One of the hottest buzzwords today in both the corporate world and church community is "teams." Read any business journal and you will see it. Take a trip to any bookstore and you will have difficulty finding the best book on this subject, because there are so many to choose from. I hear this ubiquitous and somewhat confusing term used repeatedly in conversations with other church facilitators, and among staff and lay leaders in congregations of all sizes.

What is a team approach?--

Very simply stated, a team is people doing ministry activities together. In most churches, we find ministry being done in groups that fit this definition; worship teams, prayer groups, outreach teams, and various other types of committees and task groups. However, frequently these groups are teams in name only.

Establishing effective ministry teams involves much more than adding a new program or changing the names of existing committees. Increasingly, churches are rediscovering that the central issue in the 1990s move to team ministry is decentralized leadership. Although traditional committees involve "people doing ministry together," they often have been formed by another committee or person, and they lack the key essentials of healthy, effective team ministry. As I define it, team ministry is ownership and self-initiated vision in which members carry out plans they themselves have conceived or have had a part in conceptualizing.

For example, a "worship team," even though it is doing many group activities, may lack the essential characteristics of a team. One worship team that recently asked me for evaluation is led by a professional music director who makes all the decisionsófrom the choice of music to who will solo and what instruments will be used in each section of worship. Members are told what to do and suggestions are not encouraged. In fact, expressions of opinion and disagreement are seen as divisive and nonsupportive. Compliance often appears to be more important than positive results. Although this group of musicians may be called a team, they are too director-focused.

Consider an alternative situation in which a senior pastor of a large church is a member of his churchís worship team. All the team members have designated roles. The group starts its work for the coming Sunday during the week with everyone contributing to the design. Any person can conceivably determine the topics.

Many churches still operate in a staff-designed and staff-directed mode. Lay-persons are expected to carry out activities which have already been determined by a professional specialist. These professionally designed and centrally initiated programs often are preferred because they are easier to install and control than team ministries created and implemented by active and talented laypersons. But the results are usually less effective because members have not been sufficiently involved in developing their own unique strategies.

Characteristics of the Team Modeló

Team-oriented churches are experiencing positive outcomes from their shift to a new team model. Here are some of the characteristics:

Team members know how to process conflict in a healthy manner and resolve strong differences of opinion constructively.

Making the Shift to Teamsó

Unfortunately, too often churches approach a change to team building like an afternoon jog. Itís just another program to add to the existing list of things to do, and the hope is that something will "take" and lead the church to revitalized ministry. Yet a sure route to failure is to attempt change without first building focus, commitment, and spiritual grounding.

Preparing Godís people for team building involves more than teaching, volunteer management, gifts assessment, or some program on "equipping." Changing to this working definition of team ministry takes time and means developing a new way of looking at how to mobilize lay ministry.

Additionally, you will want to develop a comprehensive picture of your

churchís structure. You need an organizational model to serve as a

framework for purposeful ministry and operation. A system I have developed

is based on seeing the task of church leadership in four components: (1)

charting change, (2) releasing spiritual energy, (3) developing leaders,

and (4) building people-flow systems to help individuals move from being a

visitor to being a minister who serves according to God-given gifts. I have

described this strategy in more detail in Preparing Churches for the 21st


In practice, I have seen the move to team ministry play out in different ways. Some churches move to team ministry rapidly with a church-wide overhaul. Others add team ministry gradually on top of their existing structures. Others donít initially disturb the existing structures, but choose to begin new teams alongside or in addition to what is going on. Others do a combination of changes with a few teams inside and other teams outside the existing structures. The strength and frustration of team ministry is that it canít be defined by a single approach or program. It is a mindset. It is a core change in values, outlook, and practice.

Nevertheless, before taking the plunge into team ministry, it may be worth noting that the journey is usually not as blissful as the experience reported by the exceptional teams. In fact, many churches, like other organizations, have tried teams and have seen teams stumble at the gate. An effective church, however, will view the growing pains realistically. For example, in the initial year of shifting to ministry-team activities, there is often a certain awkwardness and tentativeness. It takes time to come up with good ideas that can be effectively implemented by persons who do not know each other and who have never ministered together. With such little discretionary time available, it is easy for discouragement to set in. And there can be frustration when few tangible results are seen right away.

In the first year, members are often uncertain as to how much voice they will be given, especially in congregations in which the pastoral staff have been expected to be directive. Pastors are often tempted to take back control soon after there are incidences of members dropping balls. Some staff will conclude, incorrectly, that it is easier just to do the job themselves rather than rely on an unproved, uncertain, uncontrollable process.

Crossover will eventually occur, however, in which the results of an empowered team exceed what could happen by a staff-directed, staff-designed program assisted by volunteers. Each year the skill levels for team building and strategy development rise, as lessons are learned and new leaders emerge. The aim is to move each team steadily from introductory skill levels to intermediate and, eventually, to advanced.

For those who genuinely want to involve laypeople in effective ministry, the new team approach has many benefits.(See accompanying article.)

Teams in Scripture and in Church Historyó

Let me be clear that the current interest in using teams in the church is not merely the following of a business fad, but is based on principles and practice dating back to the early church. Indeed, beginning with Paulís missionary bands, Christian sodalities have been operating in frontline teams consistently for 2,000 years.

The move toward team ministry is nothing more than 1990s language for implementing the simple plan for church leaders in Ephesians 4:11: "to prepare Godís people for works of service so that the body of Christ may be built up" (NIV). The reformers attempted to return to this New Testament pattern, advocating the ministry of the saints, but soon reverted to a variation of the hierarchical professional structures they so adamantly opposed.

There is a further distinction between teams in the marketplace and teams in the church. Stephen Schey and Walt Kallestad remind us that the core beliefs of church leaders form the foundation for team ministry: Our convictions about humility and brokenness come from God, not popular psychology. The study of Godís Word and prayer, not management theory books, create the passion for team ministry and prompt our desires to yield to his will. Itís God who is the instigator and sustainer of healthy functional team relationships.

Whatever It Takesó

Are you ready to begin or continue the shift toward

empowered teams? Experiences across the spectrum are confirming that it is valid, essential, and worth the investment whatever the cost or level of struggle involved. However, remember that once you start this transition and begin to cross the bridge, you canít stop or turn back. You will need to do whatever you have to do to make it to the other side. The alternative is stagnancy, unnecessary frustration, and a future ministry that operates significantly below its God-given potential. Seek Godís will, then do it in Godís power and grace.


1 The book Preparing Congregations for the 21st Century and information concerning the Life Systems Leadership Retreat are available from Reeves Strategic Consultation Services, 1-800-373-5077. 2 See Ralph D. Winter and R. Pierce Beaver, The Warp and the Woof (William Carey, Pasadena, 1970).

3 For a compelling argument to support this thesis, see Greg Ogden, The New Reformation (Zondervan, Grand Rapids, 1990).

4 Stephen L. Schey and Walt Kallestad, Team Ministry: A Workbook for

Getting Things Done (Abingdon, Nashville, 1996), p. 111



By R. Daniel Reeves

Once the fundamental shifts to team ministry are embraced and implemented, you will be able to see visible results. Here are some specific benefits to churches who take the plunge and keep building over a period of two to three years.

Benefits in the Churchó

Benefits in Church and Businessó

Benefits that can be observed in nonchurch settings, where the shift to teams is currently being heralded as a monumental breakthrough, are also enjoyed in congregations. In both the church and corporate arenas, those beginning the journey should expect these changes in attitude and action:

1 Four cases were featured in Into Action (Leadership Network, August 1996), "Total Commitment to Change: Profiles in Pastoral Courage," by R. Daniel Reeves.

2 Warren Bennis and Patricia Ward Biederman, Organizing Genius: The Secrets of Creative Collaboration (Addison-Wesley, New York, 1997), pp. 9-10.



By R. Daniel Reeves

St. Andrewís Presbyterian Church in Pleasant Hill, California, is a medium-sized church with two full-time ministers and several part-time professionals.

Committees were abundant, and the structure had been in place for years. Members who showed up at monthly meetings were supplied with agendas, reports were given, administrative details were voted on, and the group went home until the next time. A committee member might say, We need to do xyz;" and the best that could happen was that it would be slotted as new business for the next meeting. Often the momentum and excitement of the initial idea was lost in the delay.

When the congregation, led by Pastors Shel White and Mary Mc-Knight, decided to change to a team approach to ministry, the church held a leadership retreat for any member of the congregation who elected to come. At this retreat, a vision and mission statement was drafted and missing pieces in the ministry were identified. Groups were formed to develop ideas and strategies for fulfilling the mission, and teams were established to accomplish identified goals and ministry desires. The members of the new teams contributed to and crafted the ideas, and the work started immediately, facilitated and coached by the professional staff.

At the end of the first year, results were evaluated, and more goals were set by the same teams for the following year. Fresh members were added. Not all teams did equally well, but this is natural in team development.

The results of their shift to teams were impressive. As staff coaches, McKnight and White continue to foster a climate in which each team is encouraged to continuously improve. Elders are mentoring and supporting team leaders instead of chairing monthly meetings. Committees that used to meet monthly for boring meetings now meet three or four times a year in well-planned proactive vision building events.



By R. Daniel Reeves

As you move forward in building a team-based ministry, you can learn a great deal by examining the experience of others. Here is what we are gleaning from the early-adopter churches who have shifted to a team approach to ministry:

1.†††††††† Donít prejudge people. Those individuals we think are key leaders do not often turn out to be those we can count on. Instead, others bubble up to the surface as teams continue to develop strategies. These emerging individuals are what we pray and look for. Their ability and level of commitment constantly surprise us.

2.†††††††† Realize that structural change is more challenging with each decade of denominational development. Older mainline congregations often require a finely honed organizational structure formed around order and stability. Structuring teams in traditional churches is among the most difficult of challenges. It takes extra time to turn around a mainline church that is comfortable relying on the pastoral staff and an established system of lay committees. It can be hard to let go of a committee or group that has been institutionalized but has little reason to be continued.

3.†††††††† Be careful not to isolate your teams from each other and the shared vision. Teams need to have contact with each other to generate synergy and to share encouragement. Isolation slows momentum. Thus, bring the various teams together to share what is going on. The success of others often encourages those who are finding it hard sledding. Plus, the shared vision can be reiterated and each personís and teamís part can be tied to the whole. There are many creative and exciting ways of doing this, and team members are often not short on imagination in this area.

4.†††††††† Be prepared to make major adjustments in your pastoral style. The shift from being a directing pastor to being a coaching pastor will need to be negotiated and reinforced along the way. It usually takes a minimum of 12 months to fully make the transition. A common struggle for pastors in the initial shift is the tendency to keep a tighter rein than most teams are comfortable with. There is widespread reluctance by clergy to share responsibility. The number-one reason for this is fear that the job wonít be done correctly.

5.†††††††† Donít assume that because the leaders have agreed to do it, that it will be easy. Most churches discover that a great deal of persistence is required when the teams are faced with unforeseen challenges. However, because there is a higher degree of ownership and commitment on the part of everybody involved, these snags along the way are easier to deal with and overcome.

6.†††††††† Get out of the way of new leaders. Pastoral staff will need to resist micromanaging. Less supervision will be required. Also, expect fewer standing committees once team momentum is underway. Committees no longer need to "stand" after they have accomplished their task. Members of redundant or less productive committees can gradually join a team of their choice. Before long, a majority of teams might well be emphasizing short-term and highly focused activities.

7.†††††††† Regularly check to see if your activities and strategies are linked to your vision. Congregational core values form the foundation for your unique vision. They represent "our way" of doing ministry. Values should be sharpened as a ministry develops and matures over the years. They become more contagious and less negotiable. Values and vision represent the best means for determining "fit" for both prospective church members and prospective teams. A chief responsibility of the leadership team is to courageously align the various ministry teams within the overall God-given vision. With maturity and Spirit-enhanced sensitivity, this process can be carried out effectively, refocusing rather than inhibiting the creative gifts of each individual.

R. Daniel Reeves, D.Miss. (Doctor of Missiology), is founder of Reeves Strategic Consultation Services, headquartered in Santa Maria, California. He works with churches of all sizes from the whole denominational spectrum, throughout North America. He has had more than 30 years experience as a pastor, evangelist, mission executive, professor, businessman, and church consultant.

Reprinted from Ministry Advantage Vol. 8 No. 1, published by Fuller Theological Seminary, Division of Continuing and Extended Education, 135 N.

Oakland Avenue, Pasadena, CA 91182, Copyright 1998. Used by permission. If

you would like a copy of this issue of Ministry Advantage or would like to

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By R. Daniel Reeves

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