great by Jim Collins during my Business undergrad days at Baylor. It’s a classic book and I wish I had a dime for every time I’ve heard someone say, “start by getting the right people on the bus, the wrong people off the bus, and the right people in the right seats.” However, I can vividly remember starting my time in ministry and realizing Collins thoughts are a lot harder to actually put into practice, particularly in the ministry.
I never realized there was a Good to Great and the Social Sectors until this semester. This small little monograph is full of helpful direction and thoughts. In ministry I have particularly struggled regarding Good to Great with getting the right people on the bus, meaning there is someone I have to let go to make room for someone to come on board. Letting people go in the church is a difficult sensitive process and is rarely worth the damage it can cause. This is why I really appreciated Collins approach in Social Sectors and his acknowledging that it really is “more difficult to get the wrong people off the bus” in Social Sectors. Collins goes on to give hope and direction for filling the bus with the right people by stressing the importance of an “early assessment mechanism” and how a “lack of resources is no excuse for lack of rigor—it makes selectivity all the more vital.” One area that Collins never acknowledged that I have found in the church is that it is more important to get the right people on the bus then it is to get them in the right seat. Of course, you can’t put me in the Worship Pastor seat, but I have found that pastors wear many many hats and cross disciplines more then most business executives that have specialized roles. Often if you can get the right Church person on the bus it can help the entire team and the roles sort themselves out. Probably not always true but it has been in my experience.
I also really appreciated Collins stressing the importance of discipline. Collins said, “A culture of discipline is not a principle of business; it is a principle of greatness.” This is a message many of our churches have forgotten or ignored. I think it can be easy to embrace the tenured mentality on a church staff instead of constantly living a life of discipline and striving for greatness for the sake of the Kingdom. If anyone has the motivation for discipline and greatness it should be the church as we take the love and truth of Jesus into a hurt and broken world. There is no doubt that the church should function different from the business sector but we have a lot we can learn from each other and striving for greatness should be something the church seeks more then we currently do.
 Jim Collins, Good to Great: Why Some Companies Make the Leap–and Others Don’t (New York, NY: HarperBusiness, 2001), 41.
 Jim Collins, Good to Great and the Social Sectors: a Monograph to Accompany Good to Great (HarperCollins, 2005), 14.
 Ibid., 15
 Ibid., 1
10 responses to “Easier Said Than Done”
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I think we’re thinking in the same vein, Nick, around the practicality of the bus scenarios. It’s not an easy black or white decision when it comes to people’s roles, especially when it comes to volunteers. As I look back with some of my own frustration with how it’s been done, I think a key element is the humility, a trait of an L5 leader. The recognition that we’re not going to always get it right, but we’re trying to listen as best as we can, is all we can ask of one another.
Thanks Mary…Totally agree. I think in the Church you must have humility to lead. Are we growing programs and buildings or are we growing people? Humility helps the leader value the relationship above the program. Thanks for your thoughts.
Nick but I wonder if in the church, we don’t have a bit of an advantage because we have an unlimited number of seats on our bus! Whereas in a corporate setting, there are a finite number of seats (due to constraints of personnel budgets) and to put a “right” person in a seat a “wrong” person must be ejected…
In a church, you can leave a “wrong” right where he is and simple put 4 “rights in front, behind and beside him, functionally marginalizing his “wrong-ness!” You can flush out the wrongs by overwhelming them with the rights…
Of course I’m not talking a bout paid staff people. In that regard the church is exactly like a business. No, I’m just talking about real Jesus-followers mobilized around mission. There are unlimited seats on our buses for them!
Jon…Really good thought and I think in an ideal church (real Jesus-followers mobilized around mission) that would be true but unfortunately I haven’t seen it play out that way. Unlimited seats really sounds like a Kingdom of God thing to me but I’ve witnessed plenty of “Jesus loving volunteers” elbowing there way to the better seats. I wish it wasn’t the case but in my church I still very carefully pick volunteers knowing it will be very hard (possibly hurtful) if I ask them to step down or take their “power” away by surrounding them with more volunteers. Going back to you post…If our churches were self aware of the greater purpose in the Kingdom then maybe we could take advantage of our unlimited seats on the bus?
You know, I think I allowed myself to swing waaaaay over into idealism for just a minute there. 🙂 You make a good point, idealism is rarely the reality on the ground.
Glenn Burris says often, “I am a realist moving towards idealism…” I try to maintain that view myself.
Nick, Thanks for opening up the complexity of the right and wrong people on the church bus. Since I’m often the pessimist I’m going to look at the bright side for a moment. I recently had a recent hire leave (life circumstances changed), I didn’t think she was the wrong person but I soon realized she was. Regardless, she stepped away unexpectedly and I had the opportunity to look for someone else. This is a part-time children’s ministry minister. In steps a young mom of four who is gifted in communication and is spiritually insightful. She’s been a breath of fresh air for our staff and is reenergizing the children’s ministry. It’s almost never that easy, I know, but what a blessing when it is.
Nick, You said, “Letting people go in the church is a difficult sensitive process and is rarely worth the damage it can cause.” Man! What a touchy nerve. I have probably let five payed staff members go in my ministry run. I would agree with your statement and can’t honestly say, “It had to be done.” or, “I had no other choice.” Each time I think I made good situational judgement call, but in each case can’t argue indefensibly that the damage done by doing so was worth it. I have come to the conclusion, I never want to get good at asking people off the bus or out of a seat. I will need to continue to do it at times, but I always want to be aware of the reality of what happens to a person, the organization, and many lingering ripple effects. Good thoughts and pushback.
Great words and insight.
Terminating people is never easy and it is always a sensitive situation. I don’t think there is any difference in the Christian vs. secular worlds. It is never good to keep someone in a position because we feel bad and don’t want to hurt them. If they aren’t a good fit or truly aren’t performing, then we aren’t doing them any favors by leaving them where they are at. This breeds discontent, low morale amongst staff, and disrespect. What if our fear of firing holds someone back from finding their true fit or from growing and learning? As leaders, our decisions should never be based on emotion or fear. Rather, we must make informed decisions, and assess if individuals detract or enhance our ability to fulfill the mission the Lord has given. When we hesitate to remove a person from the bus for fear of hurting them, then we lack faith in the Lord. All decisions should be prayerfully considered.
The reality that I see most often is that people fear conflict, controversy, and dealing with emotions. Politics is often a key driver of people and positions. We brush issues under the rug and assume they won’t impact the ministry. And, we do this in the name of showing ‘Christian love’ and loyalty to an individual. On the flip side, we shouldn’t hire people who lack the skills to do the job being asked. I see many churches hire people based on who they know, for political reasons, or because they are a warm body willing to work for very low pay. Human resource practice often reflects an organization’s ethics and dogma. Our practices should reflect Christ.
You are so true Nick when it comes to getting people off the bus and in the right seat. As a pastor or any leader who wants to fire a child of God? I have faced situation like this and I have grown a lot in this area. You have to be sensitive but at the same time straight forward. One of the mothers of my church started calling the members of the church after I had stopped something that was getting to expensive each month. And she got one lady so upset with me that she wanted to have a meeting with me and give it to me. The mother wanted to attend to even when I said it had nothing to do with her. The other lady insisted on her being there so i let her. To make a long story short i actually told the mother and the other lady that maybe they should find another church home. And they did! And the church got back to normal. Sometimes you got to get them off the bus before you have chaos on it! Blessings!
Thank you for sharing this – you have set a great model for others. Too many times churches ignore disruptive behavior of individuals in attempts to hold onto every member. What you did was a wonderful model of leadership. Even though the result was two lost members and a lot of drama, you kept the greater needs of the church in mind.