Building Christ-like Teams at Church

LeadersDoing church is all about committee work, you know. It’s other stuff, too, of course, but there’s no escaping the committees. We call them “teams” at my church–it’s just so very modern to do so–but they’re still committees.

Elderships are always committees. Now there’s more to being an elder than being on a committee (or team!), but elders act as a group on most matters, and this inevitably means sitting in a meeting and hashing things out until a decision is made.

Just so, most elderships work in close concert with the ministerial staff, and to some extent, the elders and staff make up a super-committee. Maybe it’s just the pulpit minister or some other subset of the staff, but the wise eldership works closely with the staff. After all, they’re there every day doing ministry, and their labors have to be thoughtfully coordinated with the elders, or else both will be less effective.

Of course, churches have countless other committees–youth, grounds, building, finance … you name it, we likely have a committee for it. And yet, we do very, very little training on how to do committees well. Do committees poorly, and you do church poorly–you especially do eldering poorly.

For elders who serve on committees (which is to say, all elders), I strongly recommend Patrick Lencioni’s The Five Dysfunctions of a Team. It’s written as a parable and is the best book I’ve come across on how to be an eldership. It’s actually written for businesses, but it’s principles are drawn straight from scripture, so don’t let that bother you. If you have problems working as a team–as elders or as staff or as elders and staff–buy a copy for each member of the team and then take a Saturday to go over it point at a time together. It’ll make a difference.

Here’s a summary of the dysfunctions (but read the book!)

  • Absence of trust. This is evidenced by an unwillingness to be vulnerable within the group. If members aren’t willing to honestly admit mistakes and weaknesses, it’s impossible to deal with mistakes and weaknesses.
  • Fear of conflict. In a group that lacks trust, members won’t vigorously debate ideas. Rather, they’ll pretend to go along with ideas they secretly disagree with, or they’ll talk behind the backs of other members. Secret agendas prevail. Members have to interpret coded comments, as members won’t plainly say what they mean.
  • Lack of commitment. As the members aren’t really engaged in the debate and don’t feel listened to, they don’t really buy into group decisions. They feign agreement during meetings to avoid conflict, but they aren’t really being honest.
  • Avoidance of accountability. Members aren’t willing to hold the other members accountable for doing their jobs and for group decisions, because they distrust the process by which decisions were made. Besides, calling a member to account will create conflict.
  • Inattention to results. Members put individual goals ahead of group goals. Or in a church, members can pursue their personal ministries at the expense of the church as a whole. Or they can just not bother to do their jobs.

The key is to realize that all 5 dysfunctions have to be addressed as one dysfunction leads to another.

Another way to look at this is as 5 essential ingredients of a team:

  • The members trust each other. Secrets will be kept. The truth will be told.
  • Members engage in unfiltered conflict around ideas (not personalities). If they disagree, they say so and say why. The take the time to argue the issues out. No one takes offense at being disagreed with. Rather, disagreement is simply one step in the process of reaching consensus.
  • They commit to decisions and plans of action. They feel personally invested in group decisions.
  • Members hold one another accountable for making the plans happen, because they really believe in them and are unwilling to let the plans fail.
  • Member focus on achievement of collective results–members are Kingdom and church minded, rather than ministry or individually minded.

I’ve been on both kinds of teams. Dysfunctional teams are miserable and frustrated. They dread the next meeting. They look for excuses to quit.

Functional teams are sheer joy. The members grow very close to each other and they have the pleasure of seeing plans come to full realization.

Good churches–churches that make a difference–have to have fully functional teams. They don’t just happen. Leadership has to consciously plan for this to happen, train committees, and train ministers.

If a team member cannot be brought into functionality, he has to be let go–whether he’s on the payroll or not. The elders and staff have to hold themselves and all who work with them to these standards.

And we all tend to fall off the wagon. Every few years, the training has to be repeated. It has to get written into the DNA of the church, or it just won’t happen.

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About Jay Guin

I am an elder, a Sunday school teacher, a husband, a father, a grandfather, and a lawyer. I live in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, home of the Alabama Crimson Tide. I’m a member of the University Church of Christ. I grew up in Russellville, Alabama and graduated from David Lipscomb College (now Lipscomb University). I received my law degree from the University of Alabama. I met my wife Denise at Lipscomb, and we have four sons, two of whom are married, and I have a grandson and granddaughter.
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