I thought it was going to be a great idea. Hockey. Friends. Competition. What could go wrong?
A couple of guys from the church and I decided we would jump into a floor hockey league down the street from us. The league needed another team and said we could play games later in the day to work around our Sunday morning schedule…church.
I tell you this to say, we were known as “the church” team.
We didn’t have enough for a full team so we recruited some guys from different circles and we played.
It was fun…
You see the problem was, we didn’t know how to be a team.
Sure, we had all played hockey before.
Of course, we all knew how to pass the ball.
But with the skill we possessed and the knowledge of the game we had, it didn’t mean that we had a team philosophy. We had our own philosophies of how things should work and it showed.
We had no structure of when lines would change so guys would play until they were tired and then head to the bench. This would ensure that by the time the first period was over, we were all spent because we didn’t save up any reserve energy.
Even though the guys knew about positions, we did not have an understanding of our teammates’ positions so we looked like a group of 5 year olds all running to the ball at the same time leaving the other team wide open!
Not to mention the penalties. Obviously when someone gets penalized, the whole team is penalized because you are now playing a man short. This causes you to get even more tired and this causes you to make more mistakes.
Our guys were terrible when it came to penalties. Terrible. No self-control whatsoever so it seemed like we were always playing short-handed.
We found ourselves playing a team that was just plain cheap. They would find opportunities to hack at your shins, slash your hands…I got cross-checked into their goal and I’m still amazed that the ref said he did not see anything because the ball was right there on my stick…but anyways, I don’t want to be bitter.
Shortly after this, the opposing team had a break away & as the guy was coming in on net, he was not stopping. He actually wasn’t as interested in scoring as he was charging into our goal tender.
Our goalie had had enough. As the guy came crashing into him with full force, our goalie met him head on and knocked him flat on his butt.
And then it happened.
A bench-clearing brawl.
And yes we were known as the church team…
I was running around trying to get our guys off the other guys, but to no avail.
A minute into it, which seemed like an eternity I was just standing in the middle of this brawl thinking to myself, “Yup, this is my team.”
I guess the one thing we did right as a team was have each other’s back…and yes, we did win the brawl (in case you were wondering…if God is for us, who can be against us! Can I get an Amen?).
So we scored big on the “supporting one another side of things," but in virtually every other area of teamwork we failed epically!
To be honest, as the leader of the team, I failed…epically! But it was certainly a great learning experience.
The biggest lesson I learned as a leader was that just because there’s some common knowledge, some great talent, and some working together, doesn’t mean you have a healthy and effective team.
And so is the case for ministry teams.
As a leader, if you desire healthy and effective ministry, then you are going to want to pour into the person who is sitting next to you on your team.
Jesus did this. He created an environment for His disciples that enabled them to cooperate through conflict, process through doubt, & learn through experience.
Often, we want to know what we need to do to have an effective ministry team, but it really starts with what you have to do & be as an effective leader.
When others do things that affect you and the ministry greatly, you still have to lead.
When you’ve worked tirelessly to accomplish changes in your ministry but others get the credit, you still have to lead.
When you’ve been saying certain things for a long time and a guest minister comes in and says those things and everybody is amazed, you still have to lead.
When it’s not your fault but you have to clean it up, you still have to lead.
When you get blamed for circumstances out of your control, you still have to lead.
Or, I guess you don’t…but then you wouldn’t be a leader.
We all know the 12 disciples came with some baggage, but these were the guys that Jesus picked at His Father’s leading. With these guys, came 12 different personalities, 12 different backgrounds, 12 different senses of humor, 12 different skill sets, and so on. Not to mention, plenty of character flaws and differences of opinion. Yet Jesus called them. And He led them.
He led them through team conflict. Remember when James & John approached Jesus regarding their positions in His kingdom (Mark 10:35-45)? They wanted to be the two highest ranked in Jesus’ kingdom. This meant that the other disciples would be under them. Conflict.
Ever experience that on your team? Someone on the team seems to assert themselves above others and it creates a rift that takes place.
Instead of Jesus kicking them off the team right away for their selfish ambition, He does something quite the contrary.
Scripture says that He called all of the disciples to Himself and had a little pow-wow. Many times when we are faced with trying to resolve conflict our usual tendency is to run away from it or not address it, but that’s not what Jesus does.
He uses this conflict as a teachable moment. He doesn’t condemn anyone for their ambitions or attitudes, but He points out that selfish ambition is what the world runs on. Then He simply tells them that this is not the way of God and that this is not how we should behave. Then, He gives Himself as an example by saying that He came to serve not elevate Himself.
Did the disciples immediately change? Probably not. Jesus wasn’t interested in mindless conformity, but that His words would sink into their hearts. And those words did eventually sink in and bear fruit.
Jesus was able to speak truth gracefully to the team and they remained on mission even through conflict. He used the circumstances and the team’s motivations as an opportunity for the team to grow rather than just shut them down. As a disclaimer, this doesn’t mean that there won’t be times you have to have a conversation with someone on your team that is not working out. In those cases, you still must value them as a person and honor their service.
Not only did Jesus lead His team through conflict, He also allowed His team to process through doubt. I think this is essential for a healthy team to buy in to the mission and vision of the ministry.
Jesus knew that His team was going to have doubts. Instead of avoiding them, He allowed the disciples to ask questions. Time after time, we find the disciples coming to Jesus after the crowds had dispersed to ask authentic questions (Matthew 7:17).
Sometimes as leaders we can take people’s questions and think that they are criticizing or doubting the mission. Yes, there are times that people do that, but we have to discern those times and realize that Jesus wasn’t afraid of His disciples’ doubts, nor should we be.
He actually harnessed those doubts to create a greater understanding in the team. As leaders we need to have time for our team to ask questions so there can be greater understanding and clarity for what’s going on. Too often, I think I’m as clear as clear can be, but then I find out to the team I’ve been as clear as mud!
Doubts also can be used by a leader to see exactly where the team is and what you need to do to get the team processing through those doubts without giving up. Processing through questions and doubts creates greater “buy in.” People are more apt to give themselves to the mission when they can see things more clearly.
Did Jesus call His team out on those doubts from time to time? Sure He did! But that was typically for their hardness of heart of choosing not to believe or understand what He was doing.
Doubt at its core is really uncertainty. Jesus was not mad at His team’s uncertainty at times. He was open to their questions which opened a door of effective ministry for His team.
Jesus also was really good at creating an environment where the team could learn through experience.
In Matthew 9:35-38, Jesus is out doing what Jesus does…preaching the gospel, teaching the Kingdom, healing people’s sicknesses, casting out demons, and just rockin’ it. The disciples are a part of this and learning from His example.
But then it says that compassion took Jesus over and He told the disciples to pray for more laborers in the harvest field. Immediately after Jesus telling the team to pray about this, He sends them out into the harvest field. It was now time for them to be pushed out of the nest so to speak.
Jesus gave instruction and then He sent them out.
As leaders, we must ensure our team that we are all learning and that’s a good thing. Anybody who thinks he/she knows everything, you might not want to have on the team. Making environments that communicate that it’s okay if you don’t get it right the first time around or if you fail, it’s not over. Everybody learns by mistakes. That’s how we grow.
Imagine if Jesus kicked the disciples off His team when they came up to Him and asked why they couldn’t cast the demon out of the boy. That’s performance, not grace. And too often performance relies on our ability rather than Christ’s.
Jesus is an amazing leader. If we want to lead healthy and effective teams, we have to learn how to lead as Jesus did. He cared about the climate of His team and allowed time for them to grow into the mission He called them to.
When you meet with your ministry team take time not just for a meeting, but to pray with them and for them. Take time to pray all together. Take time to encourage them. You may want to open the ministry team time up for calling out people’s strengths and focusing on what Christ has put in each other. Instead of a formal meeting, worship the Lord in song with one another. Team and ministry is nothing unless the Lord builds the house. Let Him be the Team Leader. Take time with your leadership team to minister unto the Lord together. Have a meal together and talk about life together. Nourish the climate of your team. After all, we’re all in this together…
Craig Campbell is the Lead Pastor of Faith Tabernacle Church, which is located in his hometown of Lockport, NY. He has been serving the local church for more than eleven years in different capacities such as youth ministry, worship ministry, young adult ministry, and more. He and his wife Jennie have four amazing kids whose names are Leland, Hudson, Adalyn, and Lillian.