I want my ministry team to be a community, a family. If it’s going to a be a meaningful and growth-filled experience, my people need to do more than just show up for work and do their thing. We need to actually be the body of Christ for each other, be involved in each other’s lives, and know and encourage one another.
Creating a culture of community will, like a culture of commitment, make serving with your ministry a meaningful and valuable experience that people will appreciate and not quickly leave. As a leader, you hold both the keys to make this happen and the responsibility for leading your team into healthy community.
Let’s dive into a few principles that we’ve seen to be foundational in creating community as a team.
Care for Your Team
This seems to be a recurring theme, as seen in our previous post on creating a culture of commitment. However, this is very important and impacts both people’s commitment and the community that you build in your organization.
This post takes a different angle on care than the previous one, but you’ll see some repeated ideas. After all, as some ancient philosopher’s grandmother probably said, “Repetitio est mater studiorum” (Repetition is the mother of learning).
Any leader has the responsibility to care for their team members, but this is especially true of Christian ministry leaders. We are called as the body of Christ to pray for, care for, encourage, and exhort one another, and as team leaders we hold a greater position of influence, responsibility, and accountability to make this happen.
James 3:1 says, “Not many of you should become teachers, my brothers, for you know that we who teach will be judged with greater strictness.” This is not speaking directly to team leadership, but the principle still applies. To whom much is given, much will be required. May we be found faithful stewards of the ministries and teams God has entrusted to our care.
Now in order to encourage or exhort someone, you need to know them and care for them; we see this in Paul’s letters to the Corinthian church. He wasn’t just lobbing grenades of truth into their lives from a distance; he was speaking from a position of deeply knowing, loving, and caring for them as his family in Christ.
In order to speak into your team members’ lives in a way that is meaningful and applicable, you must know them and know where they’re at in their lives.
If as a leader you even seem (even if it’s not your intent) to not care or to put ministry priorities above people or seem more worried about getting tasks done than about the welfare of your team, you will be seriously hindered as a leader, and your team’s effectiveness will be hampered. To truly have an effective and healthy team, you must get to know your people and invest in their lives.
This brings us back to a core mindset for ministry leadership. Often we’re tempted as leaders to think, even though we wouldn’t verbalize it this way, that our people are there for us, to work for our vision and the mission of the ministry. We ask them to sacrifice and lay down their lives for what we want.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s definitely an aspect of this to teams and leadership—that’s part of the reason why they’re on your team at all. But when a leader operates exclusively from this perspective, the focus is so much on the goals of the ministry that the avenue for achieving those goals—the team—is neglected and thus both team and objectives suffer.
As a leader your calling is first to your team, to lay down your life for them, care for them, and serve them. Your goal needs to be for them to grow, for you to come alongside them and build them up however you can. And note that one of the most significant ways to care for your team is to create an organizational environment that fosters clarity, security, and trust by applying the other leadership principles we’re exploring in this series.
One final note on this topic: one of the most helpful ways to know and care for your people is to spend time with them and get to know them outside the work and ministry context. Have them over for dinner, play sports or a board game, go for a hike, etc.
Whatever it is that will help create community and foster relationship in a non-structured, relaxed environment, do it. And you’ll find that your unity and effectiveness as a team within ministry will grow by leaps and bounds.
Spend Time with Your Team
Let’s take a step beyond what we just discussed about caring for your team and dig into the details of one of the most easy, simple, and profoundly effective ways to show care and cultivate community within your team: spend time with them.
Yep, it’s really that simple. Let’s look at several ideas for how to do this in a way that is both meaningful for your team and beneficial to your ministry’s effectiveness.
It can be quite tempting—and frankly it’s easier—to simply call all of the shots from the distance of your lofty heights of power and never really get down into the trenches to spend time with your people. However, to truly serve and lead your people, it is critical that you invest your time and energy into their lives on a regular basis.
Without regular personal interaction with your team or ministry, those intangibles that lubricate interpersonal relationships and team performance will erode. Mistrust and feelings of isolation and distance are a few of the poisons that can creep in almost without notice. Health in these areas must be continually maintained and can never be taken for granted: to not actively cultivate them is to allow them to degrade.
Simply spending time with your people, in almost any context, will go a long way toward alleviating these dangers. But below I outline a few ways to be extra intentional in what you do.
With our Heroic Life Discipleship team, we would set aside about half an hour after each discipleship night to debrief. I or one of the other team leaders would facilitate this time. In leading the meeting, I’d ask lots of questions: How did the night go? What went well? How did you see God working and answering prayer? What was challenging or didn’t go well? How was your prep time? How did your lessons go? How are you doing personally? You mentioned ___ issue last week; how did that go tonight?
I would ask these questions in general to the group but also encourage specific people to share who I knew might be less likely to speak up in a group setting. These questions would spark discussion as different teachers shared their victories or struggles and chimed in with their thoughts, ideas, and encouragement. I’d often share some specific encouragement with the group as well.
I would also use this time to solicit feedback about various aspects of the ministry or the discipleship night as well as to bring up plans or decisions we (the leadership team) were considering and ask for people’s input. We would end every meeting with our entire team spending time in prayer for each other, the kids, and the ministry. We’d specifically pray for the various issues that had been brought up that evening.
I would also make it a point each week to touch base with two or three of the teachers I didn’t interact with as much in the regular course of ministry to check in with them and see how they were doing. I’d talk to different people each week—this way I was able to have regular and direct personal interaction with each member of our team.
In addition to this weekly debrief, one of our leadership team members would have a periodic meeting with all of the teachers for one of the five age groups in our program.
During that time we’d dive deeper into review of previous nights and into planning lessons for the next one as well as come alongside them in any needs or requests they had. This provided a context for more personal connection, coaching, and prayer.
Finally, our leadership team would meet once a week for higher level review, planning, discussion, and of course, prayer.
Making it Practical
Let me break down what we did into several practices we regularly implemented:
Prayer. Prayer is absolutely vital. Scripture is abundantly clear that prayer both is commanded and is the method God has created for us to access His power and working in our lives (Phil. 4:6; Jn. 16:23-24). Prayer was the foundation of the development and function of Heroic Life Discipleship, and we consider this to be the one key reason for the success and blessing we saw in the lives of the teachers and kids with whom we worked.
Review & Discussion. This made up the bulk of our weekly debrief meeting after each discipleship night. Like I mentioned above, we simply spent time together, both in our larger and smaller meetings, talking about what had happened, how people were doing, and their feedback on where things were at.
This helped cultivate openness and relationship between people and led naturally into deeper investment in each other’s lives. For us as a leadership team, it gave us specifics to be praying for and gave us direction in coaching and encouraging individual team members.
Celebrating Wins. One of the most encouraging things you can do for people is to give them recognition for both the effort they put into an activity and the results their effort brings. We made it a point to celebrate and recognize the incredible work our people did. More often than not, this wasn’t for a massively noticeable thing.
Usually it was a teacher’s tenacious perseverance in loving a “wiggler” in their small group or one’s ongoing care and burden for a child who continued to be uninterested in the things of God even after two years. And then there were the “visible” wins: the disinterested child suddenly opening up and falling in love with Scripture;the misbehaving child grasping the battle between the flesh and Spirit and beginning to walk in truth. These may not sound like a big deal, but for us they were. And we celebrated them.
Planning. It was very important to us as leaders that we kept our team in the loop and involved them as much as possible in the direction of the ministry and decisions that needed to be made. Often their feedback was invaluable in giving us the perspective and information needed to make the best decision, and this also gave them ownership in the ministry and showed them in a very real and practical way that they were valuable members of the team.
Refocusing on What’s Important. For each of us, it’s so easy for the day-to-day or week-to-week activities of ministry work to become mundane or discouraging. We all need to be reminded of the purpose behind what we’re doing, and it falls to us as leaders to encourage and inspire the hearts of our people by continually reminding them why they’re doing what they’re doing and what’s at stake.
Don’t underestimate the need for this or its power. Almost every week, either I or one of our leadership team would say something to reinforce and clarify our vision and purpose.
Meetings. Each of the practices mentioned above often (although certainly not exclusively) took place in the context of meetings. We tend to have a negative view of meetings, thinking of them as unproductive time-wasters. However, when properly executed, meetings are a vital tool for achieving and maintaining a healthy team.
This is not the place to expound how to have good meetings, so I’ll just say this: make them regular and frequent and keep them focused by implementing these practices within a disciplined time frame. (For further reading, see Death by Meeting, by Patrick Lencioni).
Work Together with Your Team
In addition to being intentional with structured meeting times with your team, it’s also important to simply be there in the trenches with them, to work with them. This doesn’t mean you need to do the exact same things as them or always work in the same room, but it does mean that you’re regularly around them while working and that they understand how your job and theirs fit together in the larger vision of the organization. It needs to be clear that you really are on the same team working for the same ends—that you’re working with your team for a common goal.
We’d love to hear what you’ve done to create stronger community in your ministry. Let us know in the comments below or on Facebook!