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Three Strands Are Better Than One

When I was a teenager, my parents would send me to Norway every summer. My father is Norwegian, and that's where I was born. Deep in the beautiful fjords, I would spend summer days visiting with my grandmother and making friends with all the young people who were vacationing nearby.

I was quite a novelty to these Norwegians, and I got along with them very well. They loved to talk about their own culture and how things there were different from America. They also liked to talk, endlessly sometimes, about how the Europeans were all different from each other. One time, a friend told me a joke about how Europeans regarded each other. It goes like this. “In heaven, the French cook the food, the Germans build the cars, and the British run the police. In hell, the British cook the food, the French build the cars, and the Germans run the police.”

If you don't get the joke, you probably need to brush up on your history books. Yes, I know this is stereotyping people, but I think it also proves an interesting point. We all bring to the table diverse strengths and weaknesses. In 1 Corinthians 12, Paul gives a great metaphor about the members of the church being parts of the same body of Christ. Some of us are “eyes,” some are “hands” and others are “feet.” Every part of the body is different but is nonetheless essential.

How do we apply this principle in leadership? We know that leadership in the early church was very much pluralistic. Paul often writes to “the elders” and gives greetings from “Paul and Barnabas” and “Paul and Timothy.” Pluralistic leadership was the norm back then, and it should be the norm today.

In his book Made for Mission, David A. Posthuma describes a concept he calls the “Three-Strand Cord Leadership Team.” He explains that in most churches a ministry or project will

be led based on two primary models. The first is the Point Person model. In this model, a “point person” is placed in charge, and others serve as “support staff.” The Point Person is expected to be “all things to all people.” This model often leads to problems with burnout, accountability, and succession planning. Lack of accountability occurs because the support staff does not feel empowered to challenge the top-down structure. Lack of succession planning becomes evident when that person leaves and no one else is ready to continue their responsibilities. This leaves the organization vulnerable.

The Committee Model also has its problems. Often, it lacks a clear line of authority for responsibility and results. In a personal example from many years ago, I was part of a school board that consisted entirely of school parents. They were put in charge of setting tuition rates. (Who would want to vote to raise their own costs?) When the board failed to raise rates, none of the members had to personally deal with the consequences. Instead, it was the principal and teachers who bore the brunt. This system can also lead to role confusion and role competition.

Postuma recommends embracing an alternative model that consists of an Administrator (someone who is passionate about addressing the details), a Team Leader (someone who is passionate about gathering people together), and a Nurturing Leader (who naturally cares about the spiritual well being of the team). He draws a parallel between these three roles and the following three primary leadership personality types:

  1. Builders: people who are Visionary, Task Dominant, Strategic or Entrepreneurial

  2. Manager: people who are Motivational, Mission Tasked, Accomplishment Driven, and Administrative

  3. Nurturer: people who are Relational, People Dominant, Harmony Driven, and Pastoral

Because the team intentionally identifies and aligns roles with talents, there is less likelihood of role confusion and competition. Instead, team members naturally work in and gravitate toward their giftedness. If one person leaves, work can continue. The team simply needs to find someone who shares the gifts of that particular person.

In our own ministry application, we have created a “Serving Survey” to help align people with potential serving and leading opportunities. The key to engagement with this survey is keeping it brief. We would like members to be able to fill it out in less than two minutes. So rather than asking people to engage in a lengthy assessment process, we simply ask them to rank their preferences:

  • I prefer working with people.

  • I prefer working with tasks.

  • I prefer working with processes and systems.

It’s not perfect, but it's quick. And it helps start a conversation that points people in the right serving direction. “Process” people do great with check-in stations. “People” people do great on hospitality teams. “Task” people do great with data entry, etc.

If you would like to go even deeper into the concept of identifying people's gifts, I recommend you check out Tania Hilton’s recent post about the 6 Types of Working Genius.


  • Made for Mission, Discovering God’s Unique Design for Your Life and Ministry - David A. Posthuma

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1 Comment

Great submission Jack. It boils it down to a simple formula. Love it!

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