Leading ministry teams

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I06-P14-750x420-LeaderThe concept of team ministry seems obvious, a matter of common sense. However, recognition of the value of team ministry is rarely paralleled by a thorough application of its key principles.
Many pastors and other team leaders fail to apply team theory in a disciplined manner, and therefore, miss the marvellous benefits of ministering as part of a collegiate group. Here I believe that all team leaders can learn to lead teams more effectively—so these principles apply not only to pastors, but to anyone who leaders a team of people.

Why are ministry teams important?

  1. Complex environments, such as leading volunteer ministries or leading through change, require a combination of multiple skills, experiences and judgements—teams can provide these requirements, ultimately performing better than individuals working within restrictive job roles and responsibilities.
  2. When ministry teams themselves generate teams, these teams, when employed properly, are highly flexible, and may be quickly constructed, deployed, refocused, and dissolved in ways which increase in value the more permanent structures within the church.
  3. Ministry teams with definite performance objectives are highly productive, as their members commit themselves to deliver tangible performance results. Teams and performance, although not synonymous, often go hand-in-hand.
  4. Ministry teams perform highly because:
  • They marry complementary skills and experiences, which inevitably exceed those of any one person on the team.
  • Goals and approaches are developed in a collegiate atmosphere, establishing clear communication lines and wider vision, which encourage flexibility, responsiveness and lateral thinking.
  • The collegiate atmosphere fostered in teams makes pastoral and administrative aspects of work more achievable, as team members intentionally spur each other on to excellence.
  • Team ministry reduces the stress and pressure of the contemporary demands of ministry, and members may develop a feeling of “having been part of something larger than myself”.
  • Behavioural and attitudinal change happens quicker in ministry teams, because teams are not as threatened by change as individuals are.
  • And, ideally, ministry teams provide an environment of motivation, accountability, challenge, reward, and support for leaders who are involved in healthy teams. In ministry teams, shared accountability must exceed individual roles in order to reap the benefit of integrated team efforts and dedication.
  • Ministry teams enable the broader congregation (or parachurch, paralocal, or other organisation) to develop a clearer sense of direction, motivation, mission, and values. Ministry teams provide positive and visible leadership, and the collegiate front discourages random, isolated attacks on individual leaders—a support network is provided, and a leadership front is formed.

So what is a team?

The term “team” means different things to different people. The meaning of the term “team” for me is summed up in the definition given by Katzenbach and Smith in their book The Wisdom of Teams. “A team is a small number of people with complementary skills who are committed to a common purpose, performance goals, and approach for which they hold themselves mutually accountable.”
What are some necessary characteristics of high performing, harmonious, and unified ministry teams (applicable to pastoral teams and teams of volunteers)?

  1. All members of the ministry team need to have a deep commitment to shared values and purposes, and need to believe that these are urgent and of great value.
  2. Ministry team members are selected on skill, skill potential, and personal spirituality, rather than personality. All members must have the appropriate complementary skills necessary to perform their function as an integrated and integral part of the team. These skills must be in the arenas of: functional, professional, problem solving, and interpersonal.
  3. Ministry teams must spend lots of quality time together. This is vital for the development of interpersonal relations within the team.
  4. The team environment must be one of positive, yet honest, feedback, and recognition. The team has the potential to enable an individual leader to reach her potential to the glory of God.
  5. Ministry teams must proceed to create subsets of the team. The concept of team should be slowly introduced until the wider congregation embraces it, and ministry teams must continue to assign responsibilities to teams that are accountable to them (for instance, a pastoral team might have oversight of a worship team, prayer team, pastoral carers team, small-group ministry team, youth ministry team, etc.).
  6. Rather than a team leader delegating real work, which can undermine the concept of team, each team member should be mutually accountable to do equivalent amounts of real work, and each team member, including the team leader, is held responsible by the team. Thus, hierarchical forms of interaction need to be dissolved in ministry teams.
  7. Each member of the ministry team must be committed to ministry and leadership excellence. Likewise, each member of the ministry team must be committed to personal and spiritual growth.
  8. Open communication is vital in ministry teams, being a primary and non-negotiable characteristic. Such uninhibited communication amongst the ministry team will then be reinforced in the broader congregation.

What is the role of the pastoral or volunteer team leader?

  1. The team leader endeavours to keep the purpose, goals and ministerial or missional approach before the team members, maintaining relevance and meaning (that is, he or she keeps his or her finger on the pulse of the team and the wider church, monitoring its health and vitality). The team leader must be careful not to solicit compliance to his or her convictions, and in doing so reinforce hierarchical forms of interaction.
  2. The team leader works in collaboration with the other members of the team to strengthen their degree and combination of skills, so that they continue to improve as a group and function at their optimum.
  3. The team leader seeks to creatively initiate and facilitate opportunities for others on the team to perform at their optimum and creative best. Thus, the team leader must be willing to use people with giftings in areas that exceed his or her own, and to provide opportunities for those team members to use their gifts—this requires that he or she be humble, unassuming, and willing for someone else to receive the credit for outstanding achievements. Note, however, that this is a different thing to abdicating responsibility.
  4. Team leaders must contribute in any area the team needs them to contribute, keeping in mind their gifts and calling. There is no sitting back and delegating decisions, as each ministry team member, including the team leader, must contribute in approximately equivalent amounts. No task is too trivial or insignificant for the team leader, provided that the task required of him contributes in a meaningful way to the purpose, mission, performance and values of the ministry team.

It is my conviction that a small ministry team with complementary skills who are passionately committed to a common purpose, goals, and values (for which each member is mutually accountable), is a ministry environment conducive to high performance, motivation, satisfaction, support, and tangible results.

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