In his recent book, Entre Leadership, Dave Ramsey shares 20 years of practical leadership wisdom. Since a major part of a healthy organization is a unified team, leaders must be diligent to keep the five enemies of unity away from the door.
  1. Poor Communication. Winning organizations have a culture of communication, but if the right hand doesn’t know what the left hand is doing, you have disunity and frustration. Effective leaders let people know what’s going on, good or bad. They don’t leave people to guess what is happening in the congregation. They give people accurate, open and honest information. When negative information is held too closely, people usually figure it out anyway (or they assume things that aren’t true.). These become false narratives within the congregation, and leaders usually take the greatest hit. The answer is to communicate well, good or bad.
  2. Lack of Shared Purpose. Lack of shared purpose causes a disunity, but shared goals create unity. Effective leaders gather people to dream and create together. They ask for input, honor the ideas of others, and communicate a sense of team.  The 2004 USA basketball team was loaded with NBA all-stars, but failed to win an Olympic gold medal that year. How did that happen? John Wooden offered this explanation: “The U.S. sent great players; the opposition sent great teams.”  A friend of mine suggests that you should never leave a meeting without answering two questions: “What’s most important right now?” and “Who’s doing what?” Without a common goal there is no unity.
  3. Gossip. It is impossible to have unity where gossip abounds. “The very nature of gossip is the opposite of unity. Instead of pulling people together, gossip pushes them apart,” Dave says. In their organization, they hate gossip so much that its’ a fireable offense. Gossip “has the power to divide and destroy everything you have built.” The wise Solomon gives some good counsel: “Whoever guards his mouth and tongue keeps his soul from trouble.” Remember: “Gossip is anything negative said to anyone who can’t fix it.”
  4. Unresolved Disagreements. Disagreements are inevitable where people work together, yet it’s often the case that we bury the hatchet and leave the handle sticking out so we can pick it up later. Unresolved, disagreements paralyze organizations and churches, and the festering begins. It is the job of leaders to act quickly and decisively when conflict arises. Leadership is a series of difficult conversations. Leaders have conversations, non-leaders don’t. They confront what everyone else knows. Jesus counsels, “Settle matters quickly with your adversary” (Matthew 5:25).
  5. Sanctioned Incompetence. We must be careful not to sacrifice the good of the body because of an unwillingness to have the hard conversation with a staff or ministry leader who is ineffective in his or her responsibility. When we overlook incompetence, the entire organization becomes disengaged and people are demotivated. Dave says, “If you want a fabulously unified team and all the good stuff that brings, you will have to work unbelievably hard to avoid sanctioned incompetence.”

Five football coaches were recently interviewed on the SEC Network and were asked how the game has changed. Each talked about the speed of the game, the no huddle and spread offense. Nick Saban was on the panel and commented, “Last year our defense ran 178 more plays than we did the year before because offenses are so fast now.” He said, “I would love to keep it like it was but the game has changed. Today’s pace is more exciting and the spectators like it better.” From a change perspective, consider this: there are still four quarters, a field goal counts three points, there is still a 100-yard field, and an offense must gain ten yards to get a first down. These are the facts of the game, the non-negotiables. But what are the negotiables? A coach certainly has the option to adapt or continue to play “old school football.” To do so, however, risks the loss of recruits in the short run, and losing success and momentum in the long term. As church leaders, change is all about us, but here’s what we often do in response to change. We say, “You have to have three backs in the backfield or you’re not scripturally in line.” And when you’ve played football one way all of your life—or done church one way–you can be resistant to any kind change. Change, however, whether in football or in leading a congregation, is a constant. Traditionally, Nick Saban has always had great defenses and a great running game. He could refuse to adapt and say, “At Alabama, we’re going to continue doing what tradition dictates.” But that’s not the path he has chosen. Last year Alabama had the highest scoring year ever because he said, “I want to be effective at the game.” So the question that we must always be asking is this: what are the non-negotiables of the game – the fundamentals, the 3 point field goal and the 10 yard first down – and what are the matters around us that must change and flex so that we remain relevant. This is the task of leaders – to navigate change wisely and live in tension with truth and change, to make the conversation a blessing and not a burden, to engage with our culture and do something creatively where God can work in our midst without us ever departing from biblical values. There is nothing wrong with change; your congregation is going to change. Rather than being paranoid, get ahead of change by keeping the main thing the main thing. Then let God work through creative leadership conversations to consider ways to reach those who don’t yet know Christ. Questions for reflection:
  1. What are the non-negotiables?
  2. What are the areas where we must flex and change to be an effective witness to our age?
  3. What assurances are needed in order to make these transitions?
  4. What are the risks involved in being unwilling to flex and adjust? How might our decisions today affect us ten years from now?
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