The Team Approach to Men’s Ministry

The Team Approach to Men’s Ministry
Paul R. Ford

Finding your church’s calling with the people you already have.

Kent is no Moses, and he knows it. Gifted as a pastor and teacher, Kent arrived at his mid-sized midwestern church believing that God had called him to shepherd this congregation. The people were generally supportive. But Kent soon began staggering under “vision block.” The elders were pushing him to “be more of a leader.” “Give us a vision,” they told Kent. “Take charge of it.”

Kent had a hard time generating visionary ideas. However, he had little difficulty discerning whether other people’s visionary ideas were from God. He listened well to the leaders around him�particularly elders and staff�and was able to synthesize pieces of God’s vision for the church as shared by key players. He then put the pieces together and clearly communicated, biblically and sensitively, what God was doing in the congregation.

“Couldn’t God speak through the body?” Kent asked his elders. But that wasn’t the leadership model the elders assumed every church needed. And they told him so.

If Only I Were Moses

Most of today’s leadership literature focuses on the “visionary leader,” who determines his church’s calling and then communicates that vision to the church. The model is Moses’ receiving the Ten Commandments. Moses went up the mountain, heard from God, and came back down the mountain to communicate the vision and to challenge his people to follow. It’s the “Moses as CEO” model.

Americans value the Moses-style leader. This approach is rooted in the rugged individualism that is so much a part of our culture. The frontier spirit has surely spurred growth and creativity, but often at the expense of community. Throughout American history�whether homesteaders who left the cities for a new life in the wilderness, or the Internet culture that asks “Where do you want to go today?”�”we” thinking is usually trumped by “I” motivations.

While Generation X supposedly lauds community, marketers persist in promoting self-centeredness, entitlement, and dissatisfaction, emphasizing “my needs” rather than “what’s important for us.” Personal freedom still overshadows group values. It’s easier for individuals to relate to a single leader than to support a process-oriented leadership team.

I needed extensive training in four cultures besides my own to bring home this reality. After eight years of work with more than 50 teams from 35 denominations and 20 mission agencies in North America, I have found that less than 5 percent have healthy leadership teams. Only now are Americans beginning to realize the limitations of “the Moses model” regarding vision.

Moses’ descent from Mt. Sinai with God’s plan in hand is a great model for about 30 percent of the 2,000 pastors with whom I have worked. These gifted leaders have a clear sense of vision from the Lord and can mobilize the congregation to fulfill that vision. The other 70 percent struggle to discover their unique vision. When these pastors go up the mountain, the only tablets they come back with are aspirin! Because so many stumble trying single-handedly to discover God’s intent for their congregation does this mean God made a mistake in gifting less than one-third of church leaders with visionary leadership? No.

Moses Isn’t the Only Model

Through a pastors’ group, Kent realized that he could never be the kind of leader his elders expected. He wept over that. But Kent believed God had designed him to lead his church just as he is. Kent, like so many not-Moses pastors, is an equipper, a role that receives considerable treatment in the New Testament. In fact, I find little emphasis there on the strong visionary leader concept. There is more emphasis on those who are fully prepared by God to train the saints for the work of ministry.

In Acts 6, when the church faced a defining moment, the apostles asked that leaders be prayerfully chosen to serve. No one leader stated God’s vision, and no one leader made those selections. Leadership was a shared function through which the Spirit worked.

In its explanation of various leadership gifts, Ephesians 4:11-16 focuses on the unity and maturity of a group rather than on the individual. The only mention of the individual is that “each plays his part” (4:16). Maybe there’s a reason. Perhaps God intends that churches discover their calling through the body rather than an individual. Over the long haul, a leader’s ability to effectively equip and release a team may be the more significant ministry.

How can visioning be a group experience? After his tearful reckoning with the way God had constructed him, Kent went to his board. “I cannot be the visionary leader you want me to be,” he told them. “If who I am is not sufficient for your purposes, then I will resign today. But if you believe that God has called me to be your pastor, then we need to make some changes around here.”

The elders unanimously affirmed Kent as their leader. Together rewrote a job description for Kent that freed him to use his primary gifts of pastoring, teaching, and discernment. The new job description suggested using gifted leaders to help with specific leadership functions, such as visioning.

The church has more than doubled in attendance since that time. The growth can be tracked back to the change of heart in Kent and the elders. Kent no longer tries to fulfill all the functions of a visionary leader, and the elders no longer expect him to. While Kent’s pastoral authority has not changed, he shares key leadership functions with others. He also continues to discern vision in other leaders on the team. This is “body-life vision.” It has liberated hundreds of pastors I’ve seen who suddenly realized they didn’t have to be the sole originator of church vision.

Esteem the Team

If God has brought “the right people to the right place at the right time for the right reasons,” as Bruce Bugbee has suggested, then understanding who we are is key to discovering God’s vision for our ministry.

Start by forming a leadership team that together will seek vision for your church. In some churches, this team will include the pastor and staff. In others, the team will include the pastor, deacons, and elders or trustees. It may include program directors. However you define your team, it must include those who set the course for ministry, who share the vision, and who will play key roles in fulfilling that vision in various areas of ministry.

Before discussing how to set a vision, I introduce the “body-life design team” concept. For a leadership team to discover the purposes God has called them to, three building blocks must be firmly in place:

1. Body life. As members of the body of Christ, each member of the team is vitally important. Jesus’ death on the cross has settled every issue of significance. Once team members understand that their individual significance has been settled at the cross, they can begin finding their function alongside others on the team. If they don’t settle their issues of significance in Christ, they’ll seek significance in their position, their influence, or in other unhealthy ways. The team will become the battleground on which they seek individual significance.

2. Design. God has designed each member of the team. In Christ, each of us is truly unique. Each of us has a spiritual blueprint that determines how we function powerfully in ministry. Most people don’t know what that design is. So work at clarifying who each player is in Christ. Assessment tools are helpful for this. I developed one called Discovering Your Ministry Identity. Use these tools to identify each person’s spiritual gifts, ministry burden or passion, team style, personal values, and “principle priorities” (which key leadership functions are strongest in you). That will help your team with both team building and visioning.

The team must also re-learn that “who I am affects who we are.” This re-learning is a process, not an event. Team building is the foundation of setting a new vision. In the mid-1990s, I trained ministry teams to go into the former Soviet Union. Their task was to prepare Russian schoolteachers to teach Christian ethics in Russian public schools. One of our team leaders, who had been to Russia, reported the comment of a newly converted Russian Christian who had observed Americans on an earlier trip: “Why doesn’t your team go home until they like each other, then come back and share the gospel?”

Ouch! That was not an uncommon observation. Russians in nearly every city were stunned by the relational struggles they see on American teams.

3. Team. Each player on the team actively works for unity. Unity not accidental; it happens through choice and a process. It happens when people esteem “we” (the church) above “I” (the individual believer).-Without this kind of community, vision is nearly impossible. With it, nothing is impossible.
Seeing With New Ears

How do you discover the vision that God has planted in the hearts of your key players? Ask them! The problem is that we seldom ask. A top-down leadership model assumes that a leader shares the vision and everyone else figures out how they fit into it. There is no opportunity for others to share how God is nudging them. I have discovered that most Christians, whether in leadership or not, have something or someone for which they will invest their very lives. Rarely do we ask what that is.

In determining God’s vision for a congregation, consider the order of sharing. Usually leaders talk first in a group. The result is that others feel obligated to relate to what the leader has shared. Yet the real value of sharing is to hear the thoughts of people who are not leaders, because God may speak clearly about the church’s overall vision through these unprompted heart callings. After each player shares his or her ministry burden or passion, then the leader shares.

God does give some vision to pastors, but he also communicates vision through the hearts of other leaders. Seldom does one person have all the details worked out. If a leader listens well, he or she will discover strategic pieces of the big picture that haven’t previously been considered. Are you listening?

I will never forget the Sunday evening we did some vision sharing at a church in the Southwest. After talking about Paul’s burden for the Gentiles in Romans 15, I asked people to talk about what was on their hearts. With no preparation time, each of the 42 people present talked. As each person spoke, excitement rose. Even quiet people were contributing. And they weren’t talking about things “the church ought to do.” They were describing people and activities in which they wanted to invest their lives.

The pastor was last to speak. Though I had asked him in advance to prepare something about his vision for the church, he decided not to. With tears in his eyes in response to what other people had shared, the pastor said, “I have nothing to share. You all have just shared every significant piece of the burden God has put on my heart!”

What if you treated your leadership team as players prepared by God to lead your church? Wouldn’t you look for opportunities to listen? God will speak through this “body of Christ.” You can trust a leadership team, even with something as important as vision.

At a Glance: Visioning as a Group

Vision can be a group process, especially for those who value team ministry. Here’s a quick overview of the steps.

1. Build your vision team. The team will include official leaders, but it should also include other key people, even if they don’t hold an office or head a ministry. In a society that assumes everyone is an individual, people need lessons on how to function as a team. Sign a pact, if necessary, to work for team unity. Agree to agree.

2. Discover who you are. The body functions well when each part knows its function and does it. Help team members discover their uniqueness in Christ.

3. Build on weaknesses and needs. Real unity comes when leaders share weaknesses as well as strengths. A team becomes vital in ministering to a person’s admitted neediness.

4. Discover who WE are. God has brought your team together for a purpose. Discover their God-given ambitions, and you’ll discover your calling in what God is already doing.

Teambuilding Questions

As your team develops, ask three key questions.

1. Where is God powerful in you? Spiritual gifts reveal more than what we are “good at”�they identify where God is powerful in us. While in Kazakstan last year, I discovered the Kazaks have 20 words for sheep but no comparable words for “spiritual gift.” So I told the Kazaks that spiritual gifts are where God’s power is revealed in our lives. Kazak or American, explore where God has shown his power in you.

2. Where are you weak? When deep, confidential sharing of weaknesses takes place, unity can begin. Without it, your team is unlikely to move beyond functional relationships that merely complete tasks. Real Christian community surfaces at the point of shared vulnerability, usually modeled first by the leader.

When Bill, a senior pastor I met with, freely admitted his weaknesses to his team of 12, team members stopped hiding behind their strengths and honestly admitted their neediness. Community happened that day for that powerful team who never before had felt free to acknowledge how they needed each other. They were hired for their ministry expertise and had learned to impress each other. When the walls came down, real unity occurred.

Confidentiality is essential here. No one wants his confessions discussed around the coffee machine. Honoring each other in our weakness means protecting one another.

3. Who do you need? We tend to ask, “What am I good at? Where am I weak, and to which seminar can I go to improve in my weak areas?” As individuals we tend to think about fixing our own weaknesses. We seldom think about how God designed us to need others. Team members need each other. As we identify ways in which we need others, the team grows stronger.

Paul Ford is a teambuilding specialist with Church Resource Ministries, 1704 California NE, Albuquerque, NM 87119. He can be reached
“From My Vision to Our Vision,” LEADERSHIP, Summer 2000, Vol. XXI, No. 3, Page 34

This article “The Team Approach to Men’s Ministry” by Paul R. Ford was excerpted from: 2004 Christianity Today Intl. It may be used for study & research purposes only.

This article may not be written by an Apostolic author, but it contains many excellent principles and concepts that can be adapted to most churches. As the old saying goes “Eat the meat. Throw away the bones.”