Joel serves as the pastor of a mid-sized church on the West Coast. Pastors in his situation face a lot of challenges, from budget to recruiting volunteers to preparing sermons and lessons every week. Wisely, Joel turns to key leaders in his church for support. Unwisely, Joel recently made one of the most common mistakes I see among church leaders: expertise transference.
When it came time to hire a worship leader, Joel planned to lean heavily on the wise counsel of three church members. He needed their help in determining the best hiring process and in discerning who was a good fit for the position. He described these men as “strong, godly men who are leaders in the church and community.”
As Joel’s coach, one of my roles is to help him challenge his own assumptions. So I asked him, “What makes you think these three men are the most qualified people to help with hiring a worship leader?” He reiterated that they were strong, godly leaders. I assured him that I’d heard his description the first time, and I was curious about their qualifications for the hiring of a worship leader. Joel responded that one of the men was a family doctor, another was a respected attorney in town, and the third served as CEO of a large business. He assured me that their vocational status signified their qualification to serve as leaders in the church and to provide wise counsel in the worship leader call process.
Joel had fallen prey to what I call “expertise transference.” (Maybe there’s a more technical name for this phenomenon, and if so, please let me know.) The assumption is that expertise in one domain translates into expertise in other, unrelated domains. In other words, because someone is qualified to be a family doctor, he must also be qualified to make important decisions about the life and health of a church.
You only have to look into the personal lives of “successful people” to see the fallacy of expertise transference: many successful doctors, lawyers and business owners (even Christian ones) struggle when it comes to family and other personal matters. Yet, churches constantly tap these types of successful professionals to serve as elders, deacons, teachers, and important committee members.
Churches aren’t the only ones who practice expertise transference. Hollywood actors are constantly asked to opine on important geopolitical matters, and they tend to oblige. Athletes and athletic coaches are asked to give advice to graduating college students. The opinion of a wealthy citizen tends to carry more weight than the thoughts of a poorer person. And the list of examples can go on and on.
Why does this faulty assumption persist? Most likely it serves a mental shortcut for determining merit. But shortcuts can often lead us down the wrong path.
Expertise transference is one of those common false assumptions that coaches need to notice. To be clear, our role isn’t to smash the assumption as blatantly untrue. Instead, we are called to press our clients to recognize that the assumption is based on a fallacy. It’s not that a doctor is disqualified to provide wise counsel in a hiring process, it’s just that being a doctor doesn’t automatically qualify a person to be a good leader, to make good decisions, or to offer wise counsel. And being successful in business or a profession doesn’t equate with being “godly” – no matter what the Protestant work ethic might say.
I asked Joel to forget momentarily the three men he’d pre-determined could be of support in the hiring process. “Let’s put them on the shelf and pull them off if we decide you need them.” With those guys out of the way, I asked Joel to list the key criteria that would make someone helpful in this process. He immediately said he needed people who were “godly.” “Okay, what’s that mean?” He responded that being godly meant someone displays the characteristics of Christ. “And what are those characteristics?” He listed several: humble, prayerful, compassionate, committed to God’s kingdom, willing to serve.
As we continued the coaching conversation, Joel unpacked several more key criteria in addition to “godly,” including familiarity with the worship arts, experience in hiring, and the spiritual gift of discernment. I asked him to build his “dream team” according to those criteria and he came up with four names: the attorney from his earlier list, a homemaker with a strong gift of discernment as well as strong project management skills, a retired Marine who ran the sound system for worship, and the office manager who worked in the family doctor’s office and who was a whiz at both staffing and managing processes.
Joel’s team lived up to expectations as they designed a hiring process that included the congregation as well as outside experts, kept things moving in a timely way, and considered much more than what was on the resumes they’d collected. In the end, they called a seasoned worship leader who was a great fit for their church, and vice versa.
As coaches, we aim to help our clients expand their thinking, so they can create new awareness that they then put into meaningful action. To support this process, be on the lookout for false assumptions, including the assumptions behind expertise transference. Your clients might not enjoy the work it takes to drop the false assumption, but they will appreciate the benefit that comes from clear and intentional thinking.