Developing a Team Ministry in the Rural Church
By Glenn Daman
After several meetings with the board at Townsville Community Church, Pastor John soon discovered that the majority of the board's efforts were spent discussing who would take care of the church facilities and when repairs would be made. Whenever the pastor tried to bring issues concerning the spiritual well being of the congregation, the board responded by stating: "this is the job of the pastor." At one meeting the pastor invited the board members to join him in visiting people who were ill or in the hospital. While the board agreed that visitation was important, they responded that this is the task they had hired him to perform and they did not have the time available for this ministry.
When First Bible Church hired the new pastor they were somewhat suspicious. The previous pastor had been a gifted communicator fresh from seminary and soon left for a larger congregation. He had also instituted new programs and changes without congregational or board approval. The tension mounted until finally the church was split over some of the new changes. Thus, they were suspicious of the new arrival. Even though his resume was impressive and his preaching excellent, the people wondered if he would fit into the new ministry. Since he grew up in a large eastern city, they were concerned that he would not understand and accept their small western culture. Consequently, they were reluctant to give the new pastor any freedom to develop any direction within the church.
The problems confronting these two churches are not unlike those confronting many small churches. For a variety of reasons the small church often struggles in developing a team ministry between the board and pastor. The pastor often regards the board as uneducated and stubborn and the board views the pastor as insensitive to their specific setting. However, small churches that are successful are those that not only develop a solid working relationship between the pastor and board, but they work together as a team, each understanding the importance and value of the other.
Defining team ministry:
Team ministry may be defined as the pastor and board working together to provide oversight of the spiritual growth and well being of the congregation and to develop a clear direction and purpose for the ministry of the church. This definition involves three aspects of team ministry. First, it involves mutual and shared authority. Instead of being in competition with one another concerning power, each learns to value and accept the input of the other. The authority vested to the board by the congregation does not intimate the pastor, and the board accepts the pastor as an equal with them. Second, team ministry involves the recognition of mutual responsibility for the spiritual oversight of the congregation. Team ministry moves the leadership from the organizational priorities to the spiritual responsibilities. They recognize that the spiritual care of the church is not just the charge of the pastor but equally belongs to the board. Third, team ministry involves organizational oversight. The board is to work with the pastor in the establishment of goals and direction of the church and in the implementation of those goals.
Prerequisites for team ministry:
To build an effective team ministry, the pastor and board need to understand the foundation for mutual cooperation. They need to recognize that in order to develop teamwork, they must build upon the right relationship.
1. Effective teams build upon a biblical theology of team ministry. Working together as a team is not the latest management fad, but springs from the heart of the biblical concept of leadership within the church. The sage, in Proverbs 11:14, recognizes the importance of multiple counselors when he wrote, "For lack of guidance a nation falls, but many advisers make victory sure" (see also 15:22, 24:6). When the early church was founded, it was established under the leadership team of the twelve apostles. In its first missionary venture, they sent out the team of Barnabas and Paul (Acts 13:2), following the pattern already established by Christ (Matthew 6:7). When they appointed leaders in the churches they established, they appointed multiple elders (Acts 14:23).
2. Effective teams understand the nature of leadership within the small church. They realize that leadership is not vested by position but by relationships. The pastor is not threatened by the congregation or by the "tribal chiefs." Instead, he strives to work with them and use their influence. The team understands that the small church views leadership from a family perspective where relationships form the basis for all decisions. Rather than the corporate perspective where the organizational health determined the goals, budgets and programs, the small church evaluates everything from relational health.
3. Effective teams understand the importance of mutual submission. Paul commends all believers to submit to one another (Eph. 5:21). The term implies that each person within the congregation (and leadership) voluntarily yields to one another in love. Rather than pushing our agendas through, we are to be willing to set aside our personal desires, needs and plans for the benefit of the whole and the maintenance of unity within the church.
4. Effective teams understand the importance of mutual trust. The hallmark of love is continual trust in the other person (1 Cor. 13:7). Just as God has entrusted the leadership of the church to selected individuals (1 Cor. 4:2), so also we must learn to trust one another. We need to value others judgment and opinions, striving to see the best in others rather than seeing the worst. Instead of quickly judging the motives of others, we learn to have confidence in each other's spiritual integrity.
5. Effective teams love the church. While Ephesians 5:25-33 has traditionally been used as a text on the husband's love for his wife, Paul makes it clear that the primary focus of his discussion is upon Christ's love for the church (verse 32). Effective leaders love the church. They are motivated to service, not to get more recognition or influence, but because of their passion to see the church become all God designed her to be.
6. Effective teams are built upon spiritual maturity. Paul, in addressing the qualifications of leadership, places the emphasis upon spiritual maturity (1 Timothy 3:17; Titus 1:5-9). While the secular community looks for leaders who have multiple abilities, keen intellect and dynamic personalities, the church is to look for leaders who have a deep love for Christ, a passion for truth, and a consistent biblical lifestyle.
Avoiding the Team Killers:
While building upon the right foundation for team leadership is critical, it is also important to identify and avoid those things that will destroy an effective team.
Team Killer #1: Pastoral Pride. While education and training is critical for effective ministry, the danger is that we can equate training and biblical knowledge with spirituality. The pastor then views the board as untrained and uneducated in spiritual leadership. When this happens, the pastor can develop an attitude that the board members have less insight into the will of God. Consequently, when the board disagrees with the direction and goals of the pastor, he can begin to view the board as carnal. This establishes a rift between them that undermines effectively working together as a team. When the pastor fails to understand and value the board, tensions arise as the pastor regards the board members to be unwilling to change and accept new methodologies that he deems to be essential to the growth and well being of the church. For there to be teamwork, it is vital that the pastor learn to value the spiritual insight and sensitivity of the board.
Team Killer #2: Lack of Acceptance. The board sees the pastor as an outsider. There are several reasons why the congregation will view the pastor as an outsider. First, because the small church has often experienced a rapid turnover of pastoral leadership, the lay leaders begin to develop the mentality that the pastor will be temporary. Consequently, they do not fully entrust themselves to his leadership for he will soon be gone.
A second reason is the cultural differences that can exist between the background of the pastor and those of the congregation. When a pastor comes from a different cultural setting (such as from the city to the county or from one geographic region to another) he may discover that people are reluctant to accept him into the inner circle of the church. Although they value his spiritual and biblical instruction, they are hesitant to accept any changes because "he does not understand us." They view the pastor as someone who comes in with all kinds of new ideas and programs but lacks sensitivity to the issues and culture of the congregation. They see him as someone who brings in his agenda rather than listens to their agenda.
In both these cases, it is critical that the lay leadership takes the lead in setting the example for the congregation in following the pastor's leadership. The laity must work to help people learn to accept the new pastor with his cultural differences. On the other hand, it is important for the pastor to seek to understand the specific culture of the area and to manifest a strong commitment to the church.
Team Killer #3: Suspicion. The people become suspicious of the leadership. If the congregation has experienced problems in the past with the pastor or even the lay leadership, mistrust for new leadership can develop. Instead of rallying around the new individuals in leadership positions and working with them to fulfill the great commission, the people question any new idea or change they bring to the table. When a pastor and board are working within this environment, they need to recognize the importance of gaining trust before attempting to implement new strategies. Furthermore, they need to keep all communication channels open and operate under the assumption that it is better to over communicate than under communicate. If they are not clearly communicating what they are doing and why, people will develop serious doubts and questions about the motives and intent of the leaders.
Team Killer #4: Inflexibility. When the pastor or any individual board member always says "no" to any new idea or proposal, the teamwork within the board breaks down. The board needs individuals who are open to new ideas and who are willing to openly evaluate change. People who are inflexible are those who refuse to accept any opinion or proposal that is not in full agreement with their personal concept of what things should be. Effective teams are built upon people who are open, who evaluate ideas and listen carefully to others before formulating their decisions. They are willing to "agree to disagree" and will support issues and proposals even if they are not in full agreement.
Team Killer #5: Docility. In sharp contrast to the inflexible person is the one who always goes with the flow and is always a "yes" person. This is the individual who never expresses his own ideas but always agrees with the pastor. Teamwork is built upon individuals who are not afraid to disagree, who raise objections to issues in order to protect the congregation from poor decisions. While they do not demand that everyone agree and follow their opinions, they are not afraid to express their ideas and give their input.
Healthy churches operate with a team. Instead of the pastor and board struggling against one another for power and authority, they learn the value and importance of shared authority. While they have different functions and roles within the life of the congregation, they also recognize that only by working together can they lead the church in the fulfillment of its biblical responsibilities.