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.


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

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