Who’s the smartest guy in the room?

By Rick Duncan

As trainers, the temptation is for us to want to be the wisest, the most experienced, the hippest, and the most-clever guy in the room. We think that’s what will give us credibility and move the cohort ahead farther faster.

Most of us were trained by the “sage on the stage,“ rather than by the “scribe on the side.“ We also have a stubborn, fallen desire to be in the spotlight so we can receive the applause. That’s why we can end up reverting to the “talking head” method of training.

But what if we truly believed that no one of us is as smart as all of us? What if we truly believed that the wisdom of the group is greater than the wisdom of “the guy“?

Sometimes when I am leading a Train the Trainer Retreat, I will point out to the group that I have had 39 years of ministry experience. I’m the old guy in the room with a lot of tread worn off my tires! That means everybody should listen to me, right? Then, I will ask each person in the cohort how many years of ministry experience they have had. I tally up the years. Often, the number of years of ministry experience in the cohort will double or triple my number of years of experience in ministry. I say, “There’s more wisdom out there in you than there is up here in me. Plus, you have just as much of the Holy Spirit in you as I do in me. So, I’m here to learn from you!“

A great trainer truly believes that discovering gold transforms more than delivering gold. Collaborative learning beats information dump hands down every time.

Recently, I was taking a group of collegiate church planters through our session on systems and structures. During the time of celebration at the very beginning of the session, one of the planters asked how he could simultaneously plant his church and raise financial support.

I had a decision to make: “Do I just keep moving forward or do I stop and address the issue? If I stop and address the issue, how will I do it?” I thought, “The cohort knows more about this than I do.” So I asked them to give the planter some principles. I simply took notes.

Here’s what the cohort shared with him:

  1. Remember that a failure to raise your support will eventually push you out of the ministry.
  2. Read thoroughly and consistently apply the book “The God Ask.”
  3. Keep a gritty attitude.
  4. Understand that it will be “slow going.”
  5. Block out and schedule a three- to five-hour chunk of time each week to focus on support-raising.
  6. Set goals for calls made and appointments set.
  7. Say “no” to some good ministry opportunities in order to prioritize fundraising.
  8. Make sure you get face-to-face with potential donors.
  9. Make April, May, and June focused fundraising months.
  10. If married, invite your spouse into the fundraising process.
  11. Seek to leverage end-of-the-year asks.
  12. Keep grinding.

It took about 10 minutes for the group to share this wisdom. In retrospect, the fundraising sidebar may have been the most impactful content for the entire session. We all learned from each other.

Afterward, I sent an email to everyone with the 12 insights. I asked, “So, which idea(s) did you need to be reminded of most? What are you going to do about it? Who will help you? When will you start?”

Who’s the smartest guy in the room? It’s actually not a guy at all. It’s the group — a group of Christ-centered, Spirit-filled, Bible-based, kingdom-minded leaders.

When you remember that, it takes the pressure off. You’ll find creative ways to pull wisdom from the cohort. And you will find there’s actually more gold in the group than you have in you.

On a scale of 1 to 10, 10 being high, how would you rate yourself as a trainer who gleans gold from the group? What are one or two things you could do between now and the next time you lead a cohort to help you move forward one or two notches? Who might help you with that?,

Published November 8, 2018

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Rick Duncan

Rick Duncan currently serves as the East Coast Trainer for the Send Network, the church planting arm of the North American Mission Board (NAMB). As an appointed missionary by NAMB in 1986, Rick was Founding Pastor of Cuyahoga Valley Church (CVC) near Cleveland. A graduate of Vanderbilt University in Nashville, Tennessee, Rick earned All-SEC baseball honors three times as an outfielder. He was drafted by the Minnesota Twins and spent five years playing professional baseball. Before becoming a pastor, Rick served four years on staff of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes in Jacksonville, Florida. Rick graduated from Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary. He loves to encourage younger leaders to create environments that God can use to invite people to new life in Christ. After 42 years of marriage, Rick is still in love with his wife, Maryanne. He enjoys spending time with his three sons: Alan, Ryan, and Evan. He is the proud father-in-law of Joanna, Alan's bride, and the proud grandfather of Ethan (7) and Caleb (3).