Years ago, I wrote a book entitled Leading the Team-Based Church. Whatever in that book was right, wrong or otherwise heretical, it had a core proposition that continues to prove itself true in my life and work. I observed,
After twenty years of ministry involving a lot of trial and error, I have come to a rock-solid conviction that has revolutionized my ministry: if a church is to succeed in carrying out a healthy ministry and developing a good Christian community there must be stable and high-quality relationships among the members of the principal leadership team.
This is simply true.
You can attend every Exponential conference, read every church growth book, change your churchy language to a secular friendly dialect, install the latest and greatest AVL gadgetry, wear hip clothes on the platform and know the Hill Song catalogue by heart it doesn't matter.
It all begins with the condition of the soul of you, and that of your team.
And while my quote is about the principle leadership team, it is also about all our teams such as those led by executive pastors, directors, coordinators and whatever else you call your team leaders. This advice is for anyone with a team!
C.S. Lewis wrote about "the difference between paint, which is merely laid on the surface, and a dye or stain which soaks right through."2 He was speaking of the Life of Christ. Is it soaking in or merely like paint and laying on the surface?
I serve my church as an executive pastor and I lead a team of pastors and directors. We desire to grow our ministries. We feel led to be an outreaching church with ministries that reach into our community with the love and affection of Jesus. We have studied tons about how to do this, attended the conferences, adopted the language, know the drills and can recite the mantras of how to do contemporary church.
But it all seems to go back to John 15:12 Love one another as I have loved you.
There is something infectious about such regard for one another. And I'm not talking about drippy sentimentalism. Just basic things like:
- speaking well of each other
- trusting that the other is out for your best effort
- supporting each other
- bridging silos and speaking encouragement
When we adopt these practices and truly work together for the good of each other and the furtherance of the cause of Christ, there are some sort of invisible rays that extend out from your team to those around you.
Now, the opposite is also true. Using C.S. Lewis' language above, you can paint the life of Jesus all over your church and even daily change the colors of its hues with environmental lighting but it won't last long. Letting the "stain" of Jesus soak deeply into the grooves and pores of your team is for the group that wants a lasting effect.
There just are no shortcuts to it.
Now, I would be quite content to end this article here and let you make your own applications of this basic truth of church team leadership. I think to myself, "Do I have to do all the work here?" But my lead pastor is right when he urges me to give some practical applications. So here goes:
1) I find it helpful to keep my team grounded in the spiritual life.
We are very task oriented and need to coordinate and plan frequently. Nonetheless, avoid the tendency to talk only logistics and take some time for your team to care about each other, their welfare and the spiritual state of the team. For example, I gave all my team members a copy of Richard Foster's Devotional Classics3 and guide the team in the use of it, noting that without the healthy Life of Jesus in us individually and as a team, all we do is in vain.
No, really. Listen! Listen to each other, value each other, and validate what you can of one another's comments. Listening and validating helps to create trust which is the true collateral of leadership.
3) Be secure, hear the feedback and be appropriately changed.
Team leaders model the behavior they expect. When one of your team members gives feedback, can you hear it or do you get too defensive? What truth is in the feedback? Can you surface that truth and honor it? Reward the person who gives feedback even when it stings or else you will silence those who can help the team the most.
4) Humbly realize you have blinders on and see reality in a narrow way.
Hear this if you can: you do not have all the answers. If you are paid more to lead, it is not because you know more or have more expertise than your team; it is because you are mature enough to create a team of people who know more than you, are better than you, and your job is to manage the team's best effort and create the environment for the gifts of others to shine. (OK, a long sentence, but you get it).
George Cladis is the executive pastor of Faith Community Church in Hopkinton, MA. He is married to Lori and has five children. Cladis has served as pastor of large churches, the COO of a manufacturing company, the COO of a faith-based social service public charity, and involved in various social entrepreneurial projects. He is author of Leading the Team-Based Church, teaches, consults and fumbles around in the garage. Cladis is also the originator of EcoChurch.