Indispensable tools for building a ministry team

Indispensable tools for building a ministry team

Building a team spirit in a church, pastoral staff

Doug Burrell is associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Carrollton, Georgia.

Are you trying to develop a team spirit among your church staff? Perhaps you would like your staff to display more cooperation and enthusiasm as they work together. Maybe you are hoping that they will develop a greater sense of loyalty and dedication. If you are trying to develop an effective staff team, here are some helpful principles.

Fighting in the huddle—not a good sign!

Having been a fan of the Atlanta Falcons football team for more than 30 years means I've had to endure many disappointments. But my all-time worst memory is of the Sun day afternoon when a fight broke out among the Falcon players while they were in their own huddle. There they were, on national television, fighting each other! I remember thinking, This coach has a lot of work ahead of him if he wants to transform this bunch of players into a team.

It's true in sports, and it's true in minis try. There is a significant difference between a group of individuals assigned to positions and a real team! In fact, transforming a gathering of individuals into a unit that works together for a common purpose (i.e., a team) is one of the most challenging assignments that can be given to any leader. My beloved Falcons have had a succession of coaches who failed to shape their players into a cohesive, dedicated group that could win. Likewise, many churches continue to change leaders, looking for someone who can provide leadership and develop a team spirit.

Sometimes a church staff doesn't function as a team. Instead, the members of the staff function as individuals who head various programs or groups, with little or no communication or cooperation. In this case they actually become the opposite of a team; they develop into "opponents" who "compete" for resources, territory, and the loyalty of the church's constituents. In effect, they too "fight in the huddle"!

At the very least, such a model discourages church growth and progress toward common objectives. Taken to its logical conclusion, such a situation results inevitably in major conflicts, broken relationships, and injured churches.

Tools that build teams

Of course, no pastor or church wants this kind of staff. So here are four indispensable team-building tools that will help to trans form a staff into a ministry team that will work together and in harmony.

Consideration

The first necessary team-building tool is consideration. No coach in his or her right mind will randomly put players at various positions without first considering where each would best be suited. As a team leader a pastor must consider the gifts, temperaments, needs, and motivations of his/her various team members before they can be led. The writer of Hebrews says: "Let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works" (Heb. 10:24).1 It's well worth the effort to do all one can to know each staff member; to consider her or his needs, gifts, experiences, and point of view and to keep that knowledge in mind as direction is given to the staff.2

Some team leaders are guilty of trying to treat everyone the same. And it's often with the assumption that everyone else should operate as I do. This is one time a leader should "discriminate." Treat everyone fairly, but be flexible enough to allow each team member to express his or her gifts and abilities. This creates harmony, happiness, and team loyalty.

Cooperation

The second indispensable team-building tool is cooperation. Ministries that thrive and grow do so because they have a shared ministry. Putting the "co" into the "operation" is a must if a pastor hopes to develop a ministry staff that works together toward a common purpose.

The fact is that togetherness is the be ginning of a team. We see that in the miracle of Pentecost. In Acts 2 we have a record of the birth of the church as the Holy Spirit came to the followers of Christ.

It strikes me that this promised blessing came to the early Christians and flourishes today in the context of "togetherness." Acts 2 begins, "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were together in one place." Such togetherness allowed them to receive the gift of God and announce the "good news" to those who would take the gospel across the Middle East and throughout the world of that day. The early life of the church has inspired the following acrostic, which rein forces the nature of a team.

T ogether can accomplish more than apart. "When the day of Pentecost had come, they were all together in one place" (Acts 2:1). "And all who believed were together" (verse 44).

E veryone owns the team's outcomes. "And [they] had all things in common" (verse 44).

A ttitudes are transformed and selfishness diminished. "And they sold their possessions and goods and distributed them to all, as any had need" (verse 45).

M otivation to be involved is awakened by sharing. "And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they partook of food with glad and generous hearts, praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved" (verses 46,47).

Communication

The third tool one has to employ when fashioning a team is communication. Good teams are able to succeed in accomplishing their objectives because they communicate well. Teamwork is a coordinated effort directed toward a common objective.

I recently attended field day at the elementary school where my children attend. The three-legged race provided some interesting entertainment and a good example of the need for communication in a team. I noticed that the winners weren't always the fastest or the best athletes, but who best coordinated their efforts. The top finishers would take the time to talk, rehearse their strategy, talk again, and rehearse again be fore they began the race. Those who didn't spend some time communicating provided some good laughs for us parents.

Of course, we know that uncoordinated effort in the church is no laughing matter. Nevertheless, we are often guilty of believing that since we are trying hard and working for the Lord, we will "magically" get things worked out without coordinating and communicating with each other as we should.

As a staff leader or team captain, a pas tor must be a role model of good communication. This takes discipline and a continuing intentional effort to make it hap pen and to keep it happening. The proverbial "left hand" needs to know what the proverbial "right hand" is doing if we are to have them working in concert. Encourage and model good communication; make it a priority. Your ministry team will be healthier and stronger as a result.

Commitment

The fourth team-building tool one must have is commitment! Without commitment the hard work of ministry goes undone. Again, referring to the second chapter of Acts, we find the followers of Christ "devoting themselves" to certain things: the apostles' teachings, meeting together, prayer, the breaking of bread, and fellowship.

Jesus gathered "the willing" around Him and the willing ones turned the world up side down. They were ordinary people with an extraordinary willingness to yield them selves to Christ.

Great things can be accomplished by people who are willing to work. You know the story of Nehemiah in the Old Testament. Nehemiah came back from exile, back to Jerusalem to make repairs to the city. He and some willing ones were able to restore the walls of Jerusalem. The wall had been destroyed and neglected. Restoring it looked almost impossible. To some it was even laughable. But the almost impossible happened, and the wall was built. I love the explanation of how this feat was accomplished. Nehemiah 4:6 says:

"So we built the wall; and all the wall was joined together to half its height. For the people had a mind to work." This is the real issue before a pastor and the ministry staff he or she leads. Do you have a mind to work? Do you have a mind to make things work? Do you have a mind to work out differences and problems? Do you have a mind to work together to achieve greater things than could ever be achieved alone? If so, you've got what it takes to transform a ministry staff into a ministry team.

This is the final article in a series of five.

1 Bible texts in this article are from the
   Revised Standard Version.


2 I would refer you to the first article in this
series for more on this subject of considering
each person's uniqueness.


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Doug Burrell is associate pastor of the First United Methodist Church in Carrollton, Georgia.

November 1997

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