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August 21, 2009

Over-Trained and Overwhelmed Leaders

Since I’d heard some buzz about the book, I was happy to accept the invitation for GFL to part of its “blog tour” along with our sister site, After reading the following passage from chapter 17 of Sticky Church, I became even more excited about sharing this with you all.

In it, author Larry Osborne describes “a common trap,” and certainly one that has kept me—as a leader who has to manage time wisely between motherhood, writing, speaking, and other responsibilities—from getting involved in certain leadership positions I might otherwise enjoy.

Can’t wait to hear what you have to say about this excerpt from Larry Osborne’s Sticky Church:

When we at North Coast Church began our small group ministry, we fell into a common trap.

We overtrained.

Our goal was to have the best-equipped small group leaders in America. So every fall, we hosted an all-day training event for our leaders and hosts. Every month we set aside an extra evening for building community and further training. Every week, we provided a cassette tape designed to prepare leaders for the coming week’s study.

We thought we were providing top-drawer training. But most of our leaders didn’t see it that way. For them, it wasn’t great training as much as information overload…..

Much of the problem stemmed from an all too common disconnect between those of us who are in professional ministry and those of us who volunteer for frontline ministry. We tend to view meetings and time commitments through very different lenses.

Most small group leaders have jobs that demand a minimum of 40 to 50 hours a week. Many have a lengthy commute. Some have kids in sports programs that demand hours each day and an entire morning or afternoon each weekend. Some even dare to have a favorite hobby or special interest!

But staff members tend to view job and church involvement as one. A monthly training meeting isn’t an extra night out as much as a part of the work week. In fact, some staff members take the afternoon off as compensation, or sleep in late the next morning to “recover.” It’s the same for things like our weekly training audio. It may take many hours of prep to put it together, but again it’s all part of the job. No one on the ministry staff listens to it during their off hours.

All this tends to make pastors and staff members insensitive to the time crunch that lay leaders feel. Whereas volunteers come to extra training meetings exhausted, staff members come ramped up, rested, and ready to do their thing.

The first sign that something was wrong with our approach to training was the increased amount of effort it took to get people to come to the meetings or listen to the weekly audio recordings. We tried adding incentives. We provided higher-quality refreshments. We brought in guest speakers. We made the meetings shorter. We tried drive-by guiltings. We tried making all of our meetings a requirement.

Nothing worked.

Finally it dawned on me that maybe we were asking too much. While our leaders wanted training (at least they told us so), they didn’t want it in the way we were providing it.


So, honestly, my first reaction to this passage was, “No, duh.” But the good news is, the chapter goes on to outline some solid, practical revisions to their training techniques. I wonder what ways you all have found that effectively train leaders without overwhelming them.


Amen! Amen! AMEN!!!

These are timely words as I'm feeling like one of the volunteers described. Very glad to hear I'm not the only one.

Good observation! When I led, I discovered I needed to ask specifically want the participants desired in training, and go from there.

I totally agree with your point about how women are tired and dread activities that put one more meeting on their calendar. What they want is fellowship and something that meets their need. At Inspire Women, we produce citywide women's conferences and leadership seminars that require volunteers and training. What I have found is how women love to come where they can talk and encourage each other. So we have those kind of fellowships during the year to build a community of volunteers. When it comes to details on how to serve at an event or in a program, the closer to the day of the event the more urgency we can create. If we plan training too far ahead, people forget the details. The best attended meetings take place a day or two before the actual event.

Hmm. I agree and I don't.

As a lay pastor of a small congregation, I have to work for my income separate from my church work. And no, I wouldn't want to be going out more than once a week in the evenings except for once off situations - like, once in 6 weeks or so.

But on the other hand, I deliberately reduce the activities of our family so that we *can* be actively involved in training and other church activities. For me, it is way more important for my kids to be involved with the church than for them to take extra curricular activities in sport, music, hobbies, etc etc etc. They are allowed *one* activity that requires consistent attendance, and that's it. And as much as possible, I restrict them to things on the same day, so that we only go out once.

I might be a bit old fashioned, but why is it so important that we all be so incredibly busy? Let's work to live, not live to work. I want to have time to live for God!

Caryn and Cate,
Thank you for your words, both of you! I'm a pastor shepherd who oversees little ones and their families and I love giving similar advise. Room to live is a good thing!

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