Keeping your Men’s Leadership Team Vital

Keeping Your Men’s Leadership Team Vital

The job is yours, Dave. This is a big church because people are drawn by the superb preaching. However, we’ve developed a reputation for being cold and uncaring. I want you to design and implement a program which will turn our church into a warm and intimate fellowship again.”

Although new to the church, Dave had experience in this particular area of ministry. He had successfully instituted programs to deal with this problem in two other organizations and kept on the latest research in the field. He also brought with him four important pieces of knowledge:

(1) his confidence that what worked one place would not necessarily work somewhere else; (2) his own strengths-big picture planning and team development; (3) his own weaknesses-poor at details and follow-through; and (4) his absolute inability to do this task without a strong team.

Despite his eagerness to get things rolling, Dave spent the first year behind the scenes. He mapped out his plan and then worked on getting to know key people with whom he could share his goals. One by one he put together a team. He arranged for team members to spend some extended periods of time together, just to get to know one another. He taught them how to use assessment tools so they would better understand each other’s working and relating styles. He modeled for them the program he hoped to implement in the entire church.

As he worked with these people, he continually modified his original plan. He took into account the strengths and weaknesses of people he had pulled together. He asked for their feedback, suggestions, dreams, and ideas. Together they tried to incorporate as much of this input as possible. As his team attempted to implement the program, they came back to the meetings knowing they were free to share the problems and frustrations they faced.

At the end of three years, a program was in place and functioning. Yes, they still needed to work out some bugs, but the team faced the challenges, confident they could count on one another for support and ideas. Dave never failed to give those people credit when someone commented on the changes taking place. He knew too well that it would never have happened without them. They had amply proved the truth of the statement, The whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
All that you have read so far could take years to complete in a struggling church. But remember, it began with the initial interview, an early step in recruitment strategy.

Building a ministry team requires closing the door on the high attrition of workers in volunteer ministry. After going to all the effort to find and enlist volunteers, it is very discouraging when they only serve a short time. How can we keep good people on the team? As Dave well understood, one of the key ways to keep people involved in ministry is to permit them to feel a sense of accomplishment and fulfillment in what they do. His experience can help us understand how to pull together a ministry team of volunteers who work together effectively.

Team Ministry Requires Effective Leadership

The imperialist leadership style of much contemporary Christianity holds no promise for developing the kind of ministry the church needs in today’s struggling society. The confrontational man-in-charge style currently taught in some church growth seminars and extolled in too much of the current literature has abandoned the reconciliatory servant-leader model of the New Testament.

The secular leadership model shows us a “strong” person whose autocratic drive pushes others before him. But Christian leaders are marked primarily by their difference from the world, not by their adherence to secular models. Biblical leaders share authority with their followers and believe that leadership is primarily ministry to others. That kind of climate invites people to join ministry as genuine
team members.

A key factor in Dave’s success lay in that behindthe-scenes work when he mapped out his plan and brought in key people to share his goals. Those people were not puppets to make Dave’s system work, but participants in a genuine team ministry.

Leadership that Attracts People to Ministry

One of the unique features of most congregations is the makeup of the membership. Some new Christians are excited about the work of the church and want to become involved in its ministry. Others have often already served in positions of leadership. Then there will be new volunteers ready to serve. On the survey (chapter 3) you need to provide a place for all these possible groups to indicate their desires. What better way to discover this kind of information? The church that gives proper planning to the survey process is on the way to developing a ministry team.

In an interesting article entitled “Many Are Called, Few Volunteer” Barbara Bolton reminds us to “explain the framework within which each person is to function.”

Everyone needs to know where her or his part of the job fits into the overall scheme of things. Everyone needs to know where to turn for help in clarification.

Some people simply stop working if they become frustrated or confused, so provide them with phone numbers of experienced volunteers, if possible.

If you’re chairing a large group, enlist at least two associate chairmen to serve as sounding boards for those who encounter problems. Remember the rule of ten: ideally, each person will have no more than ten others turning to her or him for help.’

Just because people volunteer for ministry does not mean they will fit into a ministry team. If there are no positions available, let them know and keep them on the list for future opportunities. If they desire training, let them know when the next training session will be held. If their personalities do not fit well with the other members of an existing ministry team, don’t push them into those positions just because there may be a need.

Don’t forget how Dave started. He spent the first year behind the scenes getting to know people, considering the issues, and pulling together a team. Effective teams attract new members; ineffective teams repel potential members.

Leadership that Models Ministry for People

Though the members of his team may not have noticed it, Dave began modeling ministry before he ever brought them together. His careful preparation, careful selection of team members and careful arrangement of team relationships modeled a pattern they could follow in the care group ministry to which God had called them. His openness to their suggestions, frustrations, and fears clarified what leadership needs to be. This is precisely how Jesus handled the disciples during the three years they learned team ministry under his leadership. Because of what Dave’s team became, and because of what Dave demonstrated as a leader, the members of that group eagerly stayed together rather than finding excuses to abandon the

Leadership that Encourages People in Ministry

Sometimes we think it would be more comfortable if church ministry could be carried out exclusively by professionally trained staff members. We could require them to attend meetings, raise their pay when they function well and fire them if they are ineffective. It would save hours not to have to ask people to serve and wait to find out whether or not they will do so.

But there are two major problems to this plan. First, it isn’t biblical. The growth of the New Testament church rested clearly on its capacity to draw on lay leaders almost exclusively. The apostle Paul stands out in the Book of Acts precisely because he was so different from everyone else, the “professional clergyman” amid dozens of lay volunteers.

Second, no church can operate without a core of lay volunteers. Pastor Wayne Jacobsen reminds us that lay leaders “aren’t as available, but they are better distrib

It’s tough to get people together. But when I look at ministry as touching people instead of attending meetings, I realize what makes them unavailable for my schedule makes them readily accessible to others. I can be at only one place at a time, dealing with a limited number of people, but my parishioners are spread out all over the city. And whereas I need to schedule an appointment weeks in advance, some lay person will be free to go over tonight and spend hours helping someone. One farmer and his wife found 15 hours in a single week to help a person through a major crisis.’

Effective local church programs have always been lay led. When churches buy into the super professionalism of modern society, they may design slick platform operations and in the process lose the interest of people who desperately need to be involved and whose spiritual gifts can contribute significantly to the overall ministry of the congregation.

What Locke Bowman says about Sunday school is appropriate.

If the clergy and other professionals were to decide that Sunday school needed to be renewed, and if they empowered the laity to devote talent and energy to the task, then nothing could stop the renewal from beginning. We wait for articulate pastors and Christian educators to sound the call.

Of course pastoral response to such a proposal depends on philosophy of ministry and leadership. In our opinion, a team approach to church leadership offers the only viable alternative.

Leadership that Understands Biblical Ministry Effectiveness

Perhaps Christians are too deeply enmeshed in the secularization of the society to rethink the whole issue of success and failure. But if they do, they may discover that biblical values are and always have been
counterculture. The Scriptures speak to this issue at numerous points, one of which is the dramatic treatise on stewardship in Luke.

“No servant can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve both God and Money.” The Pharisees, who loved money, heard all this and were sneering at Jesus. He said to them, “You are the ones who justify yourselves in the eyes of men, but God knows your hearts. What is highly valued among men is detestable in God’s sight” (16:13-15).

The second thing to discover is that biblical heroes tended to be worldly failures. Read again through the first ten verses of Hebrews 11. Sense the loneliness of Enoch and Noah, of the rejected Moses fleeing into the desert abandoned by his noble friends of the Egyptian court, of the outcast Rahab, and of the erratic Jephthah. Of these and others the Bible says, “The world was not worthy of them” and no wonder, since the world scoffs at biblical criteria for success. Church volunteers must understand those criteria: relationships of love (1 Cor. 13:1-3), a servant attitude (Matt. 20:24-28), and faithfulness (Matt. 25:14-21).

Finally, biblical faith transcends temporal applause. Again the Hebrews passage is helpful.

All these people were still living by faith when they died. They did not receive the things promised; they only saw them and welcomed them from a distance. And they admitted that they were aliens and strangers on earth. People who say such things show that they are looking for a country of their own. If they had been thinking of the country they had left, they would have had opportunity to return. Instead, they were longing for a better country-a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God, for he has prepared
a city for them (11:13-16).

The world screams for fame and applause, while Dorcas sits quietly mending the garments of the widows at Joppa. The world wants to know how many channels carry your religious program, while Barnabas quietly takes Mark back to Cyprus for long-term oneon-one discipleship training. The world gathers to watch its heroes place hand prints and footprints in the cement of time, while Paul rots in Mamertine Prison asking only for his coat, his writing materials, and the visit of a few remaining faithful friends.

Church leaders will find it extremely difficult to communicate those biblical standards, but it is the only way genuinely spiritual ministry teams can be built.

Team Ministry Requires Effective Nurturing

Nurturing is not a difficult word to understand, especially for gardeners and parents. Plants and children need a special climate, careful watering and feeding, and sometimes pruning. That’s the function Dave served with his ministry team and that’s the function every team leader carries out if he wants to be effective in that role. We have already emphasized showing appreciation, finding the right place of ministry for each person, helping people get along together, providing adequate resources, and designing peer fellowship groups. All these are basic. In addition, the following suggestions should help you increase your retention ratio within a year.

Nurturing that Creates an Attractive Climate

One of the great churches of the New Testament was founded in Antioch, a city of a half-million people steeped in idolatry and immorality. Significantly larger than Jerusalem, Antioch was the third largest city in the Roman Empire at the time of the first-century church. As we read Acts 11 we immediately sense a positive climate for ministry in that great urban congregation. The church was founded by anonymous Greek-speaking Jews and first pastored by a lay leader named Barnabas sent up from Jerusalem. You will recall that Barnabas was a nickname meaning “son of encouragement.” The text in the New Testament says, “When he arrived and saw the evidence of the grace of God, he was glad and encouraged them all to remain true to the Lord with all their hearts” (Acts 11:23).

A ministry climate that retains volunteers is positive, relaxed, and encouraging. It avoids rules and restrictions, unnecessary paper work and meetings, and valueless traditions.

Nurturing that Teaches the Biblical Principle of Service

The essential issue in retention is motivation, not endurance. Some people do just get tired, fatigued in the faith, and drop out. Others get frustrated because of mechanical things like lack of training or inadequate equipment. But many simply don’t understand the biblical reasons for serving the Lord. They function from a neurotic compulsion to duty rather than a refreshing joyfulness so obvious among the volunteers of the New Testament.

At Antioch solid Bible teaching was the second component after encouragement.

Then Barnabas went to Tarsus to look for Saul, and when he found him, he brought him to Antioch. So for a whole year Barnabas and Saul met with the church and taught great numbers of people. The disciples were called Christians first at Antioch (Acts 11:25-26).

Unable to handle the teaching task by himself, Pastor Barnabas went out to find the finest Bible teacher he had ever heard, a young rabbi from Tarsus named Saul. Do not read any retrospective analysis into this choice. When Barnabas made this decision there was no “apostle Paul,” only a former persecutor still viewed with suspicion by the Jerusalem church. Doubtless many believers in Jerusalem thought this a risky appointment. But the people in Antioch needed serious, in-depth Bible teaching so they could under stand what God expected from them, and in Barnabas’ judgment, Saul was best equipped to do that.

Nurturing that Clarifies a Philosophy of Ministry

The four items mentioned right at the beginning of this chapter described a portion of Dave’s philosophy of ministry. Coming to this new leadership role with a background in team ministry, he was able to apply basic guidelines that formulated what we call a philosophy of ministry. That is simply a way of describing why we do what we do in the church.

The clarification of a mission statement and objectives lays the foundation for a philosophy of ministry. We need not get too scholarly here. Just write a clear statement about why your church carries out its ministries in the way it does. Why two or three morning services rather than a branch church? Why care groups on Sunday evening rather than another worship service? Why boys’ and girls’ club programs instead of a centralized youth ministry? Or why both, or neither?
People stay focused in ministry when they see how that ministry fits the larger picture. But they cannot understand that larger picture unless they have a clear handle on your congregational philosophy of ministry. Effective ministry leaders not only understand and write out a philosophy of ministry, they also go over it and over it and over it with volunteer teams.

Philosophy of ministry in your congregation should recognize multiple and diverse models of ministry. Each congregation must ask itself, “Why has God raised up this church in this place at this time, and what does he want from us?” Unless volunteers understand the answers to those questions, they cannot serve effectively on ministry teams.

Nurturing that Strives to Produce New Leaders

Too often people look only at the leader herself, her gifts, her talents, and her experience. But leadership is never individual; it always relates to other people. One can manage behind the scenes comfortably hidden by paperwork and computer printouts; but one can lead only in the midst of people. So you ask about a potential volunteer not only, How has God gifted him? but also, What can she do to meet the needs of the particular group of people with whom we want her to serve?

There is a third component well documented in the research of leadership: the situation. A person effective in one group might not be effective with another. A person effective in one setting might work well in that situation but fail dramatically in another. A good Sunday school teacher might be a poor weekday club director. A person gifted in individual evangelism may not function well in Old Testament exposition. People stay on the job when they understand themselves, the dynamics of the group in which they serve, and the variables of any situation.

At Antioch, Barnabas and Saul represented different types of leaders with very different gifts and personalities. Their group consisted of new converts who did not fit the pattern of historic Judaism that marked the church in Jerusalem. The situation was a pagan urban center renowned for sin in which God, by His providence, had chosen to raise up a vital and dynamic church. These kinds of biblical and sociological factors make a big difference in whether people choose to quit or hang on in their ministry positions.

Team Ministry Requires Effective Relationships

The early paragraphs of this chapter do not exactly spell out what Dave did with his team members to develop relationships. But one of the “pieces of knowledge” he utilized as an effective leader was his understanding of team development and that assumes the building of effective relationships. Those connections run in numerous directions but of greatest importance are relationships between the team unit and the leader, and among all the team members.

Over twenty years ago Roger Gray wrote an interesting article for the
Hillsdale College Leadership Letter, titled “Generating Co-Operation Is Leading.” His major thrust was that the primary evidence of leadership is the ability to generate cooperation among people. Consider this thought: “The leader who is so experienced and so skilled that his observations, his experiments, his judgments, and his communications develop cooperation rather than conflict, is the one most likely to maintain the position of leadership.”4

Relationships that Minimize Problems of Bureaucracy

Bureaucracy, in our common vocabulary, tends to be a negative concept. But as a technical word it merely describes the intricate way organizations fit together, and, to a greater or lesser extent, all churches have some kind of bureaucracy. But leaders need to understand how to function within the organization, not circumvent it or be frustrated in it. Colossians 3 teaches us clearly that we work for the boss but we ultimately work for Christ. Individual team members cannot decide what is best for the ministry of the church if it goes against what the team leader believes. That does not extol any kind of autocratic attitudes on the part of the leader; it merely means that cooperation with the system is biblical behavior both in secular government (Rom. 13) and in the church.

Team leaders need to represent their ministry supervisors fairly, understand them as much as possible, and keep them informed. Obviously they need to be taught these principles.

Relationships that Nourish Creativity

Creativity comes when we give people credit for making good mistakes. Experimenting with new ways to minister effectively will sometimes lead to failure. But that is good failure which occurs every time people make a serious attempt to challenge the process and improve the system.
Creativity becomes possible when we keep the organization flexible, improve communication among the team members, and don’t force conformity on the outof-step person. That very person, the one who seems to be just a bit different than the other members of the team, may very well be the one with the new ideas that make possible greater team achievements in ministry.

Relationships that Help People Deal With Criticism

Effective team leaders are not afraid of criticism, because they know it’s inevitable and being afraid of it is nonproductive. Furthermore, if they have been trained to deal with criticism, they will recognize handling it is a part of any cooperative venture. Several questions are useful here: Does the criticism reflect needs or hurts of the critic? Is the criticism valid? True? Necessary? What might you learn from this criticism?

Relationships that Balance Loyalty in Ministry

Our training programs must balance loyalty in team ministry. The timeless antithesis in the history of management research focuses on the individual versus the organization. For us that means asking whether the volunteer serves the church or the church serves the volunteer. Obviously, both must be in place to keep the balance. Dayton and Engstrom describe the necessity of a careful development program like the team training opportunities discussed in this book.

A Christian organization and its various subcomponents have a
responsibility to develop people in their relationship to their Master and toward one another. Discovering ways to make prayer an intimate part of the working life of the company is not easy, but it is essential. Expecting that the staff will have the concern one for another in terms of personal life is difficult, but that’s what Christianity is all about. In other words, the Bible calls us to specific corporate acts and attitudes, and we have to find ways to respond to these imperatives.

Remember that a good team leader keeps team members alert to any changes that might affect their ministries. Sometimes that may be a simple announcement about time or equipment. In other cases, however, it could be the necessity for continuing education to upgrade skills and stay effective in the ministry. Everyone needs to be refreshed and recharged from time to time, and short-term training programs can help provide that essential ingredient of ministry.

Dave never forgot that the members of his team made possible whatever ministry effectiveness he enjoyed, and, you will recall, he never failed to give those people credit when someone commented on the
effectiveness of the ministry he had been asked to lead. The ministry team is only as good as its leader.

Application Activities

1. What level of satisfaction is there among the team members in your church? Do they feel appreciated? Do they sense the importance of their task? What specifically can you and other church leaders do to demonstrate appreciation to the workers for their faithful ministry?

2. Would you categorize your church as an effective team ministry or as a number of individuals promoting their own programs? People are fulfilled when they consider themselves a vital part of a team
ministry. Suggest some possible ways this concept could be facilitated.

3. Are workers in your church motivated by guilt or by a proper understanding of their place in God’s service? Evaluate this carefully, as many churches use improper motivational techniques. What are some positive ways to encourage workers to stay with their ministries and do their work effectively?

4. Review the record of Dave’s leadership at the beginning of the chapter and at various points throughout. Identify at least ten lessons for developing team ministry that you can find in his example.

5. Name some ways your church nourishes creativity on ministry teams. How do you build in rewards for “good failure”? How do you help people deal with criticism?