Bill Easum

What Churches are Teaching Me
About Permission-Giving Churches
Part One

Two years ago when I began writing Sacred Cows Make Gourmet Burgers, I had no idea it would hit such a nerve with church leaders. I felt it would make an important contribution to developing thriving churches, but I never dreamed it would become one of the top ten books of 1996.  It seems the book touched on one of  the primary needs of many church leaders – how to break the chains of control in a congregation and soften the natural resistance to change. My answer: develop a permission-giving church in which people are empowered to live out their spiritual gifts without having to ask for permission As I wrote the book, I wondered if any other churches were experimenting with the permission-giving paradigm.  I had not met one.  Over the past year, I have had a chance to personally visit two permission-giving churches, Prince of Peace Lutheran in Burnsville, Minnesota and Christ United Methodist Church in Fort Lauderdale, Florida.  These two churches have contributed much to my ongoing understanding of how permission giving churches function.  Together they affirm three of the most important aspects of such a church ….teams, the importance of core values, and the role of lay pastors.  This month I am focusing on the value of teams.  Next month I will focus on the importance of discovering what is essential to a church and the role of lay pastors.

Team Based Ministry

Even though churches are finding team based ministries more difficult to achieve than they thought, team based ministries are a trend that will escalate over the next few decades.  However, instead of seeing the development of more and more teams, churches will not see the number of teams grow or remain the same because teams will self-destruct when they finish their mission. Here are some of the things I am learning about teams.The biggest obstacle to team based ministry is trust.  Without it, teams seldom work. While consulting with Prince of Peace, I began to realize that there are six levels to developing and encouraging trust.  Each stage must be achieved with all of the staff before trust can be achieved.  It is ideal if all of the staff are at each level before moving on to the next level.Level One:    Are all staff passionate about the vision or the direction in which the church is going? Not all of your present staff are passionate about the vision. Some are not comfortable with it. This is understandable since some staff came onboard under a different administration and organizational model.  This level can not be taught.  Staff either believe in this model or they don=t. Once all staff are onboard with Level One you can proceed to Level Two.Level Two:    Do the team leaders understand their role? Not all of the team leaders who are passionate about Level One have been given adequate training in team based ministries. I encourage you to find some lay people in your congregation who work in this kind of environment and have coaching skills to work with the staff. Once all staff are clear about their role, you can proceed to Level Three.Level Three:     Are all staff committed to the transition and comfortable with change? I can mentally accept the first two levels and not be able to handle the chaos and conflict that always accompanies transition and change. Some staff can handle some change and not be able to handle semi-constant change which is one of the hallmarks of a team based ministry, especially if it is modeled in a matrix system. When all staff are comfortable with change, you can proceed to develop ways to foster and develop trust and community.Level Four:    Is there a structured way to foster trust? If the first three levels are all in place, it is time to build in the systems that will foster trust such as E-mail and web pages for communication, retreats, weekly small group Bible study, sharing and an assortment of other community building events.Level Five:    Is the staff meeting in small groups? The teams need to be small enough (under ten) to be able to get to know each others hopes and dreams and to become the pastoral support for each other without relying on the professional clergy.Level Six:  Is there affinity within the groups? Each team needs to be made up of people who either have a common mission or like each other.  It only takes one protagonist on a team to derail the team.Teams are only effective when there is the presence and influence of a strong leader over the entire organization. Teams do not replace the need for an entrepreneurial individual at the center of the organization. In their book, The Paradox Principle,  the Price Waterhouse team reported on their study of several major successful organizations. In this study they found that every organization with an effective team based ministry had an extremely strong leader at the center of the organization. My experience is that in the absence of a strong leader, the negative aspects of the organization always take control.Teams are made up of competent individuals.  Teams are no more effective than the individuals who make up the team. Contrary to what some people assume, teams do not diminish the importance of individuals or entrepreneurs. It is a fallacy to think that simply putting together a group of incompetent or untrained individuals produces an effective team. Teams are no more effective than each individual in the group.Skilled people make skilled teams. The best teams draw upon, harmonize, and integrate the skills, passions, and dreams of each team member. If only one member of the team fails to contribute, the teams performance suffers. Remember the part of the Hallelujah Chorus toward the end where the choir is singing Hallelujah over and over in rapid succession and then abruptly stops for what seems to be an eternity? All it takes is for one member of the choir to fail to count right and all one remembers about the piece is that someone blew it.Team based organizations train individuals prior to participating in a team.  One of the primary reasons team do not function well in churches is because the people are not adequately trained. Contrary to popular opinion the training they need should not happen in the team, but prior to serving on a team. Equipping staff for team based ministries is different from training laity. Staff will be called upon to move between a variety of teams more than will laity.  It is not uncommon for staff to serve on three or four different teams during a year. In some cases they may be on more than one team at a time. For example, a church is starting a Saturday night worship service. To do so requires a team composed of a person from the areas of worship, discipleship training, outreach, assimilation, small groups, parking attendants, etc. Some or all of these staff members are probably already a team in a much more narrow field such as the music department or small group ministry.Staff in team based ministries need skill training in several areas (in order of importance) – a commitment to the mission, vision, and values of the congregation, a clear sense of personal identity and direction for their life, good social skills, a passionate sense of urgency, and strong technical skills in their area. The kind of characteristics staff need are courage, decisiveness, integrity, imagination, flexibility, and an ability to see the larger picture beyond their team.Team based ministries are primarily action oriented around a clearly defined mission.  Teams exist to accomplish tasks more than make decisions.  The best teams come together around a clearly defined mission for which all the members on the team have a passion to accomplish.  Even effective strategic mapping teams are given a specific charge prior to forming.  They do not meet to discuss the future of the church.  They meet to decide how the church should accomplish a predetermined mission such as a five year map into the future or how to solve a space problem. Team based ministries function best when they are chosen by the Team Leader. Teams, unlike committees, are not a group of people thrown together by another committee without regard for whether the team members have a common affinity with the mission of the team or are even compatible with the other team members.  Effective teams are made up of like-minded, compatible people. They are chosen by one person who has a passion for the mission and thinks each team member chosen does also.Teams are effective only when they are given adequate autonomy and responsibility.  Once the mission of the church is decided, teams should have the autonomy to live out that mission to the best of their ability without interference unless they violate the mission, vision, and values of the church.In a team based ministry, power is good if it is exercized for the common good. This is where the golden rule comes into play.     In team based ministries all work has the same value. This is a difficult concept for most Christians and especially clergy.  We have been trained to believe that “the” ministry is what clergy do, when in reality, the people who wash the dishes are just as important as the pastor who preaches. However, if we believe in spiritual gifts, we must believe that all of the gifts are equal and act accordingly.Communication is usually a challenge in team based ministries. A common concern of staff ing team based ministries is that they do not know what is going on in other areas. Sometimes this is a control issue and sometimes it is a “need to know” issue.  Here is the key – I need to know only if what I am about is affected by what someone else is doing.Three types of teams seem to be emerging in very progressive churches.  The most frequent team structure is when individuals or teams work separately on ministries that contribute to a mutually agreed upon goal. Each person or team does their own thing but is always aware of how their ministry contributes to the predetermined overall plan or goal. This model works best when the various aspects of the mission can be performed simultaneously by multiple team members. An example is where a church has predetermined core values that hold everyone accountable.  The opposite of this is when churches have no core values and still expect everyone to be in agreement on everything before they do it.  An advanced form of team ministry occurs when individuals or teams work tied together in sequence to achieve a common goal.  Each person or team knows that others are depending on them accomplishing their task before the next person or groups can begin theirs.  This model works best when a ministry process can be divided into sequential tasks. An example of this form is when the worship team members work individually on such things as drama, technology, music, message, and then come together as a team to work out the choreography.  The most advanced form of team ministry takes place when various individuals or teams work together to achieve a common goal. This model works best when the ministry is constantly changing and when starting a new ministry. An example is when a church decides to start a new worship service that is totally different from any existing services.  The group collectively decides on how to design the service and who is responsible for what tasks.  The further we go into the 21st century, the more important it is that church leaders figure out how to function in a team based model. The Gen X generation will require it.  The key to making any model of team ministry work is the establishment of predetermined core values, purpose statement, or mission statement (more on this next month). This is a formidable challenge any way you cut it.