Read part one, two and three of this series.

Once you have understood yourself and your leaders, assessed your church’s seasonal needs, and have hired the right complimentary team members, you are ready to establish the new team in strength.

Beginnings matter. Orientation matters. Teams don’t simply begin with clarity and consensus around all the things that make for a strong team. You have to work for that. Here’s how:

Begin with Story

Team leadership is inherently relational. Relationships are built on trust. To build trust you really have to know one another and begin to demonstrate a loving consideration for the other. In the first couple of months, you should take time away to get to know each other’s personal stories. It is next to impossible to relate effectively without awareness of stories. This baseline of awareness will inform the way you speak to one another, how you resolve conflict, how you make decisions, and how you pray for and support one another.

Make Your Culture Explicit

Who we are becoming as a leadership team is paramount. Rather than assuming, it is important for a strong team to be explicit about the culture of leadership they aim to embody. Early in a new team’s relationship, consider having team members submit various maxims they value. Put these into a “1st dsraft” that you vigorously debate and finally commit to. I currently lead a team that holds so leadership maxims like…

  • WE SERVE King Jesus 1st and primarily. (Gal 1:10)
  • WE PRAY for God’s help/direction in our work (8:30am each workday) “Our best work is in prayer.” -Justin Kuravackal + (Prov. 3:5-6)
  • In ERROR we own it. We ask for forgiveness when necessary. The Gospel makes us free to fail, as those in need of Jesus and in process.
  • WITH THANKSGIVING, We say “Please” and “Thank you.” We send handwritten notes, often. We are generous with requests, encouragement and thanks.
  • IN REST, we commune with God and pursue health and depth. We guard one another’s work/life balance and sabbath, avoiding work after hours and during sabbath/vacations.
  • WE COMMUNICATE GRACIOUSLY. We vigorously debate, but never insult or sulk. When we lose a debate, we accept team decisions and execute whole-heartedly. Working towards consensus when possible.
  • WE ARE SLOW TO COMMIT. We are prayerful about our priorities. We are honest with our limits. We do what we say. We finish what we start.
  • WE ARE QUICK TO EXECUTE. We submit to clear role descriptions and annual objectives. We know this is essential in building trust and momentum.

Your list will be unique to your team and the culture that you desire to create. Avoid the temptation to copy someone else’s team culture. You must do the work of building something unique together. This takes time, discussion, and commitment.

Pursue Organization Clarity

Consider creating a document which makes clear lines of authority, values, core focus, annual objectives, communication (use of technology), decision-making, conflict resolution and calendaring. If clarity around these things doesn’t yet exist, schedule an offsite planning retreat to lead the team through Lencioni’s 6 Questions from The Advantage (Why do we exist? How do we behave? What do we do? How will we succeed? What is most important–right now? Who must do what?)

Adjust as Needed

Once a team is established and functioning, the directional leader’s primary role is to monitor and/or take action. As a team of leaders functions over time you learn new things. Latent gifts emerge. The needs of the church in the season change. Don’t feel as if the roles are etched in granite. One day you may all agree, “Bill should switch seats with John.” Strong teams adapt to new learnings with flexibility and grace. No one insists on his/her own way but considers the needs of the church and mission as more important that him/herself. Which brings me to perhaps the most important variable in team leadership…

Pursue the Humility of Christ

Those who have been working at plurality for some time know the most essential ingredient is humility. By far. Pride and insecurity make no space for true plurality. Weak teams are comprised of insecure persons constantly wondering “am I a big enough deal if I am not in charge of everything? Don’t people need to know that I am “The Man?” Overly controlling leaders won’t go here either. They have too much fear, too little faith. Control is a different kind of pride which believes “only I can do it right.” Titles as trump-cards are generally necessitated in conflicted churches as an impatient, coercive short-cut and evidence inherent dysfunction. This is not the humility of Christ who did not consider equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, making himself nothing, to serve (Phil 2:6-7). Can you reconcile the inconsistency of a Christ-following elder in a church who cannot empty himself? This fits the description of what Eugene Peterson might refer to as “pastoral malpractice.” This scandal should be highlighted and rebuked each time it surfaces in the church.  

How will you know when you have a Strong Team?

A strong team has a certain dynamism, a certain quality in decision making. Strong teams have genuine respect for one another, humility, a tendency towards celebrating the other gifts. They have balance. They get the right things done and they are done well by leaders who “were made” to do them. Strong teams clearly value collective success over individual success.

A strong team is one where every team member can articulate the vision, values, core focus and priorities. Each member is clear on his/her gifts, confident that the other members have sufficient character and technical know-how. There is a collaborative climate with growing confidence in the health and functioning of the team. Strong teams are happy to be held accountable in performance. In fact, A-players want to be held accountable and they want to work with other A-players. Those who are lazy, incompetent or isolationist will be necessarily extracted so the team remains strong.

Like a strong marriage, great teams never coast. They maintain the principles and practices that built them. They tend to the fundamentals. Together they embody more, do more and enjoy ministry more than any discordant organization of individuals ever will.

Key Questions

  1. What is the strongest team you have ever been a part of?
  2. In what ways did it resemble the tenants described above? In what ways did it differ?
  3. How would you rate the strength of the team you are currently on?
  4. What aspect of your current team needs the most immediate attention?

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