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Team Leadership: Three Categories of People You Have to Lead in Christian Ministry

First, you have to lead the people who are on your team

This sounds very obvious, but from time to time it is worth remembering that team leadership is about focussing on your team! It can be easy to focus instead on your business or ministry, or on what you prefer to be doing out of your skill set. That might be preaching, or pastoral care, shepherding the sheep of the flock — all basic functions of a pastor-teacher-leader, but not what we are talking about here.

Jesus came to preach and teach and to heal. He came proclaiming the Kingdom of God to the masses. He was great at it! But he also gathered and then led a team. The Twelve. And within that number, the three he would often draw aside specially. And within that, the Beloved Disciple, John. We believe that Jesus was perfect, and so this wasn’t favouritism in a negative sense. The Gospels don’t describe any of the others reacting negatively to Jesus’ HR management practices.

Jesus was very effective in his mentoring and Gospel leadership development. Peter goes from the thrice denier to the thrice affirmer at the end of John’s Gospel. He becomes the Rock upon which Christ builds his church. James leads the mother church in Jerusalem. John suffers his whole earthly life for the Gospel, ending his days exiled on Patmos. Thomas the doubter is encouraged to believe, and to believe for an India that would come to know Jesus. Jesus even led and cared for and invested in Judas; knowing full well that he would betray him in the end.

Jesus was very effective in his mentoring and Gospel leadership development. Peter goes from the thrice denier to the thrice affirmer at the end of John’s Gospel. He becomes the Rock upon which Christ builds his church.

Jesus led each of his team. He focussed in on three at times, he had time for each of the others, and the many other leading women and men who followed him. The Gospels are filled with his personal encounters with people whom he was leading towards the Kingdom.

If we are to follow Christ’s example, we will not neglect the leading of people on our teams, including those whom we might otherwise choose to not invest in or to write off too easily. We will focus in on training and developing and mentoring a relatively small number of key team members; these will be the leaders who will take over from us and expand the work. We will be ready to lead the many others through perhaps once-off encounters, words of wisdom and encouragement and knowledge.

In contemporary teams, leadership is often about clarifying roles and responsibilities and holding team members accountable for them on a regular basis. Team meetings and mentoring meetings are partly about these, and partly about the work of building up team members, leading them into greater Christ-likeness and clarity about God’s call on their lives and ministries.

Why did Jesus say to Peter ahead of time that he was going to deny him thrice? Did he need to know? No he did not, it was going to happen anyway. Was Jesus needing to demonstrate again his divinity and knowledge of the future, after all the miracles he’d performed? Surely not!

In context the words of Christ come as a rebuke to Peter’s cocksure declaration of fidelity. Jesus the team leader, knows Peter better than he knows himself. Jesus the team leader, is nevertheless committed to Peter and committed to helping him grow despite his weaknesses. Later, Peter recalls Jesus’ words and weeps bitterly. Why does he weep? Is it grief at Christ’s fate that is to come? Or is it more that in that moment he finally apprehends the depth of his disloyalty in the face of his master’s all-knowing love for him whom he knew would be a thrice-denier? Peter grasps the enormity of Jesus’ love for him and the fact that Jesus has been leading him all along — even through his failure and the pain of public betrayal.

Lead the people on your team! It will be costly, but under God, leading like Jesus will yield a harvest among the nations.

Second, you have to lead people who are not yet on your team

One of the challenges of leading a team is that people come and go, and the church or organisation changes over time — hopefully positively and because of growth. Most team leaders I know are regularly in recruitment mode, looking for good people to join their teams. Most Christian leaders in my context struggle to find good candidates.

Part of the job of team leadership is to lead people who are not yet on your team, but who might one day. Leadership needs to be nurtured from an early age and consistently through to adulthood and even then!

The Proverbs insist that we are to train a child in the way in which they are to go, and when they are an adult, they will not depart from it. Proverbs 2 insists that turning to God’s Word in the fear of the Lord will yield wisdom, understanding and success (v1–7). The young person of Psalm 119 places their confidence in the Word of God that they might know their way through life, keep their ways pure, and see wonderful things in God’s law (v9–18).

If you struggle to find the right people to join your team when you need them, then it is probably a result of not enough team leaders having put in the hard work of leading and nurturing the next generation of leaders who, at the time, were not yet on their teams. Team leaders with an eye to the biggest picture strategy and the whole Kingdom of Christ ought to be spending time and energy leading people who one day they would certainly want on their teams. Some of these may actually make it on to your team just as you need them, and this may be soon. Many others will be formed for other Gospel teams, and this is not a bad thing.

Team leaders with an eye to the biggest picture strategy and the whole Kingdom of Christ ought to be spending time and energy leading people who one day they would certainly want on their teams.

I am always humbled and encouraged by the story of John Mark from the end of Acts 15. He was part of Paul’s team, but Paul would not keep him on the team because of he deserted the team at Pamphylia. This wasn’t apostasy; it might have been immaturity or lack of ability to keep pressing on. We know this because Barnabas thought Mark was worth continuing to invest in, which he does. Later at the end of 2 Timothy, Paul insists that Timothy get Mark to him, because he was ’helpful to me in my ministry’. What a turnaround! What a great investment by Barney in someone who was a team reject!

Boards and Parish Councils need to be educated to see that leading people who are not yet on your team is part of Gospel ministry leadership for the long-term and for the whole Church and the whole world. Capable team leaders are typically products of a long chain of investments in them made by a previous generation of leaders. If you are such a leader, you know the number of people who have invested in you over a long period. You have an inter-generational debt of Gospel team ministry leadership to pay.

In this era of tightened accountability and eagle-eyed return on investment auditors, there can be powerful resistance to funnelling scarce resources to this sort of work of leading and investing for the wider and worldwide Church. I was in a meeting just recently where I was encouraged to target only ‘effective and quickly visible outcomes’ for my time and energy. Remember, God is no one’s debtor. No one organisation, denomination or church can build a kingdom larger or more enduring than the Lord Jesus’. There is no more effective investment than an investment in leading those who will — under God — one day make great team players and leaders.

Third, you have to lead people who should leave your team

Let us return to John Mark at the end of Acts 15. Paul was certainly a Type A personality: highly-driven and focussed, high energy, take no prisoners approach, conflict as an opportunity for clarification and positive change. Perhaps John Mark was more like Barnabas: quieter, Type B, faithful, steady, conscientious, prioritising relationship, lower speed, lower energy, conflict-averse. Paul was building a team to drive on in his church planting missionary journeys. John Mark couldn’t keep up. He was dropped from the team and joined another one that would stay put in Antioch.

Elsewhere, Paul describes others who had been part of the team, but who had either left or had to be ejected: Phygelus and Hermogenes (2 Timothy 1:15) ; Alexander (3:14). The lists of qualifications for leadership in Titus and 1 Timothy are rightly used to help determine who should be on a Gospel leadership team, and, when necessary, who should leave. The qualifications may be divided between qualifications of character and competence.

Character: godliness, blamelessness, faithful in marriage, not overbearing, patient, not greedy for dishonest gain, hospitable, a lover of good, self-controlled, disciplined. Competence for church leadership: able to handle the Word of Truth, able to teach sound doctrine and refute falsehood, able to manage one’s own household well — administratively and pastorally competent!

You may have inherited a ministry team in which there are individuals who do not meet the requirements of character. Or are not competent for the role they are meant to be fulfilling. Not everyone on a multi-staff team might be in pastoral leadership; if you have a godly book-keeper who can’t count, or a communications person who can’t spell, there’s a competency problem! You may have to lead these people out of the team. This does not mean summarily sacking them — see below!

There is a third ‘C’ behind Character and Competence: Cultural fit. Does the individual fit with the team’s overall culture? Or like John Mark, are they not quite right for where the team is at in this particular season? They might be as prominent as Peter the Rock, or James at Jerusalem, but do they fit in the fast-paced, itinerant, church planting, missionary engagement, Gentile world?

Commonly in team sports, we see the phenomenon of the star player who isn’t a team player, and has to be led out of the side. Or it might be the player who just doesn’t meet the grade. It’s clear what needs to happen in the sporting context. But in ministry, we sometimes overlook poor performance or lack of cultural fit because it is too hard to face up to the difficulty of expending real leadership energy in carefully and lovingly leading the wrong people off the team. But this is a vital part of team leadership. There are a limited number of seats on your team bus. Get the right players on. Keep the right players on. Get the wrong players off.

In ministry, we sometimes overlook poor performance or lack of cultural fit because it is too hard to face up to the difficulty of expending real leadership energy in carefully and lovingly leading the wrong people off the team. But this is a vital part of team leadership.

Doing this work of leadership with Christian love, charity and godliness is probably the hardest thing that I do in team leadership. It is also probably one of the most necessary for the health of the organisation. Too many team leaders never face up to this work and their organisations and churches suffer for it.

In my experience this reticence is found in leaders working with paid staff and unpaid volunteers. In fact, it is typically more difficult to take a volunteer off a team. They are often, in a church context, the gatekeepers and have the history and relationships that cement their position. All the more important to lead them off if they are really the wrong person for the team and hindering Gospel ministry.

How you lead people off your team, how you continue to relate to them as they transition, whether you keep praying for their welfare and good after they leave — these are all signs of your character and heart and Christ-likeness. They are also reliable indicators of the kind of grace-filled and godly culture that you are building. Remember Jesus, who called Judas, ‘friend’, at the end (Matthew 26:50).

We owe each brother and sister in Christ a debt of love, whether or not they fit our team. Often as people are led off a team, there is hurt and disappointment and grief and anger. Do not give in to the negative emotions! Overcome evil with good. Love overcomes a multitude of sins. Sacrificial love from you, the team leader, will overcome much and commend the grace and generosity and love of the Lord Jesus to all. The harder and more carefully you work to help them find their right fit in life and ministry outside your team and the more you bless them as they go, the more commendable your leadership.

A friend pointed out to me that at the end of Romans, Paul commends the many people who are part of the wider Gospel team for being hard-working and faithful. It did not sound as if they were all Type A, fast-paced, charismatic evangelist personalities. Phoebe was a benefactor, Andronicus and Junia were faithfully imprisoned, Gauis was hospitable to all. So there’s a place on Gospel teams for all sorts in the right context and time. Leading is about helping identify which types for when — for this we need God’s wisdom!

Three categories of people you have to lead in Christian team ministry. Who are you leading in each category?


First published at https://medium.com/
Photo: pexels.com

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