Sticky Teams

Larry Osborne, Sticky Teams: Keeping Your Leadership Team and Staff on the Same Page (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2010). $16.99, 224 pages.

There is often a huge gap between what a seminarian learns in the classroom and what a pastor learns on the job. Seminaries focus on training would-be pastors to read and preach the Bible, to understand and defend orthodox theology, and to counsel troubled souls. What they don’t teach them is how to run a board meeting, build a cohesive staff, or unify a congregation around a mission. And yet, this is what precisely what pastors do with a good bit of their time.

Thankfully, there are authors like Pastor Larry Osborne who are willing to share the fruits of their labors with others. “Leadership is not an academic subject,” he writes in Sticky Teams. “It’s an art and skill that’s best learned in a hands-on environment.” Sticky Teams is the result of thirty years of hands-on experience leading North Coast Church, a multisite congregation in northern San Diego County. Osborne wrote the book “to provide some practical guidelines for building and maintaining greater unity and spiritual health within our boards, staffs, and congregations.” How a pastor leads those three groups will largely determine how effective his ministry and the ministry of his church will be.

After an introductory chapter on the nature and necessity of church unity, the book divides into three parts. Part 1 examines “the traditions, policies, and structures that unintentionally sabotage unity.” It is tempting to blame all church fights on sin—typically, the sins committed by people on the other side of an issue. While sin undoubtedly plays a role, so do how we structure board meetings; how we select leaders; whether our leadership structures are appropriate to the size of our churches; the leadership practices we live by; our understanding of the pastor’s, board members’ and staff’s roles; and whether we release younger generations for ministry and leadership.

Part 2 looks at what it takes to get everyone on “the same page.” For board members, Osborne advocates taking seriously the spiritual functions of leadership. In addition to monthly business meetings, North Coast has monthly “shepherds’ meetings,” which set business to the side and focus on relationship building, training, and prayer. For staff members, Osborne advocates setting out “plumb lines” that are used to evaluate the effectiveness of ministries. For congregations, Osborne advocates that pastors incorporate the vision and mission of the church in every sermon, that they “front load” congregational expectations with a class for new attendees, and that they keep congregational meetings short and to the point by allowing for discussion and debate in the weeks leading up to the meeting.

Part 3 focuses on communication strategies, especially when it comes to change, money issues, and “telling the truth when the truth is hard.” That last category includes knowing what to say when there’s a moral failure in the pastoral staff, when there’s a financial crisis, and when a staff member has to be let go.

Sticky Teams is not heavy on leadership theory. It focuses on leadership practice. And Osborne is very pragmatic. He explains and advocates what has worked well for North Coast. He also recognizes that your results may vary. The key thing is to find those practices that work well to maintain unity in your church, factoring in things like your church’s denomination or tradition and its size.

I recommend Sticky Teams for pastors, lay leaders, and seminarians. Whether they adopt all of Osborne’s recommendations, it will help them reflect on their own practices in a new and creative light. And for seminarians, it will fill the gap in their education.


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Sex, Prayer, and Holiness (1 Corinthians 7:5-6)

Is sex dirty, or is it holy?

This question neatly frames the difference between the Corinthians’ view of sex and Paul’s. For the Corinthians—or, at least, some of them—sex was a dirty act that should be avoided. Their motto was, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman” (1 Corinthians 7:1). Consequently, they advocated abstinence, even within marriage. For Paul, however, sex is a holy act between a husband and a wife, who possess, have obligations to, and hold authority over one another’s bodies (7:2-4). Indeed, it is a sanctifying act, that is, one that aids a husband and wife’s progress in holiness.

Consider what Paul writes in this regard in 1 Corinthians 7:5-6:

Do not deprive each other except by mutual consent and for a time, so that you may devote yourselves to prayer. Then come together again so that Satan will not tempt you because of your lack of self-control. I say this as a concession, not as a command.

The word deprive in verse 5 is a strong one. Paul uses the same word in 6:7-8, where it is translated by the word cheat. James 5:4 uses the same word to describe “the wages [landowners] failed to pay [their workers],” or, as the ESV translates the verse, “the wages…which you kept back by fraud.” Just as it is wrong to defraud an employee of his wages or to cheat a fellow Christian out of his legal due, so it is wrong to deprive a spouse of his or her marital right to sexual intercourse. A sexless marriage is, in Christian terms, a fraud.

And fraud is precisely what the Corinthians—or, at least, some of them—seemed intent on perpetrating upon their spouses. Worse, they offered a spiritual justification for their inaction, namely, that they abstained in order to pray. They seemed to assume that one could not be both spiritual beings who prayed and physical beings who made love to their spouses. Orthodox Christian theology teaches that we are spiritual bodies or embodied spirits who both pray and, when married, have sex.

Paul conceded that on occasion, married Christians may abstain from sex for the purposes of intentional spiritual formation, as long as the abstention was mutual and time-delimited. A sex-fast, in this regard, is similar in purpose to a fast of food. But just as one would not stop eating altogether, one should not—if married—stop having sexual relations all together.

Why? Because sex is (or can be) an aid to holiness. The Corinthians’ unbiblical asceticism resulted in an uptick of visits to prostitutes. Had they maintained normal relations with their spouses, they would have been able to resist that temptation and instead practice self-control, meaning sex solely within the bounds of marriage.

The great error in Christian spirituality is denigrating the bodies God has given us under the mistaken notion that the spiritual has nothing to do with the physical. God gave you a body. Use it rightly!

The Morality and Mutuality of Christian Marriage (1 Corinthians 7:2-4)

In 1 Corinthians 7:2-4, Paul writes about the morality and mutuality of Christian marriage.

But since there is so much immorality, each man should have his own wife, and each woman her own husband. The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife, and likewise the wife to her husband. The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband. In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.

He begins by contrasting the immorality of prostitution with the morality of marriage.

In Greek, the first four words of verse 2 are dia de tas porneias. Porneia (plural, porneias) can be translated narrowly as “prostitution” or broadly as “sexual immorality,” depending on context. Here the context favors the narrow translation for two reasons: (1) Paul commands the Corinthians not to visit prostitutes in 6:13-20. Although the NIV translates porneia as “sexual immorality” in verses 13 and 18, verses 15 and 16 make it clear that consorting with prostitutes is the specific sexual immorality being addressed. (2) Paul uses the plural form porneias in 7:2, which suggests that he has specific acts in mind, not just sexual immorality in general.

It seems paradoxical that the Corinthians said, “it is good for a man not to touch a woman,” but nonetheless consorted with prostitutes. This is, in my opinion, an example of how extreme spiritualities promote extreme immoralities by way of reaction. Celibacy is the appropriate way of life for people whom God has so gifted (7:7). For the rest of us, marriage is the God-given channel for the fulfillment of our God-created sexual desires. It is the moral golden mean between asceticism on the one extreme and libertinism on the other.

Marriage, at least according to Christian teaching, is also a matter of mutuality between a husband and a wife.

Paul uses three images to describe the relationship between spouses: possession, obligation, and authority.


Each man should have his own wife,

        and each woman her own husband.


The husband should fulfill his marital duty to his wife,

        and likewise the wife to her husband.


The wife’s body does not belong to her alone but also to her husband.

        In the same way, the husband’s body does not belong to him alone but also to his wife.

Notice that each image applies equally to the husband and to the wife. Paul does not teach that the husband alone possesses, is obligated to, and has authority over his wife, but not the other way around. Instead, he teaches that each spouse has possession of, obligation to, and authority over the other spouse.

Interestingly, when Paul says a husband should have “his own wife,” he uses the same pronoun (heautou) as he uses in 6:19: “You are not your own.” As a Christian does not belong to himself but to God, so a Christian husband does not belong to himself but to his wife, and vice versa.

No Abstinence within Marriage (1 Corinthians 7:1)

When it comes to human sexuality, Christians have gotten a bad rap. If I read our critics rightly, we are either ascetics whose only word regarding sex is “No,” or hypocrites who indulge our sexual appetites with an enthusiastic “Yes,” even as we denounce others’ indulgence of the same. Either way, we don’t come out looking good in the eyes of others.

Having a good reputation is a good thing, of course, unless it’s not. There’s a difference between looking good and being good, after all, and it’s quite possible to look good to bad people, in which case you’re a bad person too. The crucial issue is the standard of evaluation.

For Christians, the standard of evaluation that matters most is God’s Word, which says “Yes” to sex inside marriage and “No” to sex outside of it. In that respect, the biblical teaching is both simple and clear in broad outline, but it also contains some complexifiying detail, such as what we read in 1 Corinthians 7:1-40.

Unfortunately, this passage—especially its first seven verses—often has been misinterpreted. The misinterpretation starts with verse 1, which the NIV translates as follows:

Now for the matters you wrote about: It is good for a man not to marry.

I use the word unfortunately because the NIV translation of the second half of verse 1 is misleading. That translation reads, “It is good for a man not to marry.” In Greek, a more literal translation is, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman.” Most modern translations recognize this as a euphemism for sexual intercourse and translate accordingly. For example, “It is good for a man not to have sexual relations with a woman” (ESV).

Is this Paul’s point of view? On the one hand, yes. He writes, “I wish that all men were as I am” (verse 7a), and he was celibate. Contemporary Christians have often forgotten that lifelong celibacy is a spiritual gift that God gives to some Christians (verse 7b).

On the other hand, no. Paul counsels husbands and wives to fulfill their marital duties to one another in verse 3. And he advises them not to “deprive” themselves “except by mutual consent and for a time” in verse 5. Indeed, the Greek word translated deprive here is translated as cheated in 6:7-8. A sexless marriage is, in Christian terms, a fraud. Paul further argues in verse 5 that married sex is an aid to sanctification, helping the Christian couple resist satanic temptation and grow in self-control.

The issue, then, in verses 1-7 is not whether unmarried people should marry but how sexually active married people should be. The slogan, “It is good for a man not to touch a woman,” is the Corinthians’ motto, not Paul’s. They advocated celibacy within marriage. From Paul’s point of view this is an error. As Gordon Fee summarizes Paul’s point, verses 1-7 teach that there should be “no abstinence within marriage.”

That hardly sounds like asceticism to me.

Atheism’s Just So Scenarios

From Edward J. Oakes, S.J., over at First Things.:

Today, one can hardly find more puffed-up braggarts than those noisy New Atheists currently mounting their soapboxes in Hyde Park, and who seem to labor under the assumption that they are doing the human race a favor by attacking belief in God. In fact, as Nietzsche saw, in his own inimitably ironic way, these atheist frat boys are really attacking science. This is because for Nietzsche—who was perhaps the only truly honest atheist in the history of philosophy—science was ultimately a moral, not an epistemological problem, a point he drove home with special force in The Gay Science (all italics are his):

The question “Why science?” leads back to the moral problem: Why have morality at all when life, nature, and history are “not moral”? . . . [I]t is still a metaphysical faith upon which our faith in science rests—even we seekers after knowledge today, we godless anti-metaphysicians still take our fire, too, from the flame lit by a faith that is thousands of years old, that Christian faith which was also the faith of Plato, that God is the truth, that truth is divine. —But what if this should become more and more incredible, if nothing should prove to be divine any more unless it were error, blindness, the lie—if God himself should prove to be our most enduring lie?

In other words, atheist “scientists” are eating away at the very foundation that makes science possible in the first place. If God is “our most enduring lie,” science is inevitably founded on that same lie. After all, science teaches that all stars eventually die out, and with them the planets that orbit them, and once those planets are consumed by the suns that gave them birth, so too will vanish the pathetic creatures that emerged from their respective planetary slimes. Sure, soon after their emergence, they began to invent such high-blown Platonic words like knowledge and truth during their brief strut upon the otherwise empty stage of the cosmos. But so what?

I am not trying to argue here against such a scenario, it being an option impervious to argument anyway, at least among those who have already adopted it as their primary framework for addressing all other questions. (I speak from experience.) But it is a scenario that can hardly be regarded as consequence-free. The battle is still between nihilism and theism. There is no third option. What most fascinates me about the debate launched by the New Atheists is how resolute they are in ignoring this point. This is why I think that, rather than trying to argue the New Atheists (who are more dogmatic about God than any Thomist has ever been) out of their settled views, it seems best to take their very imperviousness as itself a sign of the human condition.

At least that was Pascal’s strategy in his Pensées: “We want truth and find only uncertainty in ourselves. We search for happiness and find only wretchedness and death. We are unable not to want truth and happiness, and are incapable of either certainty or happiness.”

That’s the real lesson of atheism: it tells us more about the human condition than it ever can about God. As Pascal again pointed out with his usual unsparing gaze: “If man is not made for God, why is he happy only with God? If man is made for God, why is he so hostile to God?”

TDW On Hiatus

The Daily Word is on hiatus today through Friday. It’ll restart on Monday, May 24.

In the meantime, check out the following book review:

Eric Metaxas, Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010). $29.99, 591 pages.

“When Christ calls a man, he bids him come and die.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer wrote those words in The Cost of Discipleship, which was first published in 1937. Eight years later, on April 9, 1945, he answered Christ’s bidding and was executed by the Nazis at the Flossenburg concentration camp for conspiring to assassinate Adolf Hitler the previous year. Bonhoeffer’s last words, appropriate to a Christian facing death, were hopeful. “This is the end…For me the beginning of life.”

In Bonhoeffer, Eric Metaxas sets out to narrate Bonhoeffer’s life for a new generation of Christians…

To read the complete review, click here.

After the Hangover

R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr., After the Hangover: The Conservatives’ Road to Victory (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2010). $24.99, 272 pages.


In 2006 and 2008, Democrats gained control of Congress and the White House respectively. The majority of the American electorate had grown tired of Republican governance, which went hand in glove with unpopular wars, political scandals, economic recession, and Bush fatigue. Pundits quickly pronounced the death of conservatism, mistaking—it seems to me—the Republican genus with the conservative species.

But sixteen months into a unified Democratic government, the species is experiencing something of a resurrection, with Tea Parties rising first and pulling the fortunes of the Grand Old Party up with them, much to the surprise—and chagrin—of the pundits who had so recently announced their premature deaths.

As R. Emmett Tyrrell Jr. demonstrates in his new book, After the Hangover, liberal pundits have been pronouncing the imminent demise of conservatism for decades: after Goldwater, after Nixon, after Reagan, after Bush 41, and now after Bush 43. Conservatism has been the longest dying movement in American political history. And yet it lives.

After the Hangover is partly history, partly definition of terms, partly policy proposal, partly score settling, and partly self promotion. The history, definition, and policy succeed to varying degrees, while the score settling and self promotion fail in the same measure. Tyrrell is, if his account of his own prognostications is any measure, the only political pundit never to err. When it comes to his foresight and the accuracy of his magazine’s reportage—his magazine is The American Spectator—Tyrrell sees no error, no doubt, and no need for second thoughts.

The score setting can be amusing. Tyrrell refers to young conservatives such as Ross Douthat who critique other, older conservatives as “Reformed Conservatives.” He dubs David Frum and David Brooks as “the Davidian Branch” of the RCs. But it can also be more than a bit personal. He has little regard for Christopher Buckley who, in his opinion, not only insulted his father—William F. Buckley Jr.—at the latter’s funeral, but who went on to pour lemon juice in the open wound by supporting Barack Obama in the national election. The score settling is also a bit off-putting because throughout the book, Tyrrell encourages conservatives to engage one another at the level of ideas. Douthat, Frum, and Brooks are nothing if not idea factories. Why not engage with rather than insult them?

But in recounting the history, definition, and policy proposals of conservatism, Tyrrell’s book does much better. Modern conservatism is a “fusionism” (Frank Meyer’s term) of social conservative values, libertarian economics, and Cold War foreign policy. Although there are tensions within this movement—which Buckley pere spent a lifetime keeping fused together—there are also natural affinities, especially when the state’s power over its citizens is waxing, as it is doing currently in the Obama administration. (To be fair, the trendlines were already rising in certain policies of the Bush administration as well, and Tyrrell is critical of those.)

The burden of the conservative movement in such times is to contribute to the rolling back of the state. This task is difficult because of a traditionally liberal press, which spews what Tyrrell calls Kultursmog into public discourse, constantly challenging conservatism, even where unwarranted, while treating liberalism with kid gloves, even when the opposite treatment is warranted. Libertarian blogger Glenn Reynolds has a running gag on his blog (Instapundit) that begins with this line: “They told me if McCain were elected (or some other republican), we’d have _____ (some violation of constitutional, civil, or human rights).” The story he links to is one wherein President Obama or some other Democrat has enacted precisely that policy, either to media acclaim or media indifference. That’s Kultursmog.

Rolling back the state is also difficult for conservatives because, let’s face it, most Americans have made their peace—to one degree or another—with the New Deal. Americans have paid into Social Security, Medicaid, and Medicare for generations. They expect it to be there for them when they die. The Tea Parties may be changing some minds on this issue, as public entitlement commitments grow dangerously past revenues and as crony capitalism—i.e., TARP, “Government Motors,” Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac—threatens to send the economy into permanent recession. But still, in one form or another, the New Deal is here to stay.

In his policy proposals, even Tyrrell must take this into account. He favors Steve Forbes’s federal flat tax rate of 17%. Seventeen percent? That would better than what I’m paying now, but a limited federal government wouldn’t really need that much, would it? And while school choice is a winning policy proposal among conservatives, it assumes that the state government (and perhaps even the federal) has a legitimate role to play in disbursing public funds for public ends through private providers. And Tyrrell favors reining in health care costs by removing tax breaks for employer-provided health plans. Why tax any health plans at all?

And so, the conundrum for conservatives is this: Americans love the gift but despise the giver. Americans want Social Security and Medicare, they want the secondary market in mortgages that Fannie and Freddie provide because it helps them own houses cheaply, they want the intrusions into their personal lives that keep them safe from terrorists. But they don’t want to pay for these things, and when those things begin to cost them too much, Americans object. Conservatives thrive on opposition to the giver. Their task in the present must surely be to wean the electorate off the gift.

Unfortunately, despite the excellent history of conservatism and the useful policy proposals, Tyrrell doesn’t address this fundamental conundrum. And he sees a populist conservatism of Tea Parties, new media, and think tanks, but not a countercultural conservatism that challenges the majority’s favor of what the state provides. Until we see that kind of conservatism arise, my guess is that the hangover will continue for some time.


P.S. If you found this review helpful, please vote “Yes” on my home page.

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