We’re working our way through Patrick Lencioni’s The Advantage: Why Organizational Health Trumps Everything Else In Business.
Lencioni consults with businesses, nonprofits, and churches, and he frequently explains how the lessons apply especially to churches, because the work churches do is so much more important than the work done by anyone else.
Before we can consider how to integrate a team of individuals into a healthy, cohesive leadership team, we have to first consider the make up of the team.
In business, this is usually pretty obvious. In church, not so much. After all, there are the elders, the deacons, the preacher, the other ministers, and countless other ministry leaders.
Many years ago, when we had about 350 members, I made a list of all the church’s ministries — from cutting the grass and cleaning the baptismal garments all the way to the preacher and elders. I counted about 70 discrete ministries!
I also found that less than half of these were represented at a meeting of the deacons. Rather, the deacons had been handed many of the more conspicuous ministries — adult education, worship services — but many of our most important ministries — the food book (taking meals to the bereaved and ill), the nursery — were run by women and therefore invisible to our very traditional leadership structure.
Of course, the women ran things quite nicely without the men being involved, and had no need (or desire) for a deacon to be put over a ministry that didn’t need him. Then again, when a question about the nursery came up at a deacons meeting, the results were ugly because no one there knew anything about the nursery, the group was too proud to admit it, and so horrific decisions were made.
Worse yet, we had several deacons with no responsibility other than to come to deacons meetings and express views on subjects they knew little about and had no responsibility for. And it’s awfully easy to tell others how to do their jobs when you have no risk of being treated the same way!
We’ve since reorganized (more than once) as the church has grown and changed. We’re past due to do it again.
At one point we had a “ministries team” that represented all 70 ministries at the table, consisting of 12 members. Some churches have teams made up of elders and staff. Some have teams made up of elders gifted in organizational oversight, along with certain senior ministers. There is no one answer — but you have to think very, very hard about it, because the group can’t be too big.
A leadership team should be made up of somewhere between three and twelve people, though anything over eight or nine is usually problematic. There is nothing dogmatic about this size limit. It is just a practical reality.
Amen! Amen! Amen! Big teams do not work. Lencioni explains why —
When it comes to discussions and decision making, there are two critical ways that members of effective teams must communicate: advocacy and inquiry. …
When more than eight or nine people are on a team, members tend to advocate a heck of a lot more than they inquire. This makes sense because they aren’t confident that they’re going to get the opportunity to speak again soon, so they use their scarce floor time to announce their position or make a point. When a team is small, members are more likely to use much of their time asking questions and seeking clarity, confident that they’ll be able to regain the floor and share their ideas or opinions when necessary.
If you’ve ever served on one of ubiquitous, awful 20+ member nonprofit boards, you’ll know what I mean. Two or three people dominate the “discussion,” and the discussion is usually rubber stamping the recommendations of the chair or a committee. There is rarely any real interchange. Even very talented, motivated people find themselves rendered useless on such boards, serving only to meet quorum so the chair can run the organization.
Twelve is the absolute limit, and smaller is better. Do not make the team too big to save feelings or for token diversity. If you want more female or minority participation, keep the team small enough that these members can actually help lead — or else you’re just using them.
Now, in church, this means the deacons and the elders cannot form the leadership team. It’s too many people. And, yes, I was a deacon for many years, and it was true then and it’s still true now.
And the team might have to exclude some ministers. In a church with lots of elders, it may have to exclude some elders.
I know a Baptist Church with (not kidding) 70 deacons — and among Baptists, a deacon is very much like an elder. They meet and make big decisions. Can you imagine having to sit through a meeting as one of 70?
Therefore, some Churches of Christ agree for the elders to specialize, with some sitting on an administrative board whereas others elders handle solely pastoral duties — only voting on occasional church-wide issues.
The result is elders freed from personnel and organizational matters to care for the flock or to teach, whereas other elders gifted for such matters act as overseers, managing the staff and ministries of the church.
There are lots of creative solutions, but these rules are ironclad —
1. At least some of the elders must be on the leadership team. If the elders all focus exclusively on pastoral duties, then the staff runs the church — which may be great, may be terrible, but the elders will have abdicated their scriptural role as overseers.
2. The preacher is part of the leadership team. He’s fully a part of the team unless his job performance, such as his annual review, is the subject of the meeting.
3. If there’s an “involvement minister,” ” spiritual formation” minister, or other executive pastor type — that is, someone hired to make sure the key church ministries function correctly — he’s on the team.
At this point, you have at least 4 or 5 members. (I can’t imagine having just one elder on the leadership team!) Any additions must be thought through very carefully based on talents and what’s best for the Lord’s work in your congregation, not office politics or tokenism.
And you’re going to be spending a lot of time together. Personalities matter. Pray hard. You’re laying the footings for a new vision and organizational structure. You need to use the very best materials possible.
I have go with the counsel of the apostles:
(Act 6:3 ESV) Therefore, brothers, pick out from among you seven men of good repute, full of the Spirit and of wisdom, whom we will appoint to this duty.
Obviously, not every leader or key members gets to be on the team. No one should expect otherwise.
Once this team is assembled — and in many churches this will just be the elders and preacher — many other teams will surely be needed, and the principles that apply to top leadership team will apply to many of the others. But if you mess up the top team, all else is futility.