Developing a Ministry Team in the Rural Church
By Glenn C. Daman
After several instances of tension developing between the board and the pastor, Pastor John came to realize they were not working well as a team and changes were needed. Having read several books on leadership, he realized the problem was not theological or even philosophical; the problem was that he had never really developed a sense of teamwork between himself and the board. While they respected each other, they were not working together. On several different occasions, Pastor John had articulated what he believed to be crucial goals and direction for the church, only to have the board veto the ideas. He realized that if the church was to develop and be effective in ministry he could not dictate the direction of the church. Because of the strong relational ties between the board and key members of the church, for any goal to be achieved or any ministry was to be effective, these individuals had to be behind them. For this to happen they had to be involved in the whole process of setting and implementing the direction. Between the board and pastor there needed to be mutual respect that resulted in mutual involvement.
The question that haunted the pastor was how to develop better teamwork between him and the board. However, this raised two critical questions: 1/ What would be the benefits to the church? 2/ How could he develop a team within the small church setting where the people always viewed the pastor as an outsider who came to preach but not run the church?
If the small church is to be effective, the congregation, board and pastor must share the work of the ministry. Paul alludes to the importance of team ministry when he states that the pastor equips the people to do the work of ministry (Ephesians 4:11-13). As the board and pastor works together to provide oversight of the spiritual growth and well being of the congregation, the people will be "built up until we all reach unity in the faith and in the knowledge of the Son of God."
The Benefits of Team Ministry
Foundational for being committed to team ministry is for the pastor and board to understand the immense value of working together. Developing a ministry team is not only the cornerstone of effectiveness; it expresses God's desire for the church.
1. Effective teams disarm potential conflicts. Unity within the leadership provides the basis for maintaining unity within the church. In the early church, ethnic and cultural tensions threatened to splinter the existing harmony. What kept the early church from disintegrating into factions was the unified position adopted by the leadership (Acts 15:5-21). When the pastor and the board work together to resolve problems and conflicts and develop a united consensus on problematic issues, it gives the leadership assurance that they are making the right decisions. Furthermore, it gives the congregation confidence in the decision of the board. Consensus grows as the pastor and board develop mutual respect for one another and a willingness to work towards agreeable solutions even when their individual opinions might differ. Unity does not require unanimity on all issues, even those that cause tension. Unity comes as each listens to the opinion of others so that they can set aside their own agendas and ideas and strive for a consensus.
2. Effective teams broaden the leadership base. Throughout redemptive history in both the Old and New Testaments, leadership was shared so burdens were not shouldered by one individual. Moses, following the timely advice of Jethro, chose capable men to assist him in overseeing the people (Exodus 18:13-27). Jesus recruited twelve men to oversee the establishment of the church. Barnabus recruited Paul to assist him in guiding the newly born church in Antioch (Acts 11:22-27). Ministry is a team sport, not to be performed by talented superstars while the rest cheer them on, but conducted by a team who can share the burdens of ministry and mutually encourage and support one another.
3. Effective teams balances weaknesses and strengths. Because we still face the effects of our sinful nature, we need others to buttress our weakness and strengthen our shortcomings. No individual is so multi-talented and spiritually strong to be free from limitation and failures. Because of our failures, we need others to complement us. Strength is found in diversity. The strong-willed, driven Paul needed the compassion and patience of Barnabus and visa-versa (Acts 15:36-41). The stammering Moses needed the eloquence of Aaron (Exodus 6:30-7:2). Even in his perfect state before the fall, Adam needed the balance of Eve (Genesis 2:20). By working together within the diversity of our personalities, giftedness, backgrounds, and opinions our weaknesses are overcome and our corporate strengths benefit others. It is our differences that strengthen our ministry as we work together (1 Cor. 12).
4. Effective teams provide greater stability within the church during leadership changes. One of the most difficult periods of the congregations life is when the pastor leaves for another ministry. However, when the pastor has developed a strong ministry team with the board, where the whole board has been involved in the leadership of the church, the impact is minimized. Joshua was able to take over the leadership of Moses and rally the people to the difficult task of the conquest, without losing a beat because Joshua had already been involved in the care of the people of Israel (Exodus 17:9-14; 24:13; Dt 1:38). The early church thrived after the ascension of Christ because they had the Spirit-empowered leadership of the disciples to guide them, men who had already been leaders within the movement.
5. Effective teams provide greater spiritual oversight of the congregation. In Acts 20:28-31; the apostle Paul gave his parting challenge to the Elders of the church of Ephesus. He reminds them that the Holy Spirit has appointed them overseers and shepherds of the church. In the days, ahead the church would face constant dangers of false teachers and those who would oppose them and seek to destroy them. Consequently, they were to be united in their vigilance and care of the congregation. They were responsible to be devoted to prayer (vs 32) and to the study of God's word (vs 32). The church is stronger when the pastor and board recognize that together they are to oversee and protect the congregation from spiritual error.
6. Effective teams provide greater wisdom. The writer of Proverbs states that the wise person is someone who recognizes the value of the counsel of others while the fool sees no need for input (Prov. 12:15). The writer of Ecclesiastes recognizes this same truth when he writes that strength and protection comes from working together (Eccl. 4:9-12). Moses, while leading the people through the desert, recognize that he would be better equipped to do so if he had his brother-in-law helping him (Numbers 10:29-32). Corporate wisdom always exceeds individual wisdom.
Developing a Team Ministry
Since the congregation will benefit from a group of individuals leading them rather than just the pastor, the pastor needs to seek to develop a team of individuals who will assist in the oversight of the ministry.
1. Step One: Look for and recruit team players. In selecting individuals to formulate a team the church and pastor must look for individuals who are first teachable. They are not dogmatic but willing to listen. They recognize that they can and need to learn from others. Second, look for people who are submissive. Paul writes that we are to submit to one another (Ephesians 5:21). This does not mean that these individuals are "yes" people; rather it means that they do not come with any personal agendas that they try to force upon others. They are concerned about the needs of others (Phil. 2:4) rather than just their own. Third, team players are people of faith. They are not stingy nor are they afraid of risks. They are governed by the great commission. They recognize that in Christ all things are possible. While they are prudent, they are not afraid of taking risks for they recognize that only when we look beyond our limitations do we see the sufficiency of God. Fourth, team players are people who are open for change. While they recognize the value and contribution of the past, and the value of tradition, they are not governed by them. They understand that all growth requires change and to be effective in communicating the gospel we must continually be changing our methods while holding fast to our message. Last, team players possess spiritual wisdom. People look up to them and value their counsel. The danger of the small church is that it can select its leaders because of "tribal connections" rather than spiritual insight. While the "tribal chiefs" often manifest sensitive and godly perception, it is important to realize that godly character legitimatizes leadership rather than bloodlines.
The strength of the team is determined by the quality and character of the individuals. Therefore the pastor and congregation must identify and develop those individuals who can be a part of that team.
2. Step Two: Spend time with the leadership team in mentoring relationships. In order to develop a team of individuals, the pastor must focus upon building relationships with the individuals rather than just develop a "training program." Mentoring is more than just meeting together over lunch; it involves imprinting our lives upon the other. Mentoring involves sacrifice and commitment. It is the process of allowing others see how we grow in our faith so that they in term may grow. It involves transparency, a willingness to allow others to see us with our limitations and faults. In involves showing them how to serve and then guiding them as they begin to serve. Once they have developed proficiencies in service, then we can let them take the reins and develop their own ministries.
3. Step Three: Provide training for lay leaders in their function. In order for a group of individuals to form a team, they need to understand and be in agreement with a basic philosophy of ministry and leadership. To achieve this, the pastor must take the initiative to train the leaders. First, they need to be trained in organizational leadership, in the principles of effective management and in how to oversee a ministry. Second, train the leaders in the art of spiritual leadership. Often, the focus of the board is upon the organizational functions within the church and little attention is placed upon the biblical model of spiritual oversight. To be a leader in the church is to take responsibility for the spiritual health of the congregation. This involves evaluating the direction and purpose of the church and examining programs to make sure that they enable the church to fulfill the mandates of the great commission and great commandment. Third, they need training in gifted leadership so that they learn how to utilize their spiritual gifts within the context of the ministry of the church and assist others in identifying their spiritual gifts. As the pastor works with the board, they can identify areas needing further training in helping people exercise their spiritual gifts.
4. Step Four: Provide ongoing support. One of the important roles of the pastor is to provide ministry support for the team as they minister to the whole congregation. Many times questions will arise or problems develop that go beyond the abilities and training of the board member. When these issues arise, the pastor can assist the person by providing answers or working with the parties involved to resolve the issues. Along with providing ministry support, the pastor should provide spiritual support for the lay leaders. This may involve accountability to assure that the lay leader is growing spiritually. It may include spending time with the lay leader in prayer for the issues that are confronting them. If the team is dealing with spiritual struggles themselves they will not be able to effectively minister to the spiritual needs of the congregation. Thus, the pastor should first provide spiritual care for the leadership.
5. Step Five: Develop clearly defined roles and responsibilities. Misunderstandings bring frustration and tension. To develop an effective team, each member must have a clear understanding of their responsibilities. This begins with the pastor, board and congregation working together to establish the guidelines that determine what the roles of each will be. This comes from a biblical understanding as well as the traditions of the church and the polity that has governed its organizational structure.
6. Step Six: Provide periodic mutual evaluation. When the pastor and board are working together based upon mutual respect and trust they should periodically evaluate themselves and the congregation. The purpose of the evaluation process is to make sure that roles and responsibilities are being fulfilled and the church is fulfilling its biblical mission. By providing for periodic evaluations, issues are being addressed before they become problematic. For evaluations to be non-threatening to people, the pastor must set the example by first allowing the board to examine the pastor's life and ministry. Then people will not be so threatened when their ministry is evaluated. The pastor and board are more than organizational positions within the church. While each has different roles and responsibilities within the life of the congregation, they must be working together as a team if they are to be effective. Healthy churches are congregations where the pastor and board function as a team, a team that is built upon mutual trust and acceptance.