Screwtape’s Lost Letter

Screwtape’s Lost Letter
By Tony Akers

Top ten ways to destroy a leadership team

My Dear Wormwood,

I note what you say about distracting your patient’s attention away from true leadership development by encouraging him to focus his recruiting efforts on low-level desperate pleas for help from the pulpit, but aren’t you being a trifle naïve? It sounds as though you believe that mere distraction will undermine and destroy your patient’s ability to build a leadership team. I cannot stress enough how dangerous these two words are to our cause: leadership development.

I suspect you’ve put all your “eggs” in the “basket” of distraction and have forgotten that our primary strategy is to undermine, prevent, and destroy relationships. By no means can you allow your patient to invest his time and energy in pouring his life into his ministry leaders (so-called). With that in mind, I offer you my best advice for delivering the kind of thwarting impact we’re looking for. I’ve used alliteration in hopes that you will remember my advice, since it appears much of it is quickly lost on you.

10. Get Him To Jettison Job Descriptions

Insinuate to him how much effort – wasted effort – it will take to develop job descriptions for each volunteer position. The effect we want is for your patient to keep his volunteers in the dark about their specific roles, and the duration of those roles. Show him how to speak in vague generalities about the part a potential volunteer will play in the program, and how that relates to the big picture.

9. Convince Him To Cauterize Communication

Show your patient the brilliant efficiency of keeping his plans secret. Better yet, convince him that living week to week with no discernible direction is really “organic ministry.” Prod him to dodge, helpful evaluative conversations before and after ministry events, to avoid those tedious consistent office hours, and to put off returning phone messages or emails. What you want is to move your patient toward rude behavior relative to his volunteers – when he has a need, you want him to call an hour before it’s needed and pressure the volunteer to come through “for the kids.” Be sure to plant that last phrase – “for the kids” – in his head. Guilt is a wonderfully effective treatment; it tantalizes with an initial positive impact, but always drives away good leaders in the long run.

8. Remind Him To Pass On The Perks

Teach your patent to avoid giving his volunteers perks at all costs! It would be disastrous for him to treat them to training events led by veteran youth pastors. And by all means, restrain him from planning holiday gatherings or giving gifts of appreciation. Do not, at all costs, let him mull providing child care during ministry events. And here’s some tasty frosting on the cake: Plant the idea that it’s “good stewardship” to make his volunteers pay full price when they’re assisting with camps and trips.

7. Tempt Him To Exude His Expertise

You want to convince your patient that it is absolutely necessary that he present himself as the “expert” around his volunteer leaders – that it is crucial to his identity (his very survival) that he maintain his superior position. Suggest, often, that he see himself as a sort of a “king of the jungle.” Prompt one of his sycophants to jokingly nickname him “Mufasa” – he’ll laugh, bug maybe it will stick.

Make sure that you encourage his volunteers to hover around him like worker bees, ready to jump on his orders. What we’re aiming for is a kind of narcissism – where your patient sees himself as the focus of the ministry. You need this kind of subtle shift in focus to distract him from the needs of the youth.

And don’t forget to suggest to him the necessity of recruiting emotionally needy adults who can’t do it without him. I need not remind you to refrain from using “emotionally needy” to describe them – read your manual! We prefer “servant-hearted.”

6. Teach Him To Avoid Helpful Advice

You should convince your patient that it is unwise, even demeaning, for him to ever, ever ask his volunteers’ opinions about the ministry. Show him how to squelch that sort of thing – every time advice is offered, he should dismiss it with humor or sarcasm. Also, he should avoid the appearance of needing advice by confidently making snap decisions. Here’s something that works every time: When he senses impending dialogue, show him how to feign a cell phone call.

5. Model How To Trip Up Trust

In reference to #7, infiltrate his imagination to role-play how to hover over his volunteers while they work. He should be critiquing them often – asking prodding questions about why they did this or that. And here’s the delicious kicker: Prompt him to remind them often that he would’ve pursued a different course than they’ve chosen.

4. Never Allow Him To Pass On Praise

Simply, he needs to understand that all praise, no matter its source, is rightfully his (again, see #7). Every time he praises a volunteer’s work it’s a terrible defeat for us – or more specifically, for you. Always remind him that good leaders do not need pats on the back; after all, they are “working for the Lord and not men.” That’s scrumptious, isn’t it? You want him focusing on their weaknesses, and labeling it “courageous leadership” when he shares his criticisms with them on a regular basis. This, you want him to think, will keep them humble.

3. Encourage The Need For Speed

Show him how to develop a frenetic pace to his ministry – to roll from one ministry event to another without (and this is crucial) evaluating his ministry’s effectiveness. Remind him that the just doesn’t have time to do that, and that it will only encourage #6. His unspoken motto should be: “Keep a frantic ministry pace. There is so much to do and so little time to do it!”

2. Get Him To Play Pals

You want him to develop a set of “favorite” volunteers. One great way to do this is to plant the thought that he should treat new volunteers as silly rookies. Prompt him to talk and laugh often about the “old times” by recalling funny stories that happened before the new volunteers arrived. If possible, you want him to make it very difficult or nearly impossible for new volunteers to transition into the ministry. Show him how to minimize the impact of the new volunteers by talking about how great the old volunteers were.

1. Teach Him To Punt On Prayer

By all means, your patient should never pray for his volunteers. Instead he should develop the functional belief that there’s too much work to do to spend wasted time in prayer. And he should never, ever entertain the thought of fasting and praying for them – what a disgusting thought! This practice alone could lead to effectiveness and ministry satisfaction, which could negatively affect #7. You’d be surprised how many ministry leaders are easily convinced to embrace the barrenness of a prayer-less ministry.

As you know, we’re counting on your success with this patient. Feel free to interpret “counting on.” But you know failure’s price. No worries – I’m sure you’ll soon be happily fueling a myopic, floundering ministry.

Yours affectionately,


This article “Screwtape’s Lost Letter” by Tony Akers is excerpted from Group Magazine, March/April 2009.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes, “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”