Developing a Ministry Team in the Small Church:
By Glenn Daman
For Pastor John, the board meetings had become a positive experience in his ministry rather than a necessary evil. For the past several months, they had come together as a team. No longer were they arguing over minor decisions, instead they were united and working together, understanding that each person had a different role within the ministry of the board. However, as Pastor John reflected upon what was happening in the church, he still felt something was missing. What caused his apprehension did not become clear until their quarterly business meeting. As the leadership presented their ideas and plans they had developed over the past several months, the people remained uninspired. While most expressed casual indifference, some openly objected. At first, John grew frustrated with the people, mentally accusing them of being spiritually shortsighted and stubbornly clinging to past traditions. However, several days later, as the emotions subsided, he had opportunity to reflect upon the meeting. He suddenly realized that the problem was not with the people, but the failure of the leadership to enlist the congregation in the team. Having a genuine team ministry meant more than the pastor and the board working together. Like most small churches, they were a lay-operated church. Consequently, there remained a third part needed for the team and that was the congregation. This was further clarified as he read Ephesians 4:11-13 where he discovered that ministry involved the leadership working as a team with the congregation.
John spent the rest of the day jotting down ideas about how to develop an effective team between the pastor, the board, and the congregation. He recognized that the power and authority of the small church resides in the laity and the "tribal chiefs" rather than the pastor and board. If the church was going to be effective, the board, the pastor and the laity all had to be working as a team. For this to happen, John realized, there needed to be the right environment where this teamwork would be encouraged.
1. Team ministry requires a trusting environment.
When John was first in the ministry, he listened carefully to older pastors share their ministry struggles and frustrations around the tables at Pastor's conferences. Often he heard about people who had opposed the ministry of the pastor and caused problems within the church. He listened to the pastors as they discussed the difficulties they had in effecting change within the church. Looking back, he realized he had formulated the idea that the laity were the "bad guys" and they were not to be trusted with the "ministry" of the church. However, after looking at Ephesians 4:11-13, he realized God had entrusted the ministry to the laity. Trust is central to an effective team. To develop a trusting environment, John realized the first thing he needed to do was to learn to trust people. This began as he learned to trust God to work through people. When given the chance, people could effectively perform the ministry and they could make wise, godly decisions. The more he learned to trust others, the more he realized they were responsible and they had an intense desire to serve God. What pleasantly surprised him was that people genuinely did want the church to grow and become mature in Christ.
After the Christian Education meeting Friday night, however, John was frustrated. For the past six months they had talked about implementing a new program. However, the people were fearful it would not work and they would not have the ability to implement it. It was then that John realized that a trusting environment involves more than learning to trust the laity. The second ingredient to a trusting environment involves teaching the people to trust God. They need to learn to trust in God's empowerment and provision for their ministry. Ministry requires faith. It demands that we look beyond the present and see the potential of what God can and will accomplish through us. It means we must look beyond our limitations and envision what God can accomplish. Trusting God also involves learning to trust him for the results. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 3:6 and as Christ points out in Mark 4:26-29, the results belong to the sovereign work of God. Our responsibility is to faithfully serve him by following his will for our ministry.
2. Team ministry requires an empowering environment.
The more John thought about the type of environment required to foster a team, the more he realized that if the congregation was to be involved, they needed to be authorized to perform the ministry. This was crystallized even more as he looked at the manner in which Christ continually empowered the disciples for ministry. When he sent them on their first missionary journey, he made it clear that all authority was given to them (Matthew 10:1) to accomplish their mission. Paul affirmed the divine empowerment when he acknowledged that he could do all things through Christ who strengthened him (Philippians 4:13). As John closely examined the manner in which Christ empowered the disciples he noticed Christ did three things. First, he clarified responsibilities by outlining what their ministry was to be and to whom it was to be directed (Matthew 10:5-10). John realized that a critical part of empowering people was outlining what they were specifically responsible for. He noticed that when disagreements arose within the church, often they were a result of a lack of clear delineation of responsibilities. Second, John observed that Christ gave the disciples the authority and freedom to accomplish the task. Christ not only affirmed their authority in verse 1, he gave them license to determine when people were unreceptive to the message and when they should leave (11-16). If people are to be effective in ministry, they need to be given authority to make decisions regarding the ministry. The task of leadership is to help people but not dictate to them. Third, Christ held the disciples accountable for their ministry (Matthew 10:28-31). As the disciples went about their ministry, they need to be aware that they would be accountable to God for their life and ministry. Servant leadership and team ministry is not spineless leadership. It requires the leadership to set the parameters for people and holding them accountable for their ministry. Responsibility without accountability results in abuse and/or neglect. People should be held accountable for biblical obedience. Ministry requires the person to exemplify Christ in all aspects of life (1 Corinthians 11:1; Philippians 3:17; 2 Thessalonians 3:7; 1 Timothy 4:12; 1 Peter 5:3). People should be held accountable for faithfulness to the assigned task. Christ points to the importance of faithfulness in the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30). People should be held accountable for upholding the values and beliefs of the church. The leadership is responsible for the doctrine of the congregation and those who serve within the church should uphold those doctrines. Last, people should be held accountable for supporting the vision of the church. While each ministry will have its own direction and vision, it should never conflict with the vision of the church.
3. Team ministry requires an encouraging environment.
Shortly after implementing an empowering philosophy for the church, Pastor John received a phone call from Mary, the head of the Sunday School program. Mary was discouraged because of the lack of success in a program they had started for young adults. Because the church was small, they only had two young adults who were attending the church. Nevertheless, because many students lived at home while attending a community college in a neighboring town, Mary felt there was potential in the community for having a vibrant class for college students. After careful planning and conducting multiple advertising strategies, they started the class. The first two Sundays, three more young adults were attending and everyone was encouraged. However, after six months they were still only having an average of two students each week and Mary was disheartened. As John talked with Mary, it soon became evident that an environment was needed where people would receive encouragement when plans and ideas failed was necessary for the team ministry. He had always recognized that failure was an opportunity for learning rather than defeat and most personal growth in ministry comes through failure rather than success. This, however, had never been communicated to the congregation. At the next board meeting, John shared his thoughts about working as a team with the congregation and the need for the leadership to encourage people, especially when ministries struggled because of the size of the church. As the discussed the issues, they identified three different ideas to encourage people. First, the board would develop a positive based evaluation strategy. This involved evaluating ministries based upon the spiritual outcome rather than the just the goals and objectives that were initially established. Within the business community, plans and programs are evaluated based upon their effectiveness in achieving pre-established goals and plans. As the board discussed this approach, Jack mentioned Job. Job's friends all considered Job to be a failure because everything was going against his plans and their ideals. However, God was working a greater plan than even Job realized. If God sovereignty accomplishes his purposes through us, then we can expect God to work unexpectedly and what some might consider a failure, God considers a triumph. It was then that Fred, the chairman, pointed out that through the young adult class, Pete, in his last year of college, sensed that God was calling him to missions and he was in the process of making plans to go to seminary in the fall. Thus, the board concluded, the class, while not achieving the goals desired (to build a large young adults class) had been successful. Second, the board decided to establish an "Innovative Idea of the Year Award" which would reward the best idea that did not work. People fear failure. However, when they begin to celebrate failure they realize that growth comes only through risk. By celebrating new ideas, they are allowing people to take risks in ministry. Third, the board would reward people for their faithfulness rather than just their achievements. In the parable of the talents (Matthew 25:14-30), the master rewarded each, not for their results, but for their faithfulness in utilizing what had been given to them. Rewarding faithfulness rather than "results" aligns with God's definition of success rather than the secular communities definition.
4. Creating a team requires a supportive environment.
As the board discussed how to encourage people in ministry, the conversation began to move in the direction of the board itself. When the board first started discussing the team ministry concept, they rightfully concluded that being leaders of the church required that they have spiritual oversight of the spiritual health of the congregation and the various ministries of the church. However, to accomplish this they concluded it was their responsibility to develop and govern each of the programs of the church. Once these programs were established, then the congregation was responsible to rally around the board's vision. However, when they discussed what Paul stated in Ephesians 5:21 and the implications it had for leadership, they realized they needed to be more supportive of the ministry of others. While they still agreed to provide the spiritual oversight of the congregation, they began to recognize that this involved servant leadership. The task of the leadership is not to dictate to the congregation what needs to be done, but to be supportive of what the congregation is doing in ministry. The board agreed they needed a change in their thinking. Servant leadership involves assisting the laity in fulfilling God's purpose for their ministry rather than thinking that people serve the leadership in accomplishing the pastor and boards agenda. While the board was still responsible to oversee the programs, they needed to allow people the freedom to develop their own ministries. As the board discussed how they could be more supportive, they identified four areas where they could improve their support of the ministry of others. First, they would strive to assure that people had adequate resources for their ministry. To help facilitate this, before they formulated the next year's budget, they would ask each ministry team leader to submit a proposed budget of what they needed. Second, they would provide training for people involved in ministry. They developed a strategy of doing so by providing funds for people to attend seminars, by brining in outside consultants to train workers, and by having in-house training lead by lay and pastoral leaders. Third, to improve the supportive environment, the pastor would meet with people involved in different ministries in order to explore their personal goals. Then the leadership could support the person in achieving these goals even as they worked to achieve the congregational goals. Last, the board and the ministry team leaders would explore ways to improve communication between the board, the ministry team leaders and the people serving within the various ministries.
5. Creating a team requires a unifying environment.
As the board talked about empowering people, Fred raised a question concerning the staffing of programs. If the people are encouraged to develop their ministries, how will the church staff all the programs? As the board discussed this issue, they realized the church could not embrace every program. As they talked about all the program ideas that people had and the resources needed, they came to the conclusion that they needed a unifying vision to guide the overall ministry. The people in the congregation, while serving in their respective ministries, needed to also be working together in harmony with other ministries. Having a team ministry within the congregation involves everyone working together to attain a common ministry goal. The small church should consider how it could maximize its resources since it faces limited resources. Having a unifying vision prevents the church from overextending its resources, which results in confusion and division. This vision serves to guide the decision-making process, enabling people and ministries to mutually support one another rather than compete against one another over resources and personnel.
6. Creating a team requires a focus upon giftedness.
The last principle for team ministry that the board and pastor identified was for people to serve based upon their spiritual giftedness. Like most small churches, they struggled to fill the necessary tasks and responsibilities within the church. People were often assigned ministry tasks, not based upon their spiritual gift, but upon the positions vacant. The board recognized that this not only frustrated people, but was contrary to scripture. This raised the problem of how to staff the needed programs within the church while allowing people to exercise their gifts. As the board discussed the issue, they identified two ways to improve a gift-driven ministry. First, they needed to give people freedom to utilize their gift within the context of the programs of the church. It was decided to allow Betty, who possessed the gift of hospitality, to adapt her Sunday School material so that in the process she was teaching children how to show hospitality. They also encouraged her to frequently invite her class over to her house for a time of games and fun. Second, the board decided that they needed to allow people more freedom to pursue ministries that corresponded to their gifts. In the past, because of the needs, people would feel guilty if they were not willing to teach a class. The board determined that they would encourage people to utilize their gifts by exploring ministries that allowed them to effective utilize the gifts. As John and the board discussed working with the congregation, they realized their work was not done. Having identified six principles for developing an environment where people could be part of a team, they now needed to identify specific ways to build the team within the congregation. To deal with this issue, they set aside the next board meeting to discuss this issue.