Tuesday, November 13, 2007


I was talking with a friend who is a leader in a traditional, denominational church. He was telling me about a worship director they were about to hire. Evidently she is very gifted and qualified. A very proficient pianist. A very powerful vocalist. Sounded pretty good on the surface. Maybe too good, actually. The number of times my friend used the word "very" to describe her raised a red flag with me. I said to him, "Challenges often attend the word 'very.'" What challenges am I referring to? A few come to mind:

1. The challenge of transferability.

If you believe that church leaders are to "do the ministry" then, by all means, you want to recruit the most gifted performers you possibly can to "do" it. But if you believe, as I do, that church leaders to "see that the ministry gets done" then you are looking for someone different, a "recruitor and deployer." In an ironic twist, I have found that the more gifted a person is in doing the ministry, the more difficult to give the ministry away. Three complications get in the way of the transfer:

a. The complication of drop-off. It is always a sacrifice to give your ministry to someone else. But the sacrifice gets excrutiating when the "drop-off" seems significant. To put this crassly, if you are giving a ministry to a person who is a 7 on a scale of 10 (not bad, really), it is less painful to do so when you are an 8, instead of a 10. To go from 10 to 7 seems like a huge step "backward" (which is why you often have to wrestle responsibilities away from gifted people).

b. The complication of qualification If people use the word "very" to describe you, it is because you are eminently qualified in that respect, probably a 9 or a 10. As a rule of thumb, I say that if you can find someone who can do the ministry 80% as well as you can, you should give it to them, because the remaining 20% is not worth holding onto, particularly when placed against the upside of deploying another person in the ministry. However, using the 80% rule as a guide, the more gifted you are, the less people you can find who can rise to that 80% threshold. You almost always are looking for 7s, 8s and 9s, and there are far fewer of those than there are 5s and 6s.

c. The complication of explanation. Sometimes highly gifted individuals are so intuitive and talented that they literally cannot tell someone else how they do what they do. It just comes naturally. It's a gift. On this point the person with lesser talent who has had to "figure it out" finds it easier to teach someone else. Cynics will say, "Those who can't, teach." I modify that to say, "Those who can't quite as well, sometimes teach better."

2. The challenge of specialization.

The more a person advances in a particular field, the more they tend to specialize. For instance, my friend's very-qualified-music-ministry-candidate is classically trained. This means that she has had extraordinary exposure to a genre of music that is not in extraordinary demand. This also might mean that she will not show the same love for jazz, funk, pop, or country that a lesser-trained music-lover might demonstrate. As you climb the ladder of specialization your focus tends to narrow. At its worst, this narrowing results in a person becoming an elitist snob; at its best this narrowing leaves less appreciation for the range of possibilities. Not that we'd have to worry about narrowness in the church, right?

3. The challenge of blind spots.

The brighter the light, the more dramatic the shadows. A few years ago I hired a young lady to be a worship director, who was an extremely gifted violinist. In fact, she was so good that she in now living in Los Angeles, working with some of the biggest names in the industry. She brought tremendous value on stage, but to make her compensation make sense, I also had her doing some things for me in the office (setting up small groups, answering phones, etc). She was a way better performer than a clerk. If we could have opened up her skull we would have found that the right side of her brain (the creative side) was muscle-bound; the left side (the analytical side) was shrimpy. One day I remember someone coming into the office and asking her about what we had going for kids. I could hear her thinking out loud to herself, "Hmmm. Things for kids. Hmmm. What do we have for kids?" Eventually she popped her head through the door of my office and asked, "Dave, do we have anything going on for kids?" I replied, "Well, yes. During each of the Sunday services we have kids groups from nursery age through sixth grade." I then proceeded to list a number of other things with which our kids got involved, like summer camp, parents night out, etc. She dutifully went back and relayed the information. I smiled as she walked away, because as gifted as she was in her right brain, was a about how ungifted she was in her left. Why do I tell you this story? Not to belittle anyone, because if I could hire her again, I would. I tell you the story because it illustrates the nature of "very." She was very gifted in her ministry, but corresponding to the "overdeveloped" part, was an "underdeveloped" part. We were able to cover for that, so we had a great working relationship. But you do have to cover the blind spots, and they tend to be more dramatic the more we have to use the word "very" to describe the strength.

4. The challenge of reliance.

The more talented a person is, the more challenged that person is to work interdependently - in concert with God and others. When you struggle to "get by" no one has to convince you of how vital prayer is, or how valuable is other's input. But when you are "the best" at what you do, you can easily become deluded into a level of grandiosity that is spiritually, emotionally and relationally dangerous. There is not a direct connection between artistic talent and moral failure, but extreme talent can be an environmental factor that exaggerates character defects.


A church with which I have been consulting has been struggling in the transition from a beloved founding pastor to a successor. As is always the case, the men have different gifts and styles. But in this case, there is also the challenge of "very." As I spoke with the successor, I asked him if people use the word "very" to describe his predecessor. His eyes got big, and he said, "Well yes. People do all the time....to describe his teaching." Knowing the predecessor myself, I already knew the answer. Indeed he is a great Bible-teacher, a 10 in that respect. I'm not sure about this, but I'm guessing the successor is a 6 or 7 in that respect. No one's at fault here, but I actually think that it is the predecessor's extreme talent that is more to "blame" than the successor's average talent. The handoff is always easier when their is parity.

I think one of the reasons we've been able to make so many successful leadership handoffs in the CTK story is that we aren't "very." As I've reflected on the word "very" I've realized that the word is rarely used to describe our leaders, including me. This is a good thing. I am an OK teacher, administrator, pastor, leader and counselor. But I'm not "off the charts" in any respect. This has allowed me to launch seven locations in seven years, and to make handoffs to leaders who were often equivalent or better than me. I'm not sure we would have had the same success if it were the other way around.

No comments: