Effective Teams

Effective Teams
By: Tim Pruitt

This lesson is entitled “Effective Teams”. We will study three successful, Biblical teams. The lesson aim is to learn Biblical principles that help teams to be effective. This lesson applies specifically to teams in the Church, but the principles are applicable to any team.

Sometimes we may think that the Bible applies only to theological or doctrinal issues. We may feel that the Bible talks about deep spiritual things, but is silent on practical issues. To the contrary, the Bible says a great deal about our interaction with each other. It gives us great insight into practical issues, such as effective team interaction.

Effective teams are important at any level in the church. They are important for individuals within a congregation. They are important for church staffs or church boards. It is important for district or national boards or committees to be effective teams as well.

In this lesson, we will study three teams from the Scriptures. We will study the team of Joseph and Pharaoh. We will also study Nehemiah and the team that rebuilt the walls of Jerusalem. Lastly, and perhaps most importantly, we will learn from the most inspirational team in history, the Apostolic missionary team, led by the Apostle Paul.

For each of the three teams that we study, we will highlight four things:
-the team’s purpose,
-the team member’s contributions,
-the team’s interaction, and
-the team’s accomplishments.

The Bible gives us principles for effective teams. After our study of these teams, we will conclude with principles that will help teams be effective. These principles are important for each member of a congregation, staff, board or committee. For the principles apply not only to team leaders; they apply to team members as well.

The first Biblical team we will study is Joseph and Pharoah (Ge. 41-46). Interestingly, these two did not meet through mutual association at important events or successful business ventures. Fate would draw together the most powerful ruler in the world, and a Hebrew servant who had been cast into prison.

While in prison, Joseph interpreted correctly the dreams of Pharoah’s butler and baker. As Joseph interpreted, Pharaoh’s baker was hanged. Also as Joseph interpreted, Pharaoh’s butler was restored. Though he promised to remember Joseph, the butler had forgotten him until Pharaoh had a very troubling dream.

Joseph’s experience with Pharaoh’s butler gave him the opportunity to interpret for Pharaoh his dreams of cattle and corn. Joseph explained that there would time of plenty followed by time of famine. Pharaoh had seen seven fat cattle eaten by seven lean cattle, and seven fat ears of corn consumed by seven lean ears of corn. Joseph explained that the fat cattle and fat ears of corn represented seven years of plenty. The seven lean cattle and seven lean ears of corn represented seven years of famine that would consume the years of plenty.
Joseph then suggested a plan to survive the years of famine. He went beyond simply interpreting Pharaoh’s dream; he now showed wisdom and insight. His counsel was to store up reserves of grain during the years of plenty to use during the time of harvest. He also urged Pharaoh to appoint an administrator to manage the program.

Pharaoh followed Joseph’s advice. He initiated a plan to prepare for the famine. Joseph was elevated from incarceration in an Egyptian prison to being second only to Pharaoh in power, as Pharaoh appointed Joseph as the administrator of this critical program.

We said earlier that we would highlight four things for each of these teams:
-the team’s purpose,
-the team member’s contributions,
-the team’s interaction, and
-the team’s accomplishments.

What was the purpose of the team of Joseph and Pharaoh? It was a simple, yet critical and strategic purpose: to spare Egypt from impending famine.

The success was a team effort. Pharaoh and Joseph both contributed to the team and its success. Their contributions complemented each other. Pharaoh contributed spiritual sensitivity and strategic decisiveness. Many may not attribute spiritual sensitivity to Pharaoh. Yet when Joseph interpreted his dream, Pharaoh was sensitive to that interpretation and responded decisively. Joseph contributed spiritual discernment. When he understood the impending situation, he contributed solutions or plans of action. In implementing that solution, he also contributed strong administration. And both men contributed great leadership.

There were important characteristics that defined the interaction of this team. Though they were a team, it was a “superior-subordinate” relationship. Pharaoh was the superior, Joseph his subordinate. Authority was honored. Yet these two respected each other. They also trusted each other.

This small team’s accomplishments were significant and, ultimately, eternal. Egypt was spared from famine. More than that, while the rest of the region was decimated by famine, Egypt prospered and became a dominant nation. Through all of this, the nation of Israel was spared from destruction, and Joseph was reconciled with his family. In fact, those who were to become the nation of Israel were plucked from the famine in Canaan, and thrived in a foreign land. The natural results are easily understood: Egypt’s dominance, Israel’s deliverance. The more important results, though, are spiritual. Ultimately, the actions of this team spared the lineage of the Messiah.

The next team we will study if the team led by Nehemiah. This was a very effective team, but it might help to first understand state of the Jewish people during Nehemiah’s time.
Following the Babylonian captivity, the Jews had failed to fully rebuild Jerusalem. You would think that a people of such great heritage would quickly take advantage of any opportunity to restore their homeland. To the contrary, the Jews had become indifferent. Most had chosen to stay in their land of captivity, rather than return to the land promised to them. In fact, it had been 92 years since the Jews were allowed to return from captivity.

Here’s a summary of that 92 year timeline.
– The Jews returned from captivity in 536 B.C.
– Under Zerubbabel, the Temple was (partially) rebuilt in 520 B.C.
– Ezra completed the rebuilding of the Temple in 457 B.C.
– Nehemiah returned to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem in 444 B.C.
– From 536 B.C. to 444 B.C. is 92 years.

As it was with the team of Joseph and Pharaoh, this team’s purpose was clear. There were specific details; the purpose was communicated with authority.
– They were to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem (Ne. 2:5).
– Nehemiah was given a set time to complete his work and return (Ne. 2:6).
– Artexerxes (Ahasuerus, Xerxes) issued official, royal letters to provide him safe passage, and to provide timber for the rebuilding (Ne. 2: 7-8).

The contribution of each team member was clearly defined (Ne.3). If you will refer to the graphic in the lesson, you will see that there were 41 individuals or groups involved in rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem. Each had been given responsibility to rebuild a specific section of the walls. Starting at the Sheep Gate, near the Temple, the areas of responsibility encircled Jerusalem in a counterclockwise fashion. The list included tribes, families, cities, the High Priest, and even Nehemiah himself.

Also similar to the team of Joseph and Pharaoh, there were important characteristics that defined the interaction of this team. The team was focused (Ne. 4:7-8; Ne. 6:3). They overcame opposition from their own, corrupt people. They would not allow distraction. They were adaptive (Ne. 4:18). Simultaneously, they were both builders and defenders. They supported each other. Their schedules and even their lodging were adjusted to insure prayerful devotion and adequate rest while maintaining a 24 hour watch (Ne. 4:9; 4:22). When some struggled to accomplish their area of responsibility, others would help them to accomplish their work (Ne. 3:5). Their responsibilities varied. Nehemiah understood that some sections were more difficult than others, and that some team members were able to do more than others. He took these factors into account when assigning the work.

This team accomplished a purpose that had been clearly defined (Ne. 4:6; 6:15). The walls were rebuilt. This sounds like a minor achievement. That is why it is important to understand the history leading up to this feat. For what had not been accomplished in 92 years, this team accomplished in 52 days.

The last team we will study is likely the most inspirational to Apostolic people: the Apostolic missionary team. It was one of the most effective teams in the Bible. They ushered in a new era in God’s plan to redeem mankind. Until Ac. 13, the Gospel was predominantly a Jewish phenomenon. In Ac. 13, though, a new course was set that would accomplish God’s ultimate, divine purpose. A missionary team was started by the Apostles.

The purpose of the Apostolic missionary team was to bring salvation to the Gentiles (Ac. 13:47), thereby bringing eternal hope to every man. The process was initiated by the Apostles after two key events: the conversion of Cornelius (Ac. 10), and the stoning of Stephen (Ac. 7). These two events provided the assurance and motivation needed for global evangelism. The conversion of Cornelius in Caesarea (Ac. 10) proved salvation was available to the Gentiles. Jesus died for more than the Jews; He died for every man. The stoning of Stephen (Ac. 7) spread the Gospel to Gentiles in other cities, like Antioch (Ac. 11:20-21). It was a critical start. Yet it was only the beginning.

The central figure in the beginning was Barnabas. Though Paul would later lead, Barnabas was the initial catalyst, the builder/nurturer whose role was essential. The Apostles appointed Barnabas to establish the church at Antioch (Ac. 11:22). Barnabas was a Levite. His lineage was one of ministry, and of service. He had sold all of his possessions, and given it to the Church. Through these things, he had proven he was a man of great consecration and conviction. The Apostles provided the right direction, and chose the right leader. The Holy Ghost led them to appoint Barnabas.
Barnabas involved Saul, and nurtured his ministry (Ac. 11:25-26). Barnabas was obedient to the Holy Ghost, and demonstrated great courage. Barnabas introduced Saul to the Apostles (Ac. 11:29-30). Though fraught with great apprehension, the Apostles, too, were obedient to the Holy Ghost. This was, after all, Saul, the great persecutor of the Church.

Saul was chosen to support Barnabas in distributing relief to those churches suffering from famine. Shortly, after, Barnabas and Saul were ordained for the first missionary journey (Ac. 13:2-3). They first preached to the Jews (Ac. 13:5,14). But when the Jews refused the Messianic message, they then turned to the Gentiles (Ac. 13:46-47). They would not be deterred. Some insist on rigidly adhering to their original plan. When a door closed for the Apostles, they understood Christ’s passion was for every man. God’s will required that they accept, yea even pursue, every soul. It still does today.

There would be yet another change in direction after the fist missionary journey. Barnabas and Saul separated at the beginning of the second missionary journey. This appears to simply be conflict between two great leaders. It was much more than that. The change in direction was divinely ordained of the Lord.

Paul continued the work started during the first missionary journey; Barnabas developed another church leader. Barnabas chose to develop John Mark; Paul chose Silas (Ac. 15:39-40). Both fulfilled their missionary and leadership callings. The work of Paul overshadows that of Barnabas. Paul’s missionary accomplishments are well-known. Yet John Mark was developed by Barnabas into a church leader. Though no longer at the forefront, Barnabas continued to be recognized as a great leader.

To this point, we have concentrated on Barnabas and Paul, for they were the original two members of this historic team. This team, though, grew from two members into a much larger team.

Let’s list the names of these great pioneers:

There were probably others, but these are the names mentioned in the book of Acts.

The contributions of the team members varied greatly, but all were important.

Barnabas played a vital role getting this team started. He helped Paul get started. He was an effective missionary. His calling was to develop the ministry of others like Paul and John Mark. Like many other great leaders, perhaps unrecognized by the masses, Barnabas fulfilled his crucial role, then stepped aside. It wasn’t about his glory. He continued to follow the will of the Lord.

Paul provided dynamic leadership. He was a powerful preacher. He was an outstanding missionary. He was a great administrator. His Apostolic fervor, writings and effective preaching are legendary.

Timothy was one of Paul’s most trusted companions. He was involved in the ministry at Troas, Philippi, Thessalonica, Berea, Corinth, Ephesus, Macedonia, Jerusalem and Rome. He became the pastor of a thriving church in Ephesus. He proved himself under strong leadership, then demonstrated strong leadership himself.

Titus too was a trusted companion of Paul. He was involved in the ministry at Jerusalem, Ephesus, Crete and Rome. He became the pastor of the church in Crete. Like Timothy, he followed great leadership, and became a leader in his own right.

Silas took the place of Barnabas on the second missionary journey. He was Paul’s companion in the jail at Philippi. He also accompanied Paul to Thessalonica and Athens.

Gaius and Erastus played important roles at Corinth. At one point, Paul sent Erastus to Macedonia. Erastus was the chamberlain of Corinth. Gaius became the pastor at Corinth (III Jn 1).

Tychicus was important as a messenger. He delivered the Epistles to the Ephesians, Colossians, II Timothy and possibly Titus. It appears that either he or Artemas replaced Titus as pastor at Crete (Tit. 3:12).

Epaphras and Aristarchus are described by Paul as fellow prisoners. Aristarchus is also described as a fellow laborer. Epaphras may have founded the church at Colosse.

The interaction of this team was complex and dynamic. For not only was this team filled with dynamic leaders, but the team members changed significantly over time as well. Originally ordained by the Apostles, two strong, effective leaders worked together until their callings led then in different directions.

Under Paul’s leadership, the team was diverse, coordinated and effective. Though Paul was acknowledged as the overall leader, there was no sense of superiority on this team. To the contrary, they recognized and embraced their differences in leadership roles and style. While renowned for their great evangelistic success, there was great appreciation for and focus on pastoral responsibilities.

This team was flexible, committed to each other, and focused ultimately on their purpose. Reflecting their diverse styles, the team member’s assignments were diverse. They were sometimes spontaneous as well. They remained committed to each other and their common purpose through great trial and adversity. Many of them provided comfort to Paul while in prison. That commitment was reciprocated by Paul. A central purpose of the Pastoral Epistles was to support the leadership of Timothy and Titus as they dealt with great opposition.

They appreciated each other’s contributions (Ph. 2:3). The focus was on purpose over position. After much struggle, Titus became established as the pastor at Ephesus. Yet he relinquished that role to serve other needs. Tychicus also became a pastor. First, though, he served as a simple courier. The team dynamic was a servant approach (Ph. 2:5-8). They served each other. Ultimately, however, they were willing to make any sacrifice to serve the Church.

It would be difficult to exaggerate what this team accomplished. Two men started on a journey of eternal destiny. From that small beginning, the team grew to a force spread throughout much of the Roman Empire. Ultimately, countless souls would be impacted. They established and sustained churches throughout Galatia, Asia, Macedonia, Greece and Cyprus. They influenced the church in Rome. This lesson has highlighted a number of church leaders that were part of this team. Many more early church leaders were trained as well.

Perhaps the most important accomplishment of the Apostolic missionary team was the transformation of The Church into a Gentile Christian movement. This was truly a new era of hope for every man. The Bible is an unfolding story of God’s redemptive plan for mankind. It has always been His ultimate purpose that every man have that redemptive hope. This team set a new course. Salvation was no longer an issue of birthright or lineage; it became the eternal hope of every man.

Paul’s leadership was a central element of this team’s success. Of that, there is no doubt. He was a strong preacher and teacher, and developed many of these church leaders himself. Paul’s epistles are a central foundation of Christian living today. Yet we should be careful to recognize every member of this team. They are each heroes in their own right. We usually give the credit for these accomplishments to Paul. In truth, these tremendous accomplishments could not have been possible without a strong, effective team.

This maxim still holds true today. Leadership is essential to success. Yet every good leader also knows that great accomplishment requires a strong, effective team, and that every team member is important to that success.

We have reviewed three successful Biblical teams: Joseph and Pharaoh, Nehemiah’s team, and the Apostolic missionary team. Their purposes, contributions, interactions, and accomplishments were diverse. Yet from this study, we can see patterns that led to each of these teams being a success. We can conclude that the following principles help teams be effective.

First, define your mission or purpose clearly. Each of the teams that we studied had a clear purpose. This is a foundational imperative for a successful team. Teams are united when they share a common vision. When the purpose is unclear, resources are distracted and wasted.

Second, focus on strengths. We all have weaknesses, to be sure. Successful teams, though, focus on strengths, rather than weaknesses. Look for people with the right talents and strengths. See what they can add to the team. Focus on what they can contribute. Accept that each team member will have weaknesses. For the team as a whole, however, take more of a positive approach. Add strengths.

Next, utilize talents. See each potential team member as someone with talents and abilities. You may discover talents you had not considered before. Recognize those talents. Consider not only the talents they can contribute now, but how their involvement in this team will develop their leadership. Change your approach to utilize their talents.

Respect differences. The temptation each leader faces is to surround themselves with others just like them. While this makes some things simpler, it is usually short-sighted. A diverse team is a stronger team. Unanimity reduces differences of opinion, but it does not eliminate conflict. In the end, those differences may be an important reason for a team’s success. Do more than tolerate differences; value those differences. Every challenging project needs creative ideas. Teams from diverse backgrounds will have more ideas. Knowing that a new approach or a creative idea will be respected will keep team members motivated to contribute.

Complement weaknesses. Previously, we stressed that we should focus on strengths. By focusing on strengths, you will complement the weaknesses of individual members. Each team member can focus on what they do best. Further, a strong team will strengthen each of its members. The interaction of a diverse team and experiencing the strength of others will give individual team members insight to strengthen their own weaknesses.

Value your role. By respecting differences, we learn to appreciate the contribution of every team member. Remember that you are one of those team members. Respect what you contribute as well. Your unique background equips you to add a unique, valuable contribution. Have confidence in your value to the team. Always, though, be sensitive to the value others add. Balance a respect for others with a respect for your own value.

Help others succeed. The golden rule is a simple principle that applies to any team. Mutual success should be the goal of every team member. Too often, a team’s success is attributed solely to the team leader. For the successful teams we studied, they fulfilled their missions together. Success is not an individual accomplishment, but a mutual mission. It requires full commitment by every member of the team. The team members we studied adapted to insure the success of the team’s purpose. This brings us to the next principle for an effective team.

Change your approach. Some oppose planning because they know the plan will change. The problem may not be the plan, but the willingness to adapt. A plan is only a starting point; you will need to adapt. Mature leaders are resilient. They understand that plans will change. They simply don’t know how. Mature team leaders understand that teams help insure a better plan from the start.

Moreover, they know that a good team is more likely to successfully adapt. For a diverse team who positively contributes from their strengths and values the ideas of others will be able to adapt.

Lastly, stay focused on your goals. Start with a defined purpose. Stay focused on the goal. This will likely be the biggest challenge to any project. Focus on the team’s purpose, not your personal agenda. When difficulties arise, the temptation is to change the team’s goal. Most often, what is needed is not a change in goal, but a change in approach. Because they were focused clearly, Nehemiah’s team was able to accomplish in 52 days what others had failed to achieve in 92 years. They had to adapt. Every successful team does. The most effective teams are focused teams.