team development
Orientation meetings, outlining processes and expectations, as conducted by Byron Spradlin, left, and Larry Moshell, right, of Artists in Christian Testimony Intl, based in Brentwood, Tennessee.

Team Development: Jesus, Head of Human Resources

The challenge is for your church to borrow employment and organization techniques from corporate America and enhance them with Scriptural best practices.

The pastor was reflecting on his exit interview with the board. 

It was a cordial conversation.

If you are interested in learning more about team development within houses of worship, check out the following session, "Communication Breakdowns: Avoiding the Roadblocks That Stall Your Tech Team," slated for the WFX Conference & Expo next month in Orlando.

No acrimony, but nonetheless a bit awkward. 

The pastor was passing along papers and documents that he’d overseen, so that the board could determine their worth relating to the church’s new direction, and to determine whether to pass them on to the pastor’s successor. 

Looking over the documents, a leader inquired, “Who’s on your team?” 

After a pause, the pastor sighed and admitted, “I have no team. I am the team.” 

The pastor explained later that he was not bragging, nor territorial.  There were many reasons he had become the sole member of a one-person team; lack of recruiting was not among them. 

Though he had mentioned many issues over time with the board, this was the first in-depth conversation they were having. 

As he was leaving. 

“The stuff I delegated, all eventually got dumped back on me,” he explained, “Because I could get it done, nobody (meaning the leaders) ever said anything. They saw the results, but we never talked about what was going on.” 

Matters of Leadership 

Such a scenario illustrates the two most critical elements in team building: recruiting personnel and maintaining personnel. 

Each is tied to two other critical elements: ongoing training and healthy relationships. 

Together, building a sustainable team is a matter of confident, empowering, and accessible leadership. 

From hiring practices to job descriptions to systems of feedback, to behavioral standards and resolving differences, successful organizations have systems in place so that comfort and sustainability are achievable. If an employee is terminated, has a grievance, or simply chooses to leave, the organization is tasked to continue on. 

In corporate America, upholding these standards might fall into one area: HR, or Human Resources. Unfortunately, having such a department is rare within many churches or ministry organizations in the U.S. today. (If you wonder, ponder for a moment what’s the atmosphere in your place of serving today? Make a note, that atmosphere will be the basis of the continuing conversation here.) 

Example: When a ministry position opens, the ministry typically suffers, because the ministry is often more strongly linked to an individual that is part of the leadership hierarchy, instead of the church. (Think of a youth ministry whose students are more connected to the youth pastor than other adults).  It’s likely because the church structure – its teams – are focused on the wrong person … a flawed human, rather than the person of Jesus Christ. 

Corporate and Worship 

In corporations, there are recourses for the bully boss, the jerk manager, a lazy or prejudicial coworker. 

Take it to HR. 

Or stay, be quiet and get paid. Some money beats no money. 

The business, won’t as a result, suffer. The work gets done, despite the grumbling. 

In church, the ramifications tend to be deeper. People serve from obligation. People stop serving. People stop coming to church. Worse, some people leave the faith. 

The challenge, then, is for your church to borrow employment and organization techniques from corporate America and enhance them with Scriptural best practices as taught by Jesus -- the ultimate HR, or in this case, human relations, manager. 

Labor and Love 

The above hypothetical situations are laid out, because they reflect findings of the U.S. Department of Labor, for why people leave their jobs, and fall in line with conclusions by educational researchers Roger and David Johnson about how to build effective teams through collaboration. 

Translate these ideas to ministry: 

The labor department says the top reason people leave their jobs, is not for an inability to do the job, but their inability to get along with others on the job. 

The pastor talking in his exit interview explained that he had trained people, including people who were new to the church. Unfortunately, they eventually quit the church because they felt unwelcome by workers in other ministries in which they volunteered. 

The pastor during his exit interview, outlined that despite all this, there were detailed guidelines and expectations for the ministry to be staffed, continued, trained and resourced, if the leadership deemed the ministry worthy of continuing. 

Upon leaving the position and the church, the pastor said that he went through a period of grieving. He examined himself, what he did wrong; and could have done better. 

What gnawed at the pastor, he said, was the feeling he was … in corporate terms … in middle management, with minimal support from upper management. 

“It was hard to build a sustainable team,” he said. “The structure didn’t support training, and the leadership couldn’t articulate how the ministries fit the kingdom vision in an organized fashion. I saw ways to bring cohesion, but I didn’t feel those ideas meshed with what the leaders wanted.” 

He continued, “There was lots of praise and appreciate for what I did, and was trying to do, but I was also told not to do things without getting specific directions or answers to questions. You can’t build a team like that, when people below do what they want, and people above, don’t know how to communicate." 

There are, however, specific steps to overcome each of these issues. 

What People Want 

When David and Roger Johnson, educational researchers at the University of Minnesota, began their studies in collaboration learning in the 1980s, among their findings were what qualities parents wished school would help develop in their children, to prepare them for adulthood. These abilities were intangible byproducts of academic testing. 

There were three qualities: 

• Leadership
• Group decision-making
• Conflict management 

During the same period, education consultant Alfie Kohn, was studying cooperative learning. Among his findings were that, “The strongest groups are the most diverse.” 

While each conclusion has its detractors, the ideas became bedrock principles of some team-building workshops. 

Becoming more and more familiar with these concepts during the last three decades, I began discovering Scriptural parallels. 

The paragraphs below are designed to help you overcome both drawbacks by building on the concepts of the Johnsons and Alfie Kohn, adding the Scriptural foundation, and offering discussion prompts for you and your ministry team.

For the second part of this article, please check out "Team Development: Clear Communication and Beyond," which will post to the site on Wednesday, October 3. 

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