I suspect that no one is surprised by the idea that a good leader needs a team of people around him. John Maxwell calls this The Law of the Inner Circle, meaning “Think of any highly effective leader and you will find someone who surrounded himself with a strong inner circle.” In the church, a smart leader looks for or raises up other leaders to work with, knowing that he or she cannot grow a ministry alone, nor live without the accountability of others. And we are truly only as strong as our team.
While we will all acknowledge our need for good team members to share the burdens of leadership in ministry, many leaders do not know how to build a good team. Many church leadership teams turn out to be ineffective, even when populated with strong and godly people. I have known a number of leaders who, after weathering battles of control and disagreements with their “team,” opted to go it alone, as in: “I have no one I can count on but myself.” And that has resulted in both limited ministry and exhaustion.
So, what are the foundational issues for building a strong, effective team, one that works well together and is able to handle conflict without combat? Here are six criteria to look at when team building that can guide you….
Spiritual Maturity: The apostles in Acts 6 told the church to choose among them leaders full of the Spirit and wisdom. In other words, these were men who had grown to such a level of maturity that the whole church could see it. Point—avoid choosing team mates based on ability alone. Examine where they are in their walk with God.
Agenda Harmony: I cannot emphasize this one enough! You experience effective leadership in a church when all leaders are moving in the same God-given direction. Choose team members based on their agreement with the church’s vision. Tom Nebel, a national church planting leader, says he doesn’t need a lot of “yes-men” around him, but he does need “uh huh-men,” meaning people who share his vision and ideas for the ministry he leads. They help him shape specific steps, and at times, may question some of his thinking, but they agree about where he is leading the ministry. For your team, find people who share your vision for the church, instead of those who seek to pull it in another direction.
Doctrinal Harmony: Look for people who have the same understanding of God and His revelation. Of course, leaders may have minor differences about the second coming or spiritual gifts. But when leaders view God and His church differently, it will affect the harmony and direction of the team in time.
Strength Appreciation: Do we complement or compete with each other? I knew of a worship team where one of the members wanted the leader’s job. She was always disappointed and created disharmony within the team. If you choose members that see how their gifts can help you, who want you to succeed—and are expecting your strengths to help them succeed—you will build a strong team.
Reproducers: Look for people who reproduce themselves in ministry. Good team members need a Kingdom mentality, that ministry is about extending God’s Kingdom, instead of building up a personal following. Reproducers raise up other leaders and are least likely to be competitors for position and control. They give ministry away to others in healthy ways.
Friendship: I mention this last, because it is often misused. Too many teams are built with friendship as the main reason for being chosen. While we can be happy with people we like, friends may not be real leaders. Further, the problem with friendship as the main test is it often prevents honest differences being aired.
Having said that, it remains true that good leadership teams are full of people who like each other. They may not be the closest friends, but the best teams have respect for and love the others as persons. Ask yourself the question when recruiting a team member: “Is this a person the team can enjoy being with?” If the answer is, “No.” then be cautious in asking him or her to join with you.
I have been a team builder all my ministry life. At times, I have decided to ask people to join my team who were not necessarily the best choices, but because they met these six criteria, they turned out to be wonderful partners. Sometimes, I did not ask people who were obviously qualified in many ways for some of the above reasons. You are only as strong as your team. Think through your team—or lack of one—and start making changes to build a team that will help you to achieve the ministry goals that God has led you to pursue.