Just as a body, though one, has many parts, but all its many parts form one body, so it is with Christ. – 1 Corinthians 12:12 (NIV)
What does it mean to be an “deliberately developmental organization?” Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey’s “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization” is an examination of how organizations can best succeed when they invest in the growth of people. Rather than see people as commodities or “cogs” in the corporate machine, a deliberately developmental organization is as focused on helping people overcome their limitations as they are on profitability, seeing the two as linked. As an offering of the Harvard Business Review Press, this book is naturally situated for companies, but are their broader implications for organizations like the church?
Developing people can be a challenge in the church. While churches may talk about investing in people, in practice, churches often reward stability and predictable continuity. Many churches have a strong gravitational pull toward the status quo that cause them to look for the easiest and calmest leadership development strategies, which includes focusing on established leaders and those who seem to possess “natural” leadership ability. Kegan and Lahey write, “Ordinary organizations don’t move you into a new role as soon as you’ve mastered the old one; instead, they commend you for having mastered it and call you reliable and dependable, appreciating the way you can be counted on now to keep performing the role indefinitely.” Churches that want to become deliberately developmental organizations need to be intentional about building a culture, invested in relationships at all levels, and able to help people recognize their capability.
There is no doubt that churches are notorious for extracting every last ounce of energy and passion from a congregant who volunteered for a task or a role, not knowing it would become a lifetime appointment. Churches are filled with “experts” who have served for years on a committee or in a role who have become tired, bored, and/or stuck. In some cases, the person in the role may be just as reluctant to give up their spot as a church might be to have to look for someone else. In other cases, it is really just a matter of leaving well-enough alone. Whatever the circumstance, churches that operate out of this mindset often lack imagine, initiative, and/or intentionality.
At the same time, for most churches, staff roles are very specific to tasks that need to be accomplished. For example, a church musician (pianist, organist, or guitar-player,) is likely to be expected to be competent, reliable, and dependable and is not likely be moved to another role in the organization as soon as they have mastered the first one. To be deliberately developmental, the church would need to see opportunities to expand the role of the church musician once they have proven themselves capable in their initial roles, and be prepared to adjust the job description and compensation package, again something many churches seem reluctant, unwilling, or unable to do.
Another importance aspect of developing people in the church is in building relational credibility. Lance Witt writes that all development in the church hinges on relationships. “Relationship is what gives me the right and insight to encourage, comfort, and urge the people on my team.” Jesus’ relationship with his disciples allowed him to prepare them for greater work.
The deliberately developmental way of Jesus was to call, teach, model, equip, send, and support. Perhaps this model could also work for the Church of Jesus Christ. The model of Jesus was to move his followers to collaborators and ultimately, apostles; from students to interns to partners. Rather than scrambling from one year to the next to identify and recruit a small percentage of church members to serve in leadership, a church could implement a system that begins with building relationships as a means to develop people at various levels of ability.
The Apostle Paul took this a step further as he compared the community of faith to a body. Each part having a specific function, and each part necessary and important to the whole. Jason Johnson writes about the importance for everyone in the church to “find their something.” He writes, “The goal of your church is not simply to start a peripheral ministry a few are involved in; it’s to establish … an environment where it’s understood that while we’re not all called to do the same thing, we’re all certainly capable of doing something.”
This method begins with the idea that every person has something they can contribute. One way of communicating this, to paraphrase Johnson, would be to say that some are going to travel to Central America to drill a water well and the rest of us will look and pray for ways to support that work. Supporting the work might be to pray, to give money, to research sustainable partnerships, to help with stateside logistics, and so on. This is one expression of “an everyone culture” in which the gifts of all are celebrated, even as they are deployed differently.
The old adage that eighty percent of the work is done by twenty percent of the people will continue to be a self-fulfilling prophecy in churches that are not committed to a better way of developing people to make significant contributions to the community of faith and the Kingdom of God. And this is vital work. Churches could be establishing a model for how to intentionally develop people by investing in relationships and recognizing the capability of each person. Will the church take the lead? Or will the church remain stuck in a mindset that contributes to its continued decline?
 Robert Kegan and Lisa Laskow Lahey, “An Everyone Culture: Becoming a Deliberately Developmental Organization,” (Boston: Harvard Business Review Press, 2016,) 2.
 Ibid, 13.
 Whatever that means.
 Ibid, 83.
 Lance Witt, “Developing People: The Key to Ministry Multiplication,” theunstuckgroup.org, September 3, 2019, https://theunstuckgroup.com/2019/09/developing-people-the-key-to-ministry-multiplication/.
 Jason Johnson, “Building an ‘Everyone Can Do Something’ Culture at Your Church,” cafo.org, January 29, 2018, https://cafo.org/2018/01/29/building-everyone-can-something-culture-church/.
 I’m aware that this is not the actual application of the 80/20 Principle, but it remains a familiar trope in church leadership circles.