The Chemistry Quotient

By Carl Kuhl

Have you heard about The Three Ingredient Cookbook? True to its name, every recipe has only three ingredients. One of my friends got it as a wedding present when she was inexperienced in the kitchen, the idea being that even she would be capable of these recipes. But here’s the thing about The Three Ingredient Cookbook: if you leave out one of the ingredients, it doesn’t work!

Some more complicated recipes call for a dozen or more ingredients, and if you are out of one particular spice, you usually can omit it with no problem. But when there are only three ingredients, you need all of them!

This is also true of leadership. I wholeheartedly believe in Bill Hybels’s “Three Cs” of hiring: competency at the job, chemistry with the team, and character of the person.


The Underestimated Ingredient

The problem I see in churches, however, is that we overestimate the importance of character and underestimate the importance of chemistry.

Now let me be clear: I’m not suggesting we hire someone who is a chain-smoker, addicted to porn, hasn’t picked up his Bible in a month, and roots for the Pittsburgh Steelers. What I mean is we can get so focused on character that we’re blind to everything else. We will send a possible staff hire to assessment, dissect the spiritual gifts of leaders, look at giving habits to check their generosity, and investigate character in a dozen different ways. But an important question is: do you want to hang out with them?

If she’s a small group leader, would you want to go to her house every single week?

If he’s an elder, is he someone you’d go on vacation with?

If he’s a staff member, do you want to be around him all day and eat lunch with him?

The best hiring advice I ever received was from Kyle Idleman, who said, “Carl, hire people who, when you pull into the parking lot and see their car, you think, I’m so glad I get to work with him/her today!

The stakes of leadership are too high to do this thing with people we don’t click with. I’m not talking about excluding people who are capable and qualified. I’m just saying that if I’m going to be in the trenches with someone, it better be someone I get along with!


Essentials for Volunteers

And don’t think this is just about staffing. Wisdom says you’ve got to have chemistry with volunteers as well. In fact, you need to be willing to fire volunteers for the sake of the team. I know conventional practice is that you take free labor however you can get it. But if anyone—staff, volunteer, visitor, Christian or non-Christian—is destroying the unity or preventing others from accomplishing the vision, they’ve got to go.

Isn’t this what Jesus said to the rich young ruler? That man wanted to be one of Jesus’ crew, and to follow him around. But Jesus could only accept people who were sold out to the cause. So he said, “First sell everything and then come follow me.” But the rich young ruler wouldn’t do it, so Jesus wouldn’t take him.

This also means you need to find ways to develop greater chemistry with your team. Go on vacation together. Have “staff fun days.” Go out to lunch . . .
and don’t talk about church one time. Laugh together. Create inside jokes.

Then, when the busy or difficult times hit, it’s not just business transactions that need to be made. It’s getting in the trenches with those you love and working together to take ground for God’s kingdom.

So don’t be a knucklehead; instead, use common sense. Because wisdom, when paired with leadership, can be an unstoppable force for God’s power that will save those who are drowning in their sin before our very eyes.


Carl Kuhl serves as lead pastor with Mosaic Christian Church in Elkridge, Maryland. This article is adapted from his upcoming book The Contrarian’s Guide to Church Planting, available this spring.

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