by David Shannon
We have all heard stories like the youth minister who walked into his preacher’s office to ask a Bible question, and the preacher scheduled him an appointment two weeks from that date. Before you wonder how busy the preacher was, or if the difference in years found them with little in common, consider this: this preacher probably viewed his ministry as just him. But if God has placed him in a congregation with multiple ministers, he has missed the blessing of working as a team.
Ministry is better in teams. God allowed Moses to take Aaron. Jesus sent the 70 out in pairs and allowed the apostles to work as a dozen. Barnabas did mission work with Saul. Later named Paul, he worked with Silas, then Timothy and so many others as well.
We make a tragic mistake when we think ministry is simply writing sermons, classes, bulletin articles, checking off hospital visits, and a host of other duties. All these duties should be to help move people closer to God! We don’t write sermons to sound scholarly or fill time, but to take the “power of God” to the world. We don’t teach class to enjoy social fellowship, but to grow closer to God and each other to strengthen the church. Why do we write, make visits, and take interruptions that stop by the office? If it isn’t to reveal God and His glory, haven’t we missed the point?
It has been heavy on my heart during this time of my life that our ministry isn’t facilities, programs, task, or calendars. All of those are tools to move people closer to God, in other words to “make disciples” (Matt. 28:19).
Now let’s talk teams again. Why have multiple ministers? To move more people. It is still about making disciples. When you read the epistles to Timothy, was Paul wanting the work in Ephesus to go well? Of course. How would he strengthen the work there? By strengthening Timothy. If you want your youth ministry to go well, strengthen your youth minister. If you want better sermons, strengthen your preacher. If you want better shepherding strengthen an elder! It isn’t rocket science, but how do we miss it so often?
Paul invited Timothy into his life and on his team when Timothy was a young man with a great reputation (Acts 16:1-4). He allowed Timothy to be a partner in mission work, writing epistles, and establishing him in a local work. Paul continued to remain active in his life. I believe the principles of strong teams are seen in the words of 2 Tim. 1:1-7.
1. Healthy Teams are Like Family
“A beloved son” is Paul’s description of Timothy because they have walked through life and ministry together. It takes an intentional investment of time and heart to grow so close to team members that you are more like family instead of fellow employees. After several years together I can honestly say I love my partners in ministry like brothers. I’m thankful for that gift. Have regular meetings, but meet with a purpose. Go out to lunch together. Celebrate birthdays and holidays together. Be family!
2. Healthy Teams Keep Us Focused
“I remember you” in prayers and desire to see you, Paul said. Teams need to enjoy being together, but they also need to remind each other of their focus. The day to day grind of ministry could easily erode our focus. To begin staff meetings with a reading/thought/prayer can be a powerful five-minute reminder of our focus. Hearing our partners in ministry pray for people they are concerned about serves as a reminder. Listening to them discuss the spiritual impact of a special day, or wrestle with tradition verses what is best helps all of us remain focused. Sure we would like to think we would never forget, but that simply isn’t true. To be reminded of our human tendency to forget read Deut. 8 to see how easily it can happen. If the team is healthy they remind each other of motive and purpose.
3. Healthy Teams Keep Us Rooted
“I call to remembrance the genuine faith that is in you” is the way Paul described it to Timothy. Teams ought to challenge each other to not leave the faith of our God. Paul spoke of Timothy’s heritage while also charging him to “Preach the word” (2 Tim 4:2)! How much greater was Timothy’s strengthen to not give in when those with itching ears demanded him to teach a watered down doctrine? It must have been empowering for him to remember his partner in ministry predicting this challenge while also giving the solution to stay with the word. We were not saved to walk this way alone! We need others to remind us of our roots.
4. Healthy Teams Keep Us Active
Paul said, “I remind you to stir up the gift of God.” The first time you prayed publicly or extended a Wednesday night invitation was most likely because someone stirred up your gift. All ministers can look back on those who helped shape their life. Too often a ministers best days are in his twenties and thirties. He spends the rest of his ministry preaching warmed over sermons, changing the titles of past classes to rehash again and executing the same calendars for decades even though needs have changed drastically. Healthy teams help older ministers stay fresh and younger ministers to be wise! Also remember, God has given each one a gift (1 Pet. 4:10). Even though all on the team as ministers it doesn’t mean each has the same gifts. As a matter of fact the best teams are made up of individuals who have different gifts, yet appreciate their differences. When each team member pulls from the other’s strengths and serves the other’s weakness great good will be accomplished for God’s glory! You might want to read the last two sentences again. Teams depend on each member to use their gift just as illustrated by Paul of each member of the physical body in 1 Cor. 12. In other words, you won’t all approach work the same. One team member may be highly intelligent, yet another very organized. While another member maybe a gifted networker, another is able to envision greater tomorrows with the path of how to get there. The team is making a huge mistake to not identify each members strengthens and agree to pull from them. But remember with every member’s strengths comes every members weaknesses also. Don’t ask your unorganized team member to work up the calendar for next year! You are asking for failure. Why set a guy and a team up for failure? Also there is no reason to make him feel bad for being less organized either. Can you honestly say you honor the way God has made each of your team members? If God made him that way, who am I to criticize God? If you honor the various gifts, prove it by leaning on their strengths and serve their weaknesses instead of complaining about them. The same principle is true in great marriages.
5. Healthy Teams Have God on their Team
Has God been invited onto your Team? Don’t give the quick, “right response.” Be honest. Paul implied to Timothy that if fear was stopping him from serving it wasn’t from God! We need teams that aren’t being held back because of fear or a lack of power, love and a sound mind. Teams need to spend much time in prayer for God’s will to be done. Teams need to make big plans that give God a place to work and do great things in the lives of people. Teams must be demonstrating the love of God or they have missed the greatest mark completely! Teams must be thinking clearly because they are so close to God, they think like Him!
For a moment, just to illustrate this, think of the ministry team as a tiny church. If the ministry team isn’t like family how can you expect the congregation to be a spiritual family? If the ministers can’t help each other remain focused and rooted how can they help a congregation remain faithful? If a ministry team can’t love and respect each other’s gifts, the congregation will be surrounded with arrogance and competitiveness. If the very ones who have supposedly given their life to serve God are not close to God, it is impossible to offer something you do not have! Healthy teams help build healthy congregations. The opposite would most likely be true also.
David Shannon preaches for the Mt. Juliet Church of Christ in Mt. Juliet, Tennessee. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org