Team Ministry

Team Ministries
Posted on September 26, 2009December 27, 2009 by belsnet
In Overcoming the Five Dysfunctions of a Team, Patrick Lencioni provides a field guide for leaders and managers to develop teams that accomplish the goals it sets out to achieve. He suggests that in order for teams to be successful, facilitators or team leaders must get the rest of the team to buy into their vision and share in the commitment of seeing it through. From his experience as a consultant to executives, he points out that teamwork is usually absent in organizations that fail, and usually present in organizations that succeed. He says, “When it comes to helping people find fulfillment in their work, there is nothing more important than teamwork. It gives people a sense of connection and belonging, which ultimately makes them better parents, siblings, friends, and neighbors.”
He points out, however, that building successful teams is not easy and takes hard work, persistence, and perseverance. He maintains that one of the biggest obstacles to building successful teams is self-preservation. People like you and me do not like to make ourselves vulnerable to the rest of the team, and rather than admit our own faults and weaknesses, we masquerade ourselves as if everything is alright and pretend to know things that we really don’t. In essence, we don’t trust each other.
To illustrate this point, he described a situation about the CEO of a company that hired him as a consultant. The executive team completed a 360 degree survey and provided the CEO with the results. In the survey, the executives emphasized some of the CEO’s weaknesses. However, in a meeting with the same executives, the CEO confronted them and asked if the negative feedback was true. Every team member said that the criticism was unfair and that the opposite of the allegations were true. The CEO pressed a little further. Finally, one person admitted that the CEO could offer more praise for the team rather than address mistakes all the time. After he responded, another executive spoke up and said that was not true, and that the CEO offered more praise than any other leader with whom he worked. The rest of the team was silent. They were more interested in self-preservation, and you can only imagine what happened to the individual that stood alone against the CEO. Needless to say, the company, once an industry giant. became a mere shadow of its former status.
In recent years, team ministry has been the buzzword in many religious organizations. By developing successful teams, senior pastors are relieved of much of the work that was formerly delegated to the pastoral position only. In theory, the team design not only benefits pastors by reducing their workload, but the church leaders and elders as well by providing opportunities for growth and expression in what God has called them to do. In addition, the whole congregation benefits because they get their needs met more efficiently and are better equipped to serve in the church body.
Team ministries, however, are also susceptible to the same pitfalls of many teams in business organizations. Because pastors, elders, and church leaders are human beings, they too are reluctant to become vulnerable, especially in religious settings. The idea is to be Christlike, and anything not of Christ is sinful. For various reasons, religious people are reluctant to discuss their sins. For one, it would make them appear as is if they are not walking in the light of the truth. If they are exposed for not walking in the truth, then they could lose their position. For another, they are reluctant to give too much personal information because somewhere down the road, it can and will be used against them. So they too, like executives in the business world, put their masks on to save face – self-preservation takes precedence.
It is important for pastors to get feedback from their teams about their own performance and for assisting in decision making. Once again this sounds good in theory, but in practice it can be a different story. Far too often, scenarios like the one Lecioni described above take place in religious leadership meetings as well. For example, a church with pluralistic leadership had instituted a guideline for making decisions. In order for the church to move forward with a decision, the whole team had to be in agreement. Yet, during a moment of inspiration, the pastor of the church felt that the Lord had spoken to him to build a new educational wing for his congregation. He presented it to the elders and leadership team. He asked them to pray about it, and then discuss it at the next meeting. The team of elders felt that it was not a good time to build, and when the they gathered again to discuss the new building, the elders told the pastor that it was not wise to build at that particular time. The pastor responded by telling the elders the Lord spoke to him, and told him to build the building. He pulled out the “I am the pastor” trump card and made an “executive decision”. The church built the building, and not long after, the team of elders disintegrated, and the church eventually closed.
In a similar situation, the pastor of a church decided to change directions with one of its ministries. Many of the elders and leaders did not agree with the decision as they discussed it among themselves. However, when it came time to make the decision in the joint meeting, only one person gave his reasons why the church should not change directions. Every one else agreed with the pastor. What happened to the direction of the church? You guessed it. It changed. This incident only added to the distrust that already existed within the leadership team. To compound matters, well . . . let’s just say you can only imagine what happened to the individual who stood against the pastor’s decision and the ripple effect it had on the rest of the team.
No one can argue the success that efficiently functioning teams can achieve in church ministries. Two are better than one, and a rope of three cords is hard to break. Yet I have experienced more instances like those mentioned above than I care to remember. In both cases, one of the main problems was a lack of trust. The pastors did not trust their leaders, the leaders did not trust their pastors, and the leaders did not trust each other. In both instances, the churches described themselves as a church with a plurality of leadership – a team if you will. But what team? A church may have the plurality of leadership structure in place. It may have all the positions filled with good-hearted people. But what good does a ministry team do if the pastor overrides the elders and leaders on critical decisions? What good is a ministry team if the elders and leaders won’t stick their necks out for fear they might get their heads chopped off? If the team lacks trust at any level, you don’t have a team at all. All you really have is a group of people masquerading as a unit acting as though everything is alright and pretending to know things they really don’t.

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