Key teamwork principles to help your ministry ride the
waves of change
When the waters are rough and a change of direction is required,
you quickly realize the need for a team effort. A collection of
individuals, each of whom is looking out for #1, won’t survive
turns like these. That’s why thriving organizations are committed
to moving everyone in the same direction, regardless of the cost or
consequences. Some may disagree with the process or the plan, but
there comes a time when everyone must buy in. Teamwork is
accelerated when you burn your bridges and everyone is committed to
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We live in an era of transition. In the midst of quick changes
of direction in the church and in business, teamwork is even more
important. How can today’s Christian leader foster teamwork? Let’s
explore several important requirements for effective teamwork in a
church or another Christian organization.
Requirement 1: Recruit Diverse People
Electing the team is almost as important as choosing the leader.
Teamwork is important, but don’t misunderstand me; you still need
quality people with a strong leader who brings the team together.
Bob Shank says, “Ignorance to the twelfth power does not become
leadership.” He’s right. You could bring a bunch of duds together,
who all get along, and have no leadership at all!
And a humble church leader surrounded by variously gifted
individuals will always beat a talented, egotistical Lone Ranger
over the long haul. So when you assemble your team, look for
volunteers or staff members who are strong in areas in which you’re
weak. Part of the reason for the disciples’ success in conveying
the gospel message was just this type of diversity.
Christ assembled a diverse group that brought a wide range of
gifts to the table. Matthew’s position as a despised tax collector
gave him a connection with lost, worldly people. Andrew’s humility
modeled the truth that knowing Jesus is more important than being
known. Living in the shadow of his brother, Simon Peter, didn’t
prevent Andrew from being a team player. James and John were the
renegades. Knowing their rebellious natures, you probably wouldn’t
trust them if they volunteered to serve in your church parking lot.
But Jesus picked these two to proclaim the good news. Jesus always
sees people for who they can become rather than for who they
What goes through your mind when you’re looking for servant
leaders to fill positions? When I need to add to our team at
church, I put “a servant’s heart” at the top of my list of
requirements. Faithfulness to the mission of the organization is a
close second. Of course, I look for God-given gifts in the area of
our specific needs as well.
Early in my ministry I was interviewed for a position at a
church in Illinois. I’ll never forget the final question I was
asked by the senior pastor: “Is there anything or anyone that you
love more than Jesus?”
“No,” I said. Then I honestly added, “But a lot of times I allow
him to slip into second or third place.”
What a great question for any potential leadership team member
to consider! Jesus said, “Where your treasure is, there your heart
will be also” (Matthew 6:21). When assembling your leadership team,
look for gifts that are distinctive, but remember that a passion
for Christ should be the common denominator.
Many Christian leaders fall prey to the “mirror syndrome” —
hiring or enlisting people with personalities similar to their own.
Be sure to evaluate carefully. You may be subliminally drawn to
individuals because they remind you of yourself. By hiring them you
may duplicate your gifts rather than gain new ones that complement
your own. Diversity and variety help to cover all the bases.
H.S. Vigeveno’s book 13 Men Who Changed the World
includes a chapter dealing with Andrew. The title of the chapter is
“He Used What He Had.” This reminds me of a time I preached a
revival in Mississippi. On the first day, only one person showed up
to pray for the revival with the evangelist. His name was Sidney,
and he was about 40 years old. He was developmentally disabled,
walked with a profound limp, and could barely speak intelligibly.
But Sidney loved to pray and to serve.
I stayed next door at the preacher’s house. Each night I would
sit out on the front porch and look over my sermon, and about 30
minutes before the service, I’d hear the distinctive sound of
Sidney entering the church. He’d limp up the front steps, unlock
all the doors, and go around to turn on all the lights. Each night,
after the service was over and everyone had left, he made his way
around the sanctuary, turning off the lights and locking the doors.
Then he’d head home until the next service.
I can’t tell you how much that man’s example touched me.
Somebody might say, “He really didn’t do that much.” On the
contrary, he did all that he could. Like Andrew, he used what he
had. Whenever I hear a sermon on servanthood, I think about Sidney.
I have a strong feeling that I’ll get to see him again. When we’re
at heaven’s door waiting to go in, I think God may say, “Hey,
Sidney, would you help me open these gates and turn on the lights?”
It really doesn’t matter if you assemble a group of five-talent
individuals or several one-talent or two-talent people. What
matters is that, whatever talents they have, whether they’re small
or great, they lay them at the feet of Jesus.
The Lord can use any of us to help grow his church. So remember
that diversity and teamwork go hand in hand.
Requirement 2: Communicate The Plan
When 10 water-skiers are following the same boat, the driver is
the leader by default. Where he leads, we will follow. We
appreciate his wisdom and thoughtfulness in communicating his plan
to all of us through sign language. You see, many a good plan has
bitten the dust because it wasn’t effectively communicated. Leaders
can’t expect others to read their minds or to have long-term recall
of a plan they previously unveiled. There must be an opportunity
for give and take.
“Over-communication” and an excellent listening ear are two
attributes of a great leader. Recently my kindergarten-age son came
home and burst into tears. He told us he had gotten into trouble in
the hallway at school for something he didn’t do. My wife, Beth,
asked him, “Samuel, did you try to explain to the teacher what you
He said, “I tried, but she wouldn’t let me explain.” My son
learned at a young age how all of us feel when our voices aren’t
heard. If our opinions don’t seem important to those in power, our
lives can be very frustrating.
We’ve all been there, and Samuel will face the problem numerous
times throughout his lifetime. Leaders must not forget how it feels
to be left out or to have no input. This may seem obvious, yet, if
assured confidentiality, many church staff members and volunteers
would emphatically state that they have been left out of the loop.
They don’t feel privy to what others know. Whether they really are
being excluded isn’t the issue; if they feel left out of the
process, we need to find ways to make them feel included.
Like it or not, perception is reality. If communication isn’t
perceived to be flowing to every team member, then the entire group
will begin to sink. This is true for volunteers as well as lay
leaders. Volunteers must know they’re on the inside and be given as
much information as possible so they can fulfill their particular
Try to set up channels that’ll facilitate communication — an
email reporting on the board meeting, a weekly meeting, or an open
appointment at the same time each week, for example. Information is
empowering. Talk to your staff and volunteers on a regular basis.
Keeping them informed shows that you trust them and have confidence
In fact, the number one complaint of both the staff and
volunteers in any church or organization may be a lack of
communication. Those in the know are often oblivious to the fact
that those outside the circle want feedback. Those “outsiders” may
feel they aren’t given a chance to share their opinions. And the
perception of ostracism always leads to division. You know you’re
in trouble when you hear statements such as these:
- “I never know what’s going on around here.”
- “They don’t even bother to get our input anymore.”
- “It’s so embarrassing when I hear things from my volunteers
that no one bothered to tell me.”
No one is exempt from being uninformed at one time or another.
Toughen up if that offends you; there’s no getting around it. The
goal, though, is to arrange for informative communication to be the
norm rather than the exception. I must admit that this is not my
forte. It has taken me years to realize that I may devise an
excellent plan, but if I don’t share it with my team — regularly,
and in great detail — it’s impossible for them to embrace it.
Err on the side of more communication, not less. (Don’t confuse
this with micromanagement, by which you suffocate your staff or
volunteers by constantly looking over their shoulders.) Inclusion
goes a long way toward building a team because the knowledge of
basic, everyday, nonconfidential information helps establish
rock-solid loyalty. John Maxwell says, “I’m convinced that the
surest way to establish a sense of ownership among your
constituency is to involve them in the creative process, all along
the way. You might be able to reach a goal faster on your own, but
when you get there you will be just that — on your own. Slow down
and take your people along.”
Be certain that your co-laborers understand how you communicate.
For example, as we added more women to our staff, we realized we
had to alter the tenor of our staff meetings. Our guys bonded by
picking on one another and by hurling heavy doses of sarcasm across
the room. The women on our staff felt that the men were too brutal
with one another. (Now we’ve struck a happy medium — we just pick
on the women. Not!) For the sake of teamwork and unity in the body
of Christ we’ve eased up. Through time and reflection, we’ve
learned that we probably did cross the line of good-natured kidding
and that, as a result, teamwork wasn’t enhanced.
The Christian leader who wants effective teamwork will share
vision and plans rather than attempt to force them through. Ideas
will be refined by the experience and wisdom of others. As a
result, the entire team will get the credit. And if this group is
truly God-honoring, the Lord will receive the glory.
Requirement 3: Encourage The Participants
Freely given encouragement breathes life into individuals and
organizations. You might be surprised that the recipient of your
encouraging voice mail messages listens to those messages again and
again. Stop by someone’s cubicle and you may see a thank you note
prominently displayed, a little message you scribbled three weeks
ago with little thought. I dare you to block out 20 minutes a week
simply to encourage your team members! The benefits will astound
All of these seemingly insignificant acts of encouragement help
create an environment in which teamwork flourishes. That teamwork
is so important when you face a radical change of direction. A
sincere high-five goes a long way with your staff and volunteers.
Successful leaders don’t resemble dictators. Russell H. Ewing said,
“A boss creates fear, a leader confidence. A boss fixes blame, a
leader corrects mistakes. A boss knows all, a leader asks
questions. A boss makes work drudgery, a leader makes it
interesting. A boss is interested in himself or herself, a leader
is interested in the group.”
In fact, the leader’s responsibility isn’t to police the masses,
looking for mistakes. Rather, good leaders create an environment in
which people have the latitude to suggest different methods and to
think outside the box. If an idea fails, it fails — but it’s
important that team members have the freedom to fail and to learn
from the experience.
I heard of a teenager whose first job was working as a delivery
boy for a florist. One day the boy was to deliver two sets of
flowers. One set was for a funeral home, and the other was for a
big church that had relocated to a larger sanctuary.
The florist knew there was a problem when he received a phone
call from an irate minister. The preacher said, “We’ve got a
beautiful new sanctuary with a basket of flowers up front that
says, ‘Rest in Peace.’ ”
“You think you’ve got problems!” the florist replied. “Somewhere
in this city there’s a nice bouquet of flowers sitting beside a
casket with a sign that says, ‘Good luck in your new location!’
Allow your team members to make mistakes, and encourage them to
learn from those mistakes. Encourage the creativity of your staff
and volunteers by giving them opportunities to brainstorm and
“mindmap.” Look for ways to add to your ministry’s effectiveness
rather than merely continuing the same old programs year in and
year out. This is what leadership guru Jim Collins refers to as
“the genius of the ‘and,’ rather than the tyranny of the ‘or.’
Encouragement can be given publicly or privately. Both types are
needed. Type A personalities long for public encouragement. Type B
personalities appreciate encouragement more if it’s given
privately. But regardless of a teammate’s temperament, either type
of praise is appreciated and essential for building a team.
Part of the benefit that flows from special projects and events
is the appreciation you gain for other ministries and volunteers.
For example, when Bible-college students spent the weekend at our
church for a ministry conference I directed, the women’s circles
provided housing for them. I was encouraged by their hospitality.
When the Fellowship of Christian Athletes held a fund-raising
auction, the student leaders stepped up to the plate. I was
encouraged by their attention to details and gift of
administration. When our church put together a “friend weekend,”
the members of our children’s ministries department took ownership
of the event as if it were their own. I was encouraged by their
creativity and desire to promote the weekend to all ages. When our
church presents a pageant or a program, I’m
always encouraged by the servants’ hearts of the members of the
facilities team. They go beyond the call of duty, working late on
behalf of the other ministries and Christ.
So no matter how busy you are, always remember that navigating
the rough waters requires an occasional boost of encouragement.
Take time to give it in large doses.
Requirement 4: Instill Unity Of Purpose
The Apostle Paul knew that a division among Christians is a poor
witness that can paralyze the power of the church. The size of the
ministry doesn’t matter; division is just as deadly in a church of
80 as it is in a church of 8,000. Paul minces no words when he
says, “Make every effort to keep the unity of the Spirit through
the bond of peace” (Ephesians 4:3). In other words, don’t step on
When 180-degree changes loom ahead, stick together and hold on.
Remind others why you’re doing what you’re doing. Tie the change in
with your mission or vision statement. In Romans 12:18 Paul says,
“If it is possible, as far as it depends on you, live at peace with
everyone.” Paul went to great pains to encourage teamwork within
the body of believers. But the apostle also left the door open
since, in rare cases, unity of purpose may be impossible.
Do your best, but realize that in some situations people may
need to be released from certain responsibilities and redirected to
areas in which harmony comes more naturally. Those times are
stressful, but I’ve found that, in the long run, such prayerfully
considered decisions have been vindicated. It may take such a
measure to improve the teamwork of the whole organization.
Because you work in a church or a parachurch organization
doesn’t mean that relationships will always be peaches and cream.
Personality conflicts will arise; contrasting styles won’t always
mesh. Someone has put it this way:
“To live above with the saints I love, Oh, that will be glory!
But to dwell below, With the saints I know — Now that’s a
Decide early in your ministry that you won’t allow Satan to
divide your staff members or volunteers. A lost world desperately
needs the message of Christ. Your team must model his love and
spirit of unity.
Finally, I must remind you that some leaders seek name
recognition or personal glory, and that’s a devastating barrier to
unity. Others, though, have a genuine kingdom consciousness. They
care about their staff members. They treat their volunteers with
respect. Those leaders have the big picture in mind, so they set
their sights on building a true team. Banker Walter Wriston, who
writes for the Harvard Business Review, says, “The person who
figures out how to harness the collective genius of the people in
his or her organization is going to blow the competition away.”
This idea goes deeper than just spending time together as
co-laborers, because there’s a difference between “union” and
“unity.” If you tie two cats together by their tails you’ll have
union — but you probably won’t have unity. True Christian unity is
based upon being “in Christ,” sharing together in the life of the
Son who dwells in all of you. That’s more than a social
relationship, and it goes even deeper than a spirit of collegiality
or even deep friendship. So after assembling your team and
communicating the plan, you must aim the members of your team in
the direction of their main purpose, which is to bring glory to
With Teamwork, It’s Possible!
Several years ago, at the Calgary Stampede in Canada, something
unusual happened during a pulling contest. This particular contest
is designed to determine which horse can pull the greatest weight.
The winning horse pulled a little over 9,000 pounds, while the
second-place horse managed to drag a little under 9,000 pounds.
Afterward, the two owners decided to give the crowd a demonstration
of teamwork. They harnessed the two horses to see how much they
could pull together. To the crowd’s surprise, it wasn’t 18,000
pounds. It was 27,000!
What a lesson for the onlookers! Teamwork allows us to
accomplish so much more than we might ever dream possible. There is
strength in numbers. When you run smack-dab into a wave that you
yourself may have helped create, know that you’re not alone. And
know that it’s better to have a rough ride through the transitions
— as a team — than to sink slowly in defeat.
Excerpted from Keeping Your Head Above Water by Dave Stone
(Group Publishing, Inc.). Dave is a pastor at Southeast Christian
Church in Louisville, Kentucky.